New UN climate change report released

Profiles in Norwegian Science

guterres

Photo: Live coverage screen capture
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Feb. 28.

ILAN KELMAN
Agder, Norway

At the end of February, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new assessment report on “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” Several scientists in Norway contributed to the report.

What is the IPCC and why is it relevant? The panel is the U.N. body for assessing the science related to climate change, and all scientists and technical staff are appointed by member states, including Norway. For the IPCC, “Climate change” covers natural and human causes of long-term changes to average weather.

The IPCC’s process and reports do not provide science that is new or original. Their mandate is to summarize the tens of thousands of scientific papers that have been published on climate change since the last assessment. They must then revise their draft based on thousands of review comments they receive.

The First Assessment Report from the IPCC was released in 1990, and this new report is the Sixth Assessment Report. They have been going on for a long time, with so much research available that the process involves three working groups. Working Group I, “The Physical Science Basis,” was published last year in August. It provided little new in explaining that human actions are changing the climate rapidly and substantively leading to major, damaging impacts. Working Group III is on the “Mitigation of Climate Change,” which aims to stop climate change and should have come out at the beginning of April.

The Working Group II report produces a politically acceptable summary of the science on effects of and responses to climate change. It entails three main packages.

First, the full technical report amounts to 3,675 pages and details what the scientists indicate is the synthesis and assessment of the science. Second, the Summary for Policy Makers which, here, is a 35-page report and typically diverges from complicated and nuanced statements in the full technical report. Third, the press release dramatizes the science, selecting the most extreme statements. This time, the press release’s first page was doom-and-gloom catastrophism followed by subtleties and positive ways forward on Page 2.

Media indicated examples of political influence aiming to remove or tone down some of the scientific content, a process in line with the IPCC’s political terms of reference. Norway’s government was reported as trying to de-emphasize fossil fuel phaseouts in favor of technologies removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Around 300 scientists were directly involved in some capacity in the technical report. They hail from all inhabited continents and are balanced between men and women. Seven list Norway as their institution’s country. Two with Norway as their country are authors of the Summary for Policy Makers.

Multiple levels of confusion remain in trying to go through and interpret the technical report. Eighty-four pages of corrections are in the process of being completed. The footer reads “Do Not Cite, Quote, or Distribute” even though the document is openly available online. A “Summary” of 35 pages for policymakers is long enough, but the Technical Summary is 96 pages!

What does all this documentation tell us? Not much. All the core messages in terms of science and action have been known for decades and this round provides nothing different.

And what exactly has Norwegian science provided, for all the hours, weeks, stress, frustration, and annoyance that goes into this eight-year process? Again, not much. Apart from all the hours, weeks, stress, frustration, and annoyance. In fact, Norway’s main contribution to the IPCC might actually be funding from the government.

Perhaps Norway’s IPCC scientists could more effectively place their efforts by con-ducting fundamentally new science about convincing society to wean itself off fossil fuels without hurting ordinary people. While pursuing more public education, government lobbying, and industry influence to counter the masses of anti-science material.

Because, in the end, who is really going to read these reams of technicalities or lengthy summaries? The IPCC provided plenty in its early years and now might have outlived its usefulness.

 

This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Ilan Kelman

Ilan Kelman is Professor of Disasters and Health at University College London, England, and Professor II at the University of Agder, Norway. His overall research interest is linking disasters and health, including the integration of climate change into disaster research and health research. Follow him at www.ilankelman.org and @ILANKELMAN on Twitter and Instagram.

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