Climate Change and Disasters

The latest output of the IPCC has caused some stir, which is ‘The IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation‘. This is some commentary from Richard Black of the BBC who was leaked the report:

While it is “likely” that anthropogenic influences are behind the changes in cold days and warm days, there is only “medium confidence” that they are behind changes in extreme rainfall events, and “low confidence” in attributing any changes in tropical cyclone activity to greenhouse gas emissions or anything else humanity has done.

[and]

And for the future, the draft gives even less succour to those seeking here a new mandate for urgent action on greenhouse gas emissions, declaring: “Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”.

[and]

It’s impossible to read the draft without coming away with the impression that with or without anthropogenic climate change, extreme weather impacts are going to be felt more and more, simply because there are more and more people on planet Earth – particularly in the swelling “megacities” of the developing world that overwhelmingly lie on the coast or on big rivers close to the coast.

This is from Andrew Revkin of the New York Times:

While the summary warns of enormously increasing risks from drought and flooding in decades to come, it is bound to disappoint climate campaigners — and it frustrated at least one, Joe Romm, even before it was released. The section on disaster losses correctly reflects the uncertainty injected in such analysis by confounding factors, including rapidly shifting human populations and the paucity of solid data over long periods.

Perhaps the most amusing take on the report comes from Joe Romm, who is mentioned in the New York Times report, who headlines that the report was a missed opportunity to warn of coming catastrophe. However, he takes some comfort in the following:

Fortunately, the public already understands that global warming makes extreme weather more severe, as new polling reveals:

[diagram of poll removed]

September polling by ecoAmerica found that 57% of Americans already understand “If we don’t do something about climate change now, we can end up having our farmland turned to desert.”

That’s okay then. Even if the sainted IPCC says things that do not agree with doom-mongering, as long as people are scared, all is well with the world. He then goes on to cite a series of articles that he believes prove that global warming is a catastrophe. Sitting in the middle of the debate, Judith Currie has the following to say about the report:

This report is better than I expected, although I suspect that some of their conclusions are based on weak arguments  (we will have to wait for the full report).  The two most important aspects IMO are the recognition of the importance of natural variability and also vulnerability.  The dominance of natural variability for the past 40-60 years  in determining extreme events makes the AGW extreme events attribution exercises (see here) seem even more pointless.  The weakest part of the report is the high confidence level of the future projections (including  one “virtually certain.”)  I suspect that different authors worked  on the “Observations” section than those working on the “Future” chapter; too bad the “Future” authors didn’t read the “Observations” section first.

I would most strongly recommend that, if following any of the links here, the most interesting is Judith’s evaluation of the report, which is detailed and incisive. On the skeptic side, this is what the Global Warming Policy Foundation has to say about the report:

If and when mankind’s influence becomes apparent it may be just as likely to reduce the number of extreme weather events as increase them.

Surveying the state of scientific knowledge IPCC scientists say they cannot determine if mankind’s influence will result in more, or fewer, extreme weather events over the next thirty years or more.

Jo Nova has the a more direct and scathing approach to the report:

This is another big tipping point on the slide out of the Great Global Scam. IPCC scientists — facing the travesty of predictions-gone-wrong — are trying to salvage some face, and plant some escape-clause seeds for later. But people are not stupid.

A conveniently leaked IPCC draft is testing the ground. What excuses can they get away with? Hidden underneath some pat lines about how anthropogenic global warming is “likely” to influence… ah cold days and warm days, is the get-out-of-jail clause that’s really a bombshell:
“Uncertainty in the sign of projected changes in climate extremes over the coming two to three decades is relatively large because climate change signals are expected to be relatively small compared to natural climate variability”.

Translated: The natural climate forces are stronger than we thought, and we give up, we can’t say whether it will get warmer or colder in the next twenty years.

This multipurpose prediction means that in the future, if it’s colder, they’re right; if it’s warmer, they’re right; and they have it covered for more or less storms, floods, droughts, blizzards and frost too.

Jo captures some of the shifting sands of the debate. Despite all the uncertainties, one way or another, we are all nevertheless doomed. It is part of the ongoing trend in the AGW camp to muddy the waters as predicted outcomes of climate change are not taking place/following the script. interestingly in the updates, Jo quotes ‘scientists’ who nevertheless insist that the signal of AGW will emerge one day, with the implication that the report changes nothing about the necessity for urgent action. Jo points out:

Wait for it, in trying to control the damage from this, Prof Palutikof reveals a deeply unscientific, religious mindset. There is no signal yet of man made influence, but she “knows” it will emerge. A real scientist would wait for the observation. [below was in quotes in the original]

Jean Palutikof, director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility at Griffith University, in Queensland, said the findings of the UN report would “not surprise anyone involved in climate science”. Professor Palutikof said it would take a while for the effects of climate change to become visible. But without action, she said, “gradually, over time, that signal will emerge with resounding clarity”.

From my perspective, I view the report with the same cynical view that I apply to all the output of the IPCC. As I have discussed before, there are some good and honest scientists working for the IPCC, but the organisation also has some characteristics that mean that their reports are not to be trusted. In other words, it is not possible to dismiss the IPCC reports which are supportive of the AGW thesis, then accept the reports that are less supportive as being ‘good science’.

However, the report is interesting in that it seems that there is finally some explicit and very clear acknowledgement of the uncertainties involved in understanding the impacts of climate, although the coverage is patchy (again, see Judith Currie’s discussion). This seems to be a positive step forward, but we will have to wait for the full report in February to see whether the devil is in the detail.

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One response to “Climate Change and Disasters

  1. Pingback: The Weather is Getting Worse? | New Zealand Climate Change

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