Tuesday, July 2, 2013

IPCC AR5 Working Group 1 The science September 2013

The IPCC 5th global climate change assessment – coming soon.

The 5th assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC (AR5) starts to be rolled out this September with the Working Group 1 Science report.

I am posting a blog series of background information in which I argue that the health professions have a vital role to fill in population risk assessment and recommendations for mitigation and adaptation.

I am a retired MD with past experience in environmental health protection policy. Over the past couple of years I have presented on committed climate change implications for population environmental health at international climate change conferences in Canada, US, Philippines (SE Asia climate conference), Vienna (EGU Assembly) and Potsdam Institute Climate Impacts Conference.

The health professional organizations have collectively been the leading institution in warning of the catastrophic dangers to huge populations of global climate change.  Building on this there is more we can do. How ever the health sector (even in the USA)  is not prepared for the impacts of global climate change and has  stopped short of declaring we are in a global climate planetary emergency (James Hansen 2008 and 2012.

‘Committed’ (perhaps condemned) global climate change is unavoidable future warming that results from the huge inertia and momentum of the climate system starting with the World Ocean.  It is arguably the single most important and definite aspect of global warming. It is proof on the planetary emergency today to mitigate coming catastrophes in the near future. In fact we have climate change catastrophes affecting all continents.

To come to the present, since 2008 the International Energy Agency (IEA) has been warning that we are headed for a 6°C warming by 2100.

The IEA has just warned that the post 2020 date for a possible global climate change international agreement is too late to avoid catastrophic impacts.

How much should that worry us and is it a reliable prediction?

What are the risks?

Will it be clarified in the IPCC AR5 science? 

The IEA should know, as this is the organization charged to keep the oil flowing around the world.

Without having some background on how the IPCC assessment works it can be hard to know.

As the IPCC is the recognized authoritative voice of science on global climate change it is generally assumed that the IPCC assesses risk, especially the worst ones,  and makes recommendations of to mitigate or avoid them. This is not how the IPCC functions.

In a nut shell the IPCC records the science from all sources and it is up to others to draw conclusions on what all the data signifies for the best mitigation measures with respect to expected impacts and risks. It is up to others to make recommendations. 
 The assessment has to be agreed by all the scientists involved and approved by all governments by way of government bureaucrat  ‘policy makers’  who sit on the Panel. This gives the IPCC assessment the greatest credibility, but it ends up over conservative on changes and impacts.  

The IPCC assessment does not assess environmental health risk, that being the risks to human population health from environmental change. Having made so bold as to say that, I will explain a number of reasons why.  I will also argue that the overlooked assessment of global climate change environmental health risk is crying out for the involvement of the health professions.

Avoiding risks of dangerous climate change is discussed around the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that requires the avoidance of dangerous anthropogenic interference of the climate system. It is agreed that this refers to a safe stabilized limit of atmospheric greenhouse gases, but we ( and the governments) have no recommendation from the science on what that is, nor does science define what ‘dangerous’ is.  

With Article 2 of the UNFCCC as the point of departure the next step is to determine what actually constitutes ‘dangerous anthropogenic with the climate system’. Scientists can identify the nature of human influences on the climate system… What they cannot do however  is define what actually constitutes ‘dangerous anthropogenic with the climate system’. Defining dangerous is a value judgement that must be made by society as a whole…

Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions edited by Katherine Richardson, Will Steffen, Diana Liverman Cambridge University Press March 2011 page 202.  This book documents the 2009 Copenhagen climate science conference of the same name.
The UN FCCC defines and specifies DAI as damage to natural ecosystems and managed ecosystems (agriculture) beyond their resilience to recover, human health and food security, and damage to the most climate change vulnerable regions (listed) and populations.

It is important to note here the importance of safe atmospheric GHG concentrations, because at any time a GHG level commits all future generations to a warming 2-3 X the warming at the time of that GHG level.


The health professions are the best qualified leading sector of society to advise and submit on dangerous climate change (DAI).

Danger is quantified by the standard precautionary formula of Risk= Magnitude X Probability, which is approved by the IPCC. It is left to others to apply the formula to global climate risk.

The only limit we have is the 2C (1996 EU policy) target, which James Hansen has called ‘disastrous’,  and on current evidence the human  and planetary prognosis of a 2C world is catastrophe.

Limiting human-caused warming to 2 degrees is not sufficient. It would be a prescription for disaster. James Hansen December  2011  American Geophysical Union Assembly.

The IPCC documented global environmental health impacts (let alone risks) of a 2C world is totally unacceptable and does not comply with the clear intent and specified requirements of the 1992 UN FCCC. James Hansen has published 2008 and since showing that 1°C is the danger limit.

The 2007 IPCC assessment impacts chart clearly showed 1°C is the danger limit and 2C would be catastrophic to billions of people. James Hansen was largely referring to triggering planetary catastrophes at 2C from the irreversible destabilization of ice sheets and huge amounts of Arctic methane. The IPCC impacts chart does not show these. In fact Arctic methane leading to runaway global climate change was not included in the 2007 IPCC assessment and is not in the AR5.  Anything above 1C, even according the highly conservative IPCC assessment, is a human population environmental health catastrophe of unimaginable proportion.

Note that health impacts from climate change start from today's degree of global warming.
Note also crop losses to smallholders and subsistence farmers at today's warming.
The above in fact  fits with an estimate by DARA that 400,000 people are being killed by global climate change per year.
These impacts are from climate change only. The assessment does not assess the combined end result impact of the many climate change stresses to population health. The assessment does not account for climate change impacting on top of ongoing health stresses and environmental degradations. The most climate vulnerable regions are where billions of the most socio-economically and nutritionally deprived live. They will suffer more end result population health damages and sooner than the climate change alone assessment finds, These billions have little health services that will collapse under small climate change impacts.
The IPCC impacts chart does not include the greatest of all dangers. These are the extreme  irreversible catastrophic planetary transformations (or large scale singularities) such as multiple cascading Arctic global warming amplifying feedbacks. The science calls these low probability extreme impact effects. As reliable data is not available to model the probabilities, this group of impacts is sidelined.  
Large-scale singularities are extreme, sometimes irreversible, changes in the Earth system such as abrupt cessation of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) or melting of ice sheets in Greenland or West Antarctica (see Meehl et al., 2007; Randall et al., 2007; also Chapter 19, Section 19.3.5). With few exceptions, such events are not taken into account in socio-economic assessments of climate change. IPCC AR4 WG 2 technical report