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EGU 2014: IPCC reports – valuable, inefficient or both?

by Liz Kalaugher

The IPCC reports are a massive undertaking but have they had their day? Myles Allen of the University of Oxford, UK, believes it’s now time to move away from international assessments and focus on regional impacts.

The statement “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” is becoming analogous to saying that “the Earth moves round the Sun” in the 1700s, Allen said at the EGU meeting in Vienna. “It’s still important,” he added, “but no longer very interesting”.

Allen reckons the focus of climate science has shifted to quantifying the impacts of local changes and extreme weather events, and is no longer appropriate for international assessment.

Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, who was working group 1 co-chair for the IPCC’s fifth assessment report, disagrees. The IPCC process “continues to provide an essential common ground for negotiations”, he said at an EGU press conference. Many of working group 1’s headline statements made it directly into the documents for negotiation, for example.

That said, Stocker believes that scientists have “experienced the limits of the task, what they can bear”. The process could become “unmanageable if significant assistance is not offered to scientists”.

Jochem Marotzke of the Max Planck Institute of Meteorology, meanwhile, took a middle view. He is “convinced the process is effective…and it delivers comprehensive and reliable information” but doesn’t think that it’s efficient in terms of either time or cost. “You ask yourself, why are we doing this comprehensive assessment when we know much of it won’t make it into the summary for policymakers (SPM),” he said. Lots of the detail and “whole large blocks of topics” don’t make it into the summary. “Climate scientists have to support this assessment but we need to find a way to make it more efficient,” he concluded.

Allen agreed. “If a topic doesn’t need to be in the SPM, perhaps it should be assessed regionally,” he said. “We need a balance.”

  • Allen has also responded to (non-climate) feedback by animating his 3-D plot of observed, natural and human-induced climate change so that it’s easier to visualize.
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