Monday, March 31, 2014

IPCC report

I’m just getting back from the IPCC approval session in Yokohama, Japan. A full copy of the summary for policy makers, which we spent a week approving line by line, is here. The chapter reports are also there.

I’ve been doing some interviews on the report, but not that many given long flights, the different time zone here in Brizzy (yes, that's what they call it), etc. One really good overview story in NY Times is here.

One of the reasons we started the G-FEED blog was to have a chance to speak in our own words, rather than just through the media. So far some of the stories on the report have been over the top negative. So I thought it worthwhile to offer here a few thoughts:

First, the sky is not falling, and the report doesn’t say that it is. To me, the report has some simple messages: 1) The impacts of climate change are already evident throughout the world, in many different places and types of natural and human systems. 2) The risks of further impacts are very real. 3) There are many things we can do to reduce those risks.

The report is sobering because the facts are sobering. But it is also tries to be very constructive by pointing out all the options going forward. It lays out a vision, led by our co-chairs, of a much better world. I think the final summary for policymakers is a very well balanced and thoughtful report, and one that I am very proud to have been a part of.

I also get a lot of questions about the process. What is it like to be an IPCC lead author? Writing the chapter took about 3 years. When we meet we typically work up to 12 hour days, including weekends, often skipping lunch, usually jetlagged from long flights in coach class, and for no pay. But other than that it’s great!

More seriously, and on the positive side, it’s extremely rewarding to work with colleagues that are the best in the world at what they do, and to work hard with them to synthesize evidence and figure out what we feel comfortable saying, and how to say it most clearly. It’s also an honor to represent your country in an international process that is geared to providing the best possible scientific evidence. I typically leave the meetings tired but deeply impressed with the devotion and critical thinking of my fellow scientists. And jealous of those whose countries fly them business class.

As for the plenary approval, the only word I can think of right now to explain it is “exhausting”. Maybe I will have more energy and perspective later on to write about that. But if you want to know why some of the media stories are not completely clear, it may be that they were talking to authors who had slept maybe 5 hours in the past 48 hours, if that. It’s a further testament to the genius and stamina of Chris Field that he chaired endless sessions and still managed to be so articulate and upbeat in the press conference.

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