If you go to the homepage of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, you will find at the top one of the most amazing statements ever issued by that body:
The IPCC is currently starting to outline its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) which will be finalized in 2014.
2014? How useless is that?
While glacial change may no longer be an apt term for what is actually happening to the world’s glaciers, it is an ironically apt term for what has happened to the IPCC.
Originally the assessments of the state of understanding of the science were going to be every 5 years, then that slid to every 6 years, and now we are apparently at 7 years between reports.
The Fourth Assessment should have been sufficient to jumpstart serious action (see “Absolute MUST Read IPCC Report: Debate over, further delay fatal, action not costly”). But it ended up be out of date the minute the ink was dry for several reasons:
- The IPCC stops taking scientific input a year or two before the year the report comes out and the science is moving fast
- Most of the climate models had not yet incorporated many if any of the amplifying carbon cycle feedbacks, like the saturation of the sinks or the melting of the permafrost (see here).
- It published too soon to capture the China-driven explosion in emissions, so its emissions scenarios were DOA (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm)
- The consensus-based process in which every member government signs off on every word in the synthesis reports leads to a least-common-denominator set of statements that further waters down the science.
Indeed, the Fourth Assessment was out-of-date so quickly that the Bush Administration itself (!) issued a climate science report the very next year (which I’m told was held up for months by Bushies who didn’t want it to come out before the election) — signed off on by Bush’s science advisor, Commerce Secretary and Energy Secretary that pointed out in detail how much of on underestimate it was (see US Geological Survey stunner: Sea-level rise in 2100 will likely “substantially exceed” IPCC projections, SW faces “permanent drying” by 2050).
The net result is that deniers and delayers like American Thinker and Lomborg actually (mis)quote the IPCC report on behalf of their do-nothing recommendations and that we already know things are almost certainly going to be much, much worse on our current emissions path than the IPCC said (see “Yes, the science says on our current emissions path we are projected to warm most of U.S. 10–15°F by 2100, with sea level rise of 5 feet or more, and the SW will be a permanent Dust Bowl”).
We need a major new report by 2012 at the latest — and frankly one sooner than would be most useful. Since the IPCC has apparently taken itself out of the game, I’d strongly recommend that the Obama administration adopt a four-fold strategy.
First, science adviser John Holdren should initiate a detailed series of reports on U.S. impacts — temperature rise, sea level rise, Dust-Bowl-ification, spread of disease, ocean acidification, and so on — ending with a full assessment on the total cost of inaction (see “An introduction to global warming impacts”). Second, Energy Secretary Steven Chu should initiate a detailed series of reports on mitigation technologies and costs — efficiency, cogeneration, solar PV, concentrated solar thermal, and so on (see “An introduction to the core climate solutions”). Third, the Administration can then issue a Stern-like report on the costs of action versus the costs of inaction.
Fourth, the Administration should task the National Academy of Sciences with doing its own U.S. version of the IPCC Fifth Assessment — cochaired by NASA’s James Hansen and Carnegie Institution’s Christopher Field, to be published in 2010 or 2011 at the latest.
We simply don’t have the luxury of waiting another 5 years for the next major assessment of climate science, impacts, and mitigation.