Info Service on Climate Change (Apr14/01)
IPCC approves summary for policymakers, reserves on full scientific report on adaptation
KUALA LUMPUR, 3 April (Hilary Chiew) – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has formally approved the Summary for Policymakers of the assessment report of its Working Group II on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’.
However, the underlying full scientific and technical assessment was “accepted but not approved in detail” by the Panel made up of 195 member governments, nor by the Plenary of Working Group II, pending editing work on the agreed changes in the Summary for Policymakers (SPM).
The approval of the SPM by the IPCC was shortly after it was approved line-by-line by the Plenary of government representatives at the 10th session of the Working Group II (WGII). This was on Sunday afternoon (30 March), nearly a day beyond the planned five-day meeting of the IPCC’s 38th session from 25 to 29 March 2014 in Yokohama, Japan.
The delay was due to the high number of contentious issues that were discussed through contact groups. Most of the contact group discussions took long hours and more than one break-out session to reach consensus. In anticipation of the rigorous scrutiny by member governments, the meeting began holding night sessions that went past midnight from Wednesday to Saturday and with some hours without interpretation service.
The final draft of the full scientific and technical assessment was accepted with a caveat that it has to be read in conjunction with the document entitled ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC 5th Assessment Report – Changes to the Underlying Scientific/Technical Assessment”. This is to ensure consistency with the approved SPM, known as the trickle-back process. This document lists the changes necessary to ensure consistency between the full WGII assessment report and the SPM which was approved line-by-line by government representatives. A listing of substantive edits additionally indicates corrections of errors for the final report. (See http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/report/final-drafts/)
Towards the end of the meeting, the WGII Co-chair Dr. Christopher Fields (Stanford University, USA) proposed a document with six ‘headline statements’ to follow the practice of WGI (on The Science of Climate Change) whose SPM was approved by the IPCC ion 27 September 2013. However, the Panel, largely on the basis that more time was needed to discuss the statements, rejected this proposal. As one government representative said, “I would not want to labour (on this) at this late hour, it is a pretty risky thing to do.”
(Headline statements comprise conclusions of the technical and scientific assessment undertaken and are primarily aimed for media use and the public, but are regarded by many governments as sensitive.)
IPCC Chair Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri pointed out that as a large number of delegations had already left and some will be leaving in the afternoon (of Sunday, 30 March). He pleaded for the WGII session to be wrapped up as soon as possible, warning against a totally unfruitful situation with hugely reduced attendance for the conclusion of the 38th session of the IPCC that was to follow.
Although Dr. Field felt that the headlines could be easily approved, he concurred with a number of delegations that preferred to delete the proposed headline statements, noting that “we do not need snappy headlines to change the world”.
Around noon, the marathon meeting which reconvened after at 9:30 pm the night before, finally reached an agreement. However, several countries expressed their reluctance to approve the report without seeing a copy of the report with the amendments. The meeting was temporarily suspended to enable the secretariat to update changes to the report while the delegates went for their lunch break.
When the meeting resumed at 2:15pm, delegates were presented with the SPM document with the words “approved Text – Copyedit pending” on every page, while the underlying scientific and technical assessment report had the qualifier that it be read with a separate document that deals with the changes.
The 44-page SPM includes 18 pages of tables and figures. There are three main sections: ‘Observed impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in a complex and changing world’; ‘Future risks and opportunities for adaptation’; and ‘Managing future risks and building resilience’.
The underlying report is the result of a worldwide collaboration of 309 lead authors from 70 countries and received 50,492 comments from member governments. Coordinating lead authors and authors involved in the assessment were present to defend their findings as well as civil society organisations that attended as observers. The report is divided into two volumes – global and sectoral aspects in 20 chapters and regional aspects in 10 chapters.
The WGII assessment report was preceded by the report of WGI on the ‘physical science basis’ approved on 27 September 2013 in Stockholm, Sweden while the WGIII report which assesses ‘options for mitigating climate change’ will be released at the conclusion of the 39th session of the IPCC on 7 – 11 April in Berlin, Germany. The assessment reports from all three WGs will contribute towards the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The AR5 Synthesis Report will be considered by the IPCC in Copenhagen on 27 – 31 October 2014.
Like the WGI SPM, the WGII SPM was also closely examined by member governments on a line-by-line basis in long and intense exchanges among themselves and with the authors, resulting in many changes to the draft document.
Among the governments who intervened actively were Bolivia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, St. Lucia, Mali, Tanzania, Venezuela, Mexico, Austria, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Germany and the European Union.
Among the key messages of the SPM are:
The SPM also produced a framework summarising key risks across sectors and regions called Reasons for Concerns (RFCs) to illustrate the implications of warming and of adaptation limits for people, economies and ecosystems. The five integrative RFCs are: unique and threatened systems; extreme weather events; distribution of impacts; global aggregate impacts; and large-scale singular events.
The meeting also saw a territorial dispute raised by Japan and the Republic of Korea over the use of the term “Sea of Japan”, first in a break-out group and later with both countries reading out their respective statements in the plenary and requesting their statements to be recorded in the official report of the 38th session of the IPCC.
In response, IPCC Secretary Dr. Renate Christ informed that the secretariat confirmed that the official name is Sea of Japan and that both statements would be recorded.
China too raised its concern over some misrepresentation concerning autonomous provinces and administrative regions found in maps in the scientific and technical assessment report and that it has conveyed its concern to the Co-chairs. However, it was unhappy that the problem remained unsettled and hoped that during the revision process it could be resolved. It also wanted its statement to be recorded officially.
Christ said the standard UN disclaimer will appear on the cover page of the underlying report.
IPCC Vice-chair Mr. Ismail El Gizouli raised the issue of the absence of many delegations that had to leave before adopting the documents. He said the situation was attributable to the inflexibilities in reserving airplane tickets for the delegations (from developing countries) by the Secretariat.
In response, the Secretariat said there was indeed request for it to allow developing country delegations to stay for an extra day so that they are present when the approval takes place. It further explained that a few delegates had declined to change their tickets, as they would like to return to their capitals before going to the WGIII meeting in Berlin next week.
The panel also decided to dedicate the report in memory of the deceased Prof Yuri A. Izrael, who was one of the former vice-chairs of the IPCC until 2008.
The IPCC WGII was co-chaired by Christopher Field (Stanford University, USA) and Vicente Barros (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina).