TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Apr14/02)
8 April 2014
Third World Network

IPCC:  Adaptation assessment triggered several heated exchanges

KUALA LUMPUR, 7 April (Hilary Chiew) – Intense debate took place over several key issues in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability related to climate change.

The IPCC member governments approved the Working Group II (WG II) Summary for Policymakers (SPM) that was scheduled for 25 to 29 March 2014 in Yokohama, Japan.  Several contentious issues led to the final approval nearly a day beyond the offical meeting dates, on 30 March. There was a line-by-line approval by the plenary of government representatives in WG II followed by the formal approval by the IPCC plenary.

The SPM of WG I on the Science of Climate Change was approved by the IPCC on 27 September 2013.  The IPCC is meeting this week in Berlin to approve the SPM of WG III on Mitigation of Climate Change. The outputs of the 3 working groups constitute the IPCC’s 5th assessment report.

Among the difficult issues which were heavily discussed during the WG II meeting included: country-grouping according to income level, the terms of transformation and resilience, magnitude of warming, regional risks, adaptation costs, coastal and low-lying areas, and the lack of literature in developing countries.

In some cases, concerns raised by governments were referred to contact groups or informal consultations for resolution. However, some issues which were deemed resolved still saw substantial exchanges before reaching consensus when the matters were referred back to the plenary’s line-by-line approval process.

Not all governments could attend the contact groups as small delegations, particularly those from developing countries, and even some developed country found themselves short-handed to cope with the simultaneous break-out sessions that were convened during lunch and dinner breaks, with some issues taking more than one session to reach agreement.

The atmosphere turned sour during the discussion on drought as a key risk for Africa and when Saudi Arabia’s request for prominence to be given to economic diversification was initially rejected, which in both instances prompted the intervention of the IPCC’s Executive Committee members.

Country-grouping based on income

China opposed the use of the term ‘low- and middle-income countries’ (that first appeared in the background box on context for the assessment) and preferred a more neutral word that is ‘developing countries’. Echoing the concern, Argentina said there is no international definition of the term and it too preferred ‘developing countries’.

The WG II Co-chair Dr. Christopher Field (Stanford University, the United States of America) said it was the strong preference of the author team to replace developing countries with low and middle-income countries as it is more neutral and consistent with modern literature, respectful of income of a broad spectrum, and the use of the descriptive term is important.

A contact group was formed to discuss this issue and after much wrangling in the sessions that went on over two days, it was finally agreed to use the term ‘developing countries’ throughout the text.

‘Transformation’ and ‘Resilience’

During the discussion on the ‘Terms central for understanding the summary’ (contained in Background Box SPM.2), governments broadened the meaning of transformation and included the term ‘resilience’.

Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and St. Lucia wanted the term ‘Transformation’ deleted, pointing out that ‘altered paradigm’ referring to ‘financial structures, and regulatory, legislative or administrative regime’ are too policy prescriptive and could undermine sovereignty of countries.

Bolivia also said economic transformation could mean water market in the context of adaptation and warned that the authors and IPCC are taking a dangerous step in incorporating a concept that has yet to reach conclusion in the scientific debate.

Austria said it would be awkward to ignore the concept that is widely used by much literature and that it is only a term and cannot be prescriptive, adding that it is up to the countries if they want to transform. Norway and Switzerland supported this.

The issue was sent to a contact group that met over three sessions and concluded on 29 March. The final agreed paragraph reads: “Transformation: A change in the fundamental attributes of natural and human systems. Within this summary, transformation could reflect strengthened, altered or aligned paradigms, goals or values towards promoting adaptation for sustainable development, including poverty reduction.”

Saudi Arabia expressed surprise that the term ‘resilience’ that is important for coping with impacts and adaptation, and which is critical for ensuring sustainable development, was not part of the key terminologies.

Co-chair Dr. Field said it is a difficult decision as the background box is to incorporate a few terms and that ‘resilience’ is already in the glossary of terminologies.

Saudi Arabia replied that ‘resilient’ is the title of a chapter in the underlying report, pointing out that it did not see ‘hazard’ given the same treatment (as a chapter) but that did not stop the authors from considering it as a critical concept. (Hazards was introduced as a term in the final draft after the round of government comments.)

Indonesia supported the proposal and noted that ‘resilient’ was also highlighted in the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation which is heavily referred to by the WG II.

Panama also supported the inclusion as it is of key importance for adaptation capacity.

The approved text read: “Resilience: The capacity of social, economic and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure, while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation.”

Small Island Developing States and Least Developed Countries

Under key risks (Section B-1) that span sectors and regions and which are identified with high confidence, in reference to the first point that reads: “Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihood in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states, due to storm surges, coastal flooding and sea level rise”, the United States wanted the coverage to be restricted to geographic terms and not country grouping. It was supported by Australia.

The Philippines asked if taking away small island developing states also mean small islands within countries.

Speaking from the podium the authors said small island developing states (SIDS) was consciously placed in the sentence given the seriousness of climate-related risks to them.

St. Lucia said it was hesitant to lose the notion of SIDS, adding that they are a special category in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Maldives said SIDS was also mentioned in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report (AR4) and emphasised that the islands are developing states with special needs.

Tuvalu said SIDS is a common term both in the IPCC and the UNFCCC.

China said impacts are the same for all small islands but in terms of future risks and the exposure of SIDS which are political centres with infrastructures at stake, their risks are vastly different so there is need to emphasise SIDS.

Cuba and Venezuela supported the reference to SIDS as well.

Austria agreed that all small islands are suffering but SIDS is a particular group of developing states. Therefore, it would be good for policy makers to be aware of this fact.

The United States and Australia concurred with the compromise that included ‘and other small islands’.

Several African countries (Chad, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan and Senegal) questioned why Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not specifically mentioned in the table of risks (that listed eight items).

The United States suggested discussing the set of eight risks in an informal group to ensure progress (in the plenary). Switzerland and Niger cautioned against too many contact groups.

The authors said they were not adversed to noting at the end of the list the particular challenges faced by the LDCs but could not include LDCs in this particular risk as it would be outside of their assessments.

Co-chair Dr. Field proposed a sentence noting that LDCs are particularly vulnerable to many of the identified key risks.

The United States said it could entertained the sentence in the chapeau with the condition that delegates accept all the remaining risks as a set (without go through the line-by-line process). It was supported by France, Slovenia, Sweden and Australia with the last suggesting the addition of vulnerable groups.

Brazil, Switzerland and India expressed concern with this approach, adding that other key risks should be given equal attention. India urged against adopting this approach and wanted debate on keeping open the option to discuss the other seven risks.

Co-chair Dr Field then proposed crafting the chapeau text and gave 10 minutes each for each key risk, and moved unresolved key risks into a contact group. The United States disagreed.
Dr. Field then proposed that the text will appear somewhere and not in the chapeau and decision would be taken in the plenary.

St. Lucia agreed with the idea of the text, noting that not all the risks are pertinent to the LDCs, hence disagreed with placing such text in the chapeau which sets the framework for what is to come.

The issue was resolved with the following sentence to be placed at the end of the list: “Many key risks constitute particular challenges for the least developed countries and vulnerable communities, given their limited ability to cope.”

Magnitude of warming

During the discussion on risks associated with the large magnitude of warming, questions were raised regarding the threshold set at 4°C. Several governments said this might be misunderstood by policy makers and the public that there would be no major risks below 4°C.

St. Lucia said there were already consideration for risks below 2°C and wanted the threshold to be replaced with 1.5°C to 2°C.

China asked if deleting 4°C would be inconsistent with the high confidence status of the assessment.

Australia and Switzerland suggested referencing the threshold to the four greenhouse gas concentration (not emission) scenarios called the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) that were approved by WG I for the IPCC AR5.

After a lengthy debate in the informal consultation, the matter was resolved with the following paragraphs:

“Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts. Some risks of climate change are considerable at 1 or 2°C above preindustrial level (as shown in Assessment Box SPM.1). Global climate change risks are high to very high with global mean temperature increase of 4°C or more above preindustrial levels in all reasons for concern (Assessment Box SPM.1), and include severe and widespread impacts on unique and threatened systems, substantial species extinction, large risks to global and regional food security; and the combination go high temperature and humidity compromising normal human activities, including growing food or working outdoors in some areas for parts of the year (high confidence). The precise levels of climate change sufficient to trigger tipping points (thresholds for abrupt and irreversible change) remain uncertain, but the risk associated with crossing multiple tipping points in the earth system or in interlinked human and natural systems increases with rising temperature (medium confidence).

“The overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change. Risks are reduced substantially under the assessed scenario with the lowest temperature projections (RCP2.6 – low emissions), particularly in the second half of the 21st century (very high confidence). Reducing climate change can also reduce the scale of adaptation that might be required. Under all assessed scenarios for adaptation and mitigation, some risk from adverse impacts remains (very high confidence).”

Regional risks

During the deliberation on risks at the regional level, an hour-long dispute erupted when a big number of African governments expressed deep disappointment over the initial refusal by the coordinating lead authors (equivalent to chairs of each chapter in the underlying WG II report) and the Co-chair to include drought as a climatic driver for the continent.

Governments were deliberating on the Assessment Box SPM.2, Table 1 which lists three top key risks for each region. The regions are Africa, Australasia, Asia, Europe, Central and Latin America, North America, Small Islands, Ocean, and the Polar regions.

Tanzania asked if there were no literature on drought hence it was not reflected in the table. Mali and Sudan echoed the sentiment.

The coordinating lead authors (CLAs) responded that there was literature and referred to the top key risk identified for Africa that clearly showed that water resources were facing significant strain but did not prompt them to add ‘drought’.

The sentence read: “Compounded stress on water resources facing significant strain from overexploitation and degradation at present and increased demand in the future (high confidence).”

Co-chair Dr. Field said the selection of the key risks was based on the outcome of the assessment. He then suggested that delegates (from Africa) continue their discussion with the CLAs at the back of the hall.

African delegations continued to raise their flags to intervene. Botswana wanted to know why drought is not evident in Africa. Sudan said the problem of drought is so clear for Africa and there are a number of scientific findings that showed interlinks of drought and desertification and food security.

The United States said there was unanimous agreement earlier (on the Table) when the governments congratulated the authors. It said they should heed the Co-chair’s advice to discuss the matter at the back of the room where someone will take down the notes and come back later instead of engaging in line-by-line discussion at the plenary. It was supported by the United Kingdom.

Mali said the World Meteorological Organisation held a forum on drought in June and there were heaps of document and declared that ‘we do not need a contact group or (separate) discussion. Tanzania said it was difficult to accept that drought is not an issue for Africa.

Again, co-chair Dr Field proposed suspending consideration at plenary for the region’s government representatives to meet with authors and pick out the issue to be discussed at plenary as an efficient way to move forward.

Chad said if so many African representatives are taking the floor to speak about drought, noting that there are a number of institutes and agencies in Africa devoted to drought, it did not understand why it was a problem to insert the word ‘drought’. There was no need for small group consultation.

South Africa said it was an issue of principle and the problem could not be implicitly expressed but must be explicit and upfront.

The response of the Co-chair prompted IPCC bureau vice-chair Ismail El Gizouli (Sudan) to ask if the ‘back of the hall discussion’ was the final offer. He said if (the authors insisted that) there are no data on drought, then remove Africa from the table. He further said many issues were discussed in the plenary. In a very loud voice, he said: ‘‘You have to be fair; everyone is a Party. You have to treat them fairly.’’

(In practice, bureau members refrain from intervening in plenary deliberation. El Gizouli intervened again at the end of the meeting when he insisted that the draft table on tree mortality be removed from the SPM as he deemed that it did not show the seriousness of the problem in the African continent compared to other regions, particularly North America and Europe.)

Saudi Arabia on behalf of Asia said it would like to show support and solidarity to its brothers and sisters of Africa. It said the table is indicative but not reflective of realities on the ground. For example, dust storms in Asia are not even mentioned and West Asia was not even assessed. It wanted a footnote that says the table is indicative and it would like to introduce Asian researchers to the team.

Agreeing with Saudi Arabia, the Russian Federation said it will not get the understanding of its government, adding that it is pointless to talk to the authors only ( behind the room) when the issue cannot be agreed at the plenary. It supported Saudi Arabia to remove the table.

Concurring to the strong sentiment expressed, Co-chair Dr. Field then announced that the plenary would proceed and “let’s try the normal mode of the process”.

The text was subsequently amended to include “... with drought stress exacerbated in drought-prone regions of Africa (high confidence)”.

During  the discussion of the table on regional risks for Asia, vocal Saudi Arabia clashed with Co-chair Dr. Field over the inclusion of ‘economic diversification’ merely as an example of adaptation issues and prospects in response to the key risk on “Increased riverine, coastal, and urban flooding leading to widespread damage to infrastructure, livelihoods, and settlements, in Asia (medium confidence)”.

After accepting Saudi Arabia’s intervention to include economic diversification, Dr. Field gavelled on the decision without giving the floor to Saudi Arabia which had raised its flag again.

Saudi Arabia complained that the Co-chair had gavelled too quickly without giving it a chance to consider the inclusion of ‘economic diversification’ which was designated as an example under the column of adaption issues and prospects. It wanted ‘economic diversification’ as a separate bullet point as it is an important issue for West Asia.

Saudi Arabia urged the Co-chair to stop being reactive and judgmental about comments from the floor. In reply, Dr. Field said he appreciated the comments but insisted that the time used is the same for all approved text.

Again, Saudi Arabia raised its flag. It declared that it rejected the gavelling of the last bullet point of the adaptation measures of the key risk number one for the Asia region.

Co-Chair Dr Field insisted that he was comfortable with the approach (in convening the plenary) and out of respect for the plenary, he would stick to time management.

Tajikistan, in supporting Saudi Arabia, urged the Co-chair to give more time and that the goal of the Panel is not merely respecting individual participants but also for the time as a whole.

Shortly after that, IPCC vice-Chair Jon-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium) asked for the floor. He said he was very lucky to be seated close to the podium and could be noticed quickly when he raised his flag.  He said he had an exchange of views with Saudi Arabia who explained to him that their flag was raised at the time of the finalisation of the first key risk (for Asia). He said it would be helpful if the co-Chair could reconsider his ruling as it would help the entire process.

To this, Dr Field said that with good conscience and respect for the IPCC, he had emphasised a number of time for flags to be raised prominently. (Saudi Arabia was seated at the back row on the far right from the podium and had many incidents of its flag not being noticed promptly. The IPCC secretariat had tried to address the problem by placing human spotters on the floor who then notified the podium immediately.)

Dr. van Ypersele said he was relaying comments by a fellow executive committee member and comments by Saudi Arabia. He went on to say that economic diversification for certain countries is critical and it is unfair that such an important measure should be treated as an example of an item. He urged for consideration to re-open that decision.

Co-chair Dr. Field relented and said CLAs will meet with the Saudi Arabia representative and it is up to the CLAs to consider that bullet point (requested by Saudi Arabia). After a short consultation between the CLAs and Saudi Arabia, the word ‘ economic diversification’ was accepted by the CLAs and inserted as a separate bullet point as an adaptation issue and prospect.

Adaptation costs

Under the discussion on adaptation costs, governments differed in views over the second sentence that read: “The most recent global adaptation cost estimates for developing countries suggest a range from 70 to 100 US$ billion per year from 2010 to 2050 (low confidence).”  India, China, Panama and St. Lucia said the sentence is very important and should not be deleted.

Earlier, Canada had proposed a new sentence to link the second and third sentences to read: "Estimates, which are highly preliminary, due to important omissions and or shortcomings in data and methods, suggest global adaptation costs, range very broadly from 4 to 109 US$ billion (medium confidence) which are highly preliminary (high confidence)."

[The third sentence was: “Important omissions and shortcomings in data and methods render these estimates highly preliminary (high confidence).”]

The United States said low confidence finding is out of place in the SPM and wanted it deleted.

Mali differed and argued that even if there is low confidence, it reckoned that as a signal, that showed the importance of the sentence, adding that the cost of adaptation could range from US$4 billion is unrealistic (in reference to Canada’s proposal.)

Supporting Canada’s proposed replacement text, Germany questioned the use of information from one study hence the low confidence level. It wanted to know why the existing OECD’s figure of US$8.8 billion dispersed in overseas development aid with adaptation relevance is not included and if private and domestic finance had been considered in the estimation.

A contact group was established and the final agreed paragraph reads: “Limited evidence indicates a gap between global adaptation needs and the funds available for adaptation (medium confidence). There is a need for a better assessment of global adaptation costs, funding, and investment. Studies estimating the global cost of adaptation are characterised by shortcomings in data, methods, and coverage (high confidence).”

Coastal systems and low-lying areas

During the discussion of coastal systems and low-lying areas under Sectoral risks and potential adaptation in the extended evening session of 29 March, debate was centred on the following sentence: “By 2100 without adaptation, due to climate change and development patterns, hundreds of millions of people will be affected by coastal flooding with East, Southeast, and South Asia particularly affected.”

The United States, Bahamas and St. Lucia wanted the specific mention of Asia deleted with St. Lucia saying that it presented a skewed view.

However, the authors stressed that survey of the literature stated the three major areas – East, Southeast and South Asia – as low-lying areas that would be particularly affected by coastal flooding.

Co-chair Dr Field asked the authors to review the sentence and suspended the discussion on this issue.

When the issue was revisited at 5:15am (30 March), the authors presented the revised sentence that read: “Without adaptation, hundreds of millions of people worldwide are expected to be at risk of being flooded on an annual basis by 2100 as a consequence of sea-level rise and projected socio-economic development, with East, Southeast, and South Asia particularly affected.”

The United States asked if the message was that projected socio-economic development is going to put the people at risk.

Saudi Arabia warned against sending the wrong message to the public that the problem is a side effect of development. It was supported by Brazil.

Co-chair Dr Field asked the authors to continue working on the sentence.

At 6:30am, the authors returned with a new sentence: “By 2100, without adaptation, due to global mean sea level rise of 0.5m and increased coastal population, the number of people exposed to the 1-in-100 years flood increased by the order of a hundred million people, with East, Southeast and South Asia particularly affected.”

Germany said previously the sentence was saying hundreds of millions but now it is one hundred million. To this, the authors replied that the previous figure was based on projection of 1.6m rise of sea level.

The European Union, Canada and the United States raised doubts about the accuracy of the data of sea-level rise and the number of people to be affected. The United States opined that whatever proposal from the authors (to find an acceptable statement) would be rejected by countries.

After consultation with the authors, Co-chair Dr Field said the authors are confident and that he had checked the studies they were referring to and proposed that the authors be given another half an hour, noting that this would be the third revision.

The United States said we had tried six times on this matter and that sea-level rise is just one of the most sensitive items to get right.

Co-chair Dr Field proposed leaving the issue to the end of the process but shortly after that, he announced that the authors decided to omit the sentence as one of the lead authors was not present.

The final paragraph reads: “Due to sea-level rise projected throughout the 21st century and beyond, coastal systems and low-lying areas will increasingly experience adverse impacts such as submergence, coastal flooding and coastal erosion (very high confidence). The population and assets projected to be exposed to coastal risks as well as human pressures on coastal ecosystems will increase significantly in the coming decades due to population growth, economic development, and urbanisation (high confidence). The relative costs of coastal adaptation vary strongly among and within regions and countries for the 21st century. Some low-lying developing countries and small island states are expected to face very high impacts that, in some case, could have associated damage and adaptation costs of several percentage points of GDP.”

Thus the reference to East, Southeast and South Asia being particularly affected has been deleted.

The concept of Mother Earth

A few Latin American governments led by Bolivia wanted the inclusion of the concept of Mother Earth to improve the comprehension of ‘human and natural system’. It said the concept was approved by the United Nations General Assembly and that it is a universally accepted concept.

The suggestion of Co-chair Vicente Barros (Argentina) to icnlude the concept in the glossary (and not in the main report) was rejected by the United States who said that it is very important that WG II stay focused on the task of summarising the main points of the underlying chapters and Mother Earth is not in the chapters.

Bolivia explained that it is the outlook of indigenous peoples who recognised that earth is a living thing and there are many references to this holistic view of nature.

Co-chair Dr. Field said the SPM has to start from the literature as the base and suggested that the idea is reflected in Section C (Managing Future Risks and Building Resilience) where there is mention of indigenous peoples’ values.

The reflection found its way into the following approved paragraph: “Adaptation planning and implementation at all levels of governance are contingent on societal values, objectives, and risk perceptions. Recognition of diverse interests, circumstances, social-cultural contexts, and expectations can benefit decision making processes. Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation.”

Lack of literature in developing countries

Several developing countries sought to correct the perception that there was an increase in literature from all regions as stated in the introduction chapter of the draft SPM.

Saudi Arabia said this might be a general statement but in reality, there is still lack of representation of sub-regions in a large continent like Asia. This shortcoming needs to be acknowledged.

St. Lucia questioned the extent of coverage of literature from regions.

South Africa would like the SPM to acknowledge the data gap in the African continent so that in the near future it would be an area to focus on.

Switzerland acknowledged that not everything is perfect and there is need to fill the gap.

Co-chair Dr. Field suggested removing ‘from all regions’ so as to not create impression that there is uniform coverage.

The final paragraph reads: “Compared to past WG II reports, the WG II AR5 assesses a substantially larger knowledge base of relevant scientific, technical, and socioeconomic literature. Increased literature has facilitated comprehensive assessment across a broader set of topics and sectors, with expanded coverage of human systems, adaptation and the ocean. See Background Box SPM.1.”+