What next for the IPCC? How can we get action on climate change?

There is broad scientific consensus on climate change. What we need now is change – a transformation that responds to the scale of the challenge we actually face. Perhaps a ‘Campaign Climate’ that brings in the grassroots is a way forward?

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This week the IPCC released its report ‘Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis’, the first in a series of reports that will make up the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). This brings the IPCC process up-to-date with advances in climate science since the release of the last report (AR4) in 2007. The evidence base continues to strengthen and it provides unequivocal evidence of our warming climate system (our news update covers a few key points)

So where to next? Well, this is just the start of the Fifth Assessment Report cycle – which culminates in the ‘Synthesis Report’ in October next year. So most immediately there’s still a long way to go in the AR5 cycle, including the next IPCC report on ‘Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ which will be released at the end of March 2014. As the title suggests, this will be of particular relevance to those of us working in the adaptation community – it’s also an area that has seen considerable development since the last report in 2007.

Over the course of the next year, scientists will have given us a comprehensive review of the state of our knowledge on climate change. It would be easy to say this is ‘unprecedented’, but it is not. For all of the advances in our scientific understanding and the tremendous effort that is going into creating the AR5 reports – the case for climate change action was effectively made in previous assessment report cycles (see AR4 from 2007).

This has led to a discussion within the scientific community and by governments about how IPCC assessments should happen in the future – and even whether there should be an AR6. This isn’t an attack on the science – critics include IPCC contributors – but a question about the process. The focus is mostly on the large gap between Assessment Reports, there has been a seven year gap between AR4 (2007) and AR5 (2014), with suggestion that we would be better served by more frequent reports (e.g. last year’s IPCC SREX report on extreme events).

I would tend to agree with this, given that the comprehensive scientific case will be made by the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). With a future ‘AR6’ report seemingly unlikely to reach any radically different conclusions to AR5 (or earlier reports for that matter), the case for more frequent smaller reports that can be kept up-to-date seems a sensible one. It will be interesting to see the conclusions reached by the IPCC when it reviews procedures in Batuma, Georgia, this month.

The IPCC reporting process is one thing, but even more interesting are the questions being raised on the way forward for the climate community. The Nature Climate Change editorial this month highlights a radical proposal for a ‘Campaign Climate’ and that “a well-organised global grassroots campaign for climate protection could eclipse the IPCC in political influence”, as championed by the World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. There is also an interesting model that we in the climate community could learn from, the International AIDS Conference that has been hugely successful in driving the global effort against HIV and AIDS.

There is broad scientific consensus on climate change. What we need now is change – a transformation that responds to the scale of the challenge we actually face.

Now how are we going to do that?

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