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NEWS: Now that the IPCC’s Working Group II report is done, it’s up to all of us

Maarten van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre and a Lead Author of the Working Group II Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) reports live from the conclusion of governmental negotiations in Yokohama, Japan, 30 March 2014.

It’s now 5am on Sunday morning in the Pacifico international conference centre, Yokahama, Japan. A few hundred delegates have spent the past five days going through the “Summary for Policy Makers” of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), about Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability to Climate Change. I’m here as a Lead Author of the IPCC report, and also representing the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC).

This week is actually the culmination of several years’ hard work. An international author team has prepared a 2,000-page assessment based on over 12,000 scientific papers and other documents. The report has been through several rounds of review – yielding tens of thousands of comments that have been addressed one by one. This week, government delegates have been going through the Summary for Policy Makers line by line, proposing changes to make it sharper, while the author team ensures that the summary remains consistent with the underlying chapters. After that intense approval process, the document becomes the undisputed basis for international negotiations about climate change and is used for the national climate policy of many countries.

Therefore, in a few hours time, we’ll have a strong and exciting report, with the best, government-endorsed, scientific knowledge on climate risks and how to handle them. A key step forward from the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report to the current Fifth one (AR5) is that the assessment really focuses on the concept of risk. It recognises that many impacts of climate change will materialise through variability and extremes, but also that even the potential large future impacts (such tipping points like melting of the Greenland ice sheet) are best captured in a risk management approach.

Ahead of its formal launch on Monday, I cannot yet disclose the juicy details, but here are the big implications of the report:

1)    Risks have already increased due to climate change, and will continue to rise for several decades to come (even if we drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions today). A recent example is the storm surge of typhoon Haiyan (which caused 94% of the casualties, and was bigger due to sea level rise).

2)    We can still manage those rising risks, but we will have to do much more to anticipate and reduce risk rather than just respond after impacts have occurred. Many such activities, for instance to increase resilience to disasters, provide great benefits even in the current climate.

3)    For the second half of this century, we face a bigger choice. If we fail to cut global greenhouse gas emissions soon and drastically, we will suffer greater and greater risks, with potentially very severe consequences and limited potential to adapt.

By now It’s 5.15am and we’ll surely need several more hours to complete the negotiations on the Summary for Policy Makers. But I’m wide awake, and excited about the prospect of taking this report to the next stage.

Because that next stage is critical. From here on it’s up to all of us: to take action ourselves to manage the rising risks wherever we live and work, but also to spread the word, and raise awareness about these implications among many, many others.

And to translate the cold hard findings of the IPCC into real action in policy and practice, we need to go way beyond the report’s technical language. A first step is to translate the findings for specific regions and sectors. But we should do much more: telling stories, sharing examples, empowering champions, and sometimes even playing “serious games” that let people experience firsthand the implications of the changing risks.

The IPCC report will be available on Monday at; for more background, see also


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Image courtesy Oxfam International.

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