Difficult issues resolved at recent IPCC meet

12 November 2014

Prior to the approval of the Summary for Policymakers  (SPM) of the Synthesis Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), intense debates took place on several key issues among member countries and authors of the report. 

Some of these difficult issues were resolved in the final hours of the meeting, which stretched the 40th session of the IPCC to go into overtime by a day. The meeting was held in Denmark, Copenhagen, from 27 October-1 November 2014.

Among the controversial issues included: mitigation and adaptation in the context of sustainable development as well as characteristics of mitigation pathways; international cooperation on technology transfer; a figure on the impacts attributable to climate change; the placement of a figure on global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) and the carbon budget and related scenarios. Also discussed were risks of Solar Radiation Management (SRM) technologies.

Another matter on the IPCC’s agenda for its 40th session was a request by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for a technical paper on ‘agriculture and climate change’, to be completed before the conclusion of the new agreement next year, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris. Instead of having a technical paper, the IPCC meeting decided that an expert meeting will be held.

Below are highlights of the discussions regarding these issues and how they were eventually resolved.

Mitigation and adaptation in the context of sustainable development

A section on ‘Transformations and Changes in Systems’ was discussed on October 28.  Bolivia said it had a conceptual problem with the title and proposed a change to “Climate resilient pathways for sustainable development”.  Following further discussions, the title was later changed to “Future pathways for adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development”.

Under the section on “Foundations of decision-making about climate change”, the following sentence- “Mitigation and adaptation raise issues of equity, justice, and fairness and are necessary to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication”- drew much discussion.

Brazil said that the sentence changed the key message from the SPM from Working Group 3 (on ‘Mitigation;). It said that it turned around the message from “sustainable development as the basis for mitigation and adaptation” to “mitigation and adaptation being pre-requisites for sustainable development.”  Qatar stressed the need to mention sustainable development as a tool for mitigation and adaptation.

Saudi Arabia expressed concerns not only with the sentence but with the entire paragraph in the section “as it watered down the concept of sustainable development”. It proposed the sentence (from the SPM of Working Group 3) that “Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies, along with their determinants,” and wanted that framing, in place of what was proposed by the authors.

Bolivia also expressed concerns with the entire section and said that there were new points that had not been discussed before and parts of paragraphs were taken from other documents which have distorted the (original) messages. It supported the proposal by Saudi Arabia which was contained in the SPM of Working Group 3 where “sustainable development and equity are introduced in a balanced way in relation to mitigation and adaptation”. China also echoed similar concerns and said that compared to what was in the SPM of Working Group 3, the sentences in the Synthesis Report SPM were not strong enough on sustainable development and equity and also suggested the need for “some adjustments” to the entire section. India also supported the changes.

After these interventions the authors agreed that what they had proposed was “a restricted description of sustainable development”. The text was then improved as follows: “Sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies. Limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication. Countries’ past and future contributions to the accumulation of GHGs (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere are different, and countries also face varying challenges and circumstances and have different capacities to address mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation and adaptation raise issues of equity, justice, and fairness. Many of those most vulnerable to climate change have contributed and contribute little to GHG emissions… Comprehensive strategies in response to climate change that are consistent with sustainable development take into account the co-benefits, adverse side-effects and risks that may arise from both adaptation and mitigation options.”

The section initially stressed ‘intergenerational justice’ and included the following sentence: “Delaying mitigation raises issues of intergenerational justice, because it shifts burdens from the present to the future”.

Bolivia said that this is something that had not been worked on before and asked why this concept should be singled out. It called for “intra-generational justice, historical responsibility, moral responsibility, compensatory and distributive justice” to be also addressed in the section. “If we address one of them, let’s address all of them,” it said. Saudi Arabia supported Bolivia and suggested language changes, which involved deleting intergenerational justice. Upon no agreement, member countries had to huddle to arrive at a resolution.

After the huddle, the member countries agreed that the sentence should read: “Delaying mitigation shifts burdens from the present to the future. In some parts of the world, insufficient adaptation responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development”.

Characteristics of Mitigation Pathways

A paragraph in question in the section titled ‘Characteristics of Mitigation Pathways’ led to much debate. It read:  “Emissions trajectories leading to CO2-eq (Carbon dioxide equivalent) concentrations in 2100 of about 450 ppm or lower are likely to maintain warming below 2ฐC over the century relative to preindustrial level… These trajectories require 40% to 70% reductions in anthropogenic GHG emissions by mid-century through large-scale changes in energy systems and possibly land use. Trajectories that are likely to limit warming to 3ฐC relative to pre-industrial levels require similar changes, but less quickly. Trajectories that are more likely than not to limit warming to 1.5 ฐC by 2100 require these changes more quickly.”

Objecting to the paragraph, China said if the paragraph contains only one scenario, it would not be sufficient for the policymaker. In the SPM for Working Group 3, it said that to achieve the 2ฐC goal, there are different concentration possibilities: 450 ppm, 500 ppm and 550 ppm. If only 450 ppm is included here, policymakers would not be fully informed, said China. It called for a full picture of the scenarios to be included.

The co-chair of the working group referred to more information in a table, where all relevant information has been provided. Not convinced with the co-chair’s explanation, China said that it wanted to see more text reflected in the SPM. Bolivia expressed concern about the reference to 40-70 per cent reductions in emissions. It said the idea of the SPM is not to be prescriptive but to show that there are different scenarios, alternatives and options and policymakers would have to draw their own conclusions based on that, and therefore the drafting exercise should not leave out options.  Saudi Arabia also said that the paragraph was too prescriptive.

Norway supported the proposal as is and said nothing should be changed. Germany supported Norway. Denmark too said that there is broad consensus for 2ฐC and that it is important that the world stays below 450ppm. Slovenia supported these countries and said that it did not see the option as being “policy prescriptive” but as “policy relevant”. The European Union and Switzerland also echoed similar sentiments.

Discussions ensued and resulted in a break out group to resolve the impasse. Agreement was eventually reached as follows: “Emissions scenarios leading to GHG concentrations in 2100 of about 450 ppm CO2-eq or lower are likely to maintain warming below 2ฐC over the 21st century relative to pre-industrial levels. These scenarios are characterized by 40% to 70% global anthropogenic GHG emissions reductions by 2050 compared to 2010, and emissions levels near zero or below in 2100. Mitigation scenarios reaching concentration levels of about 500 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 are more likely than not to limit temperature change to less than 2ฐC, unless they temporarily overshoot concentration levels of roughly 530 ppm CO2-eq before 2100, in which case they are about as likely as not to achieve that goal. In these 500 ppm CO2-eq scenarios, global 2050 emissions levels are 25-55% lower than in 2010. Scenarios with higher emissions in 2050 are characterized by a greater reliance on Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies beyond mid-century (and vice versa). Trajectories that are likely to limit warming to 3ฐC relative to pre-industrial levels reduce emissions less rapidly than those limiting warming to 2oC. A limited number of studies provide scenarios that are more likely than not to limit warming to 1.5ฐC by 2100; these scenarios are characterized by concentrations below 430 ppm CO2-eq by 2100 and 2050 emission reduction between 70% and 95% below 2010. For a comprehensive overview of the characteristics of emissions scenarios, their GHG concentrations and their likelihood to keep warming to below a range of temperature levels…”

Technology transfer and international cooperation

In the draft version of the SPM circulated on 25 August for comments, Section 4.4 was titled: ‘Policy approaches at different scales, including technology development/transfer of finance’. When the SPM was presented for the consideration of members in Copenhagen, the reference to ‘technology transfer’ was deleted, following the feedback from some developed countries. This led to an expression of grave concern by several developing countries, who insisted on the term “technology transfer” be re-stated, and this was what eventually prevailed.

Apart from the title, also in dispute under this section was in relation international cooperation and technology transfer. The initial sentence for consideration read: “Technology policy complements other mitigation policies, and many adaptation efforts also critically rely on development and diffusion of technologies and management practices”.

Venezuela was concerned that the word ‘transfer’ should disappear and said that deleting this would lead to inconsistency with the UNFCCC. It called for technology transfer to be reflected in the SPM. Maldives also reiterated the importance of technology transfer and asked it to be included besides technology diffusion. To this, the IPCC Chair, R.K.Pachauri said that not everything could be covered in the heading and that technology transfer should be addressed in the text.

Mali reiterated that technology transfer and dissemination of technology are important to include as they are relevant for the negotiations under the UNFCCC. It said that technology transfer should be mentioned either in the title or the summary but that there should be reference to technology transfer and development. Switzerland too said it is worthwhile to have transfer in the title. Bolivia insisted that the issue of technology transfer and diffusion has a link with international cooperation and that one could not separate technology options from international cooperation.

A huddle followed among some member countries and authors which led to agreement on the following text: “Technology policy (development, diffusion and transfer) complements other mitigation policies, across all scales, from international to sub-national; many adaptation efforts also critically rely on diffusion and transfer of technologies and management practices.”

The title of the section that was eventually approved reads: ‘Policy approaches for adaptation and mitigation, technology and finance’.

Following the exchanges under this section, the following headline statement or key message was adopted: “Effective adaptation and mitigation responses will depend on polices and measures across multiple scales: international, regional, national and sub-national. Policies across all scales supporting technology development, diffusion and transfer, as well as finance for response to climate change, can complement and enhance the effectiveness of policies that directly promote adaption and mitigation”.

Gaps in studies and data on impacts attributed to climate change

A figure depicting “observed impacts attributed to climate change” became a bone of contention between developed and developing country member states. The figure (referred to as ‘SPM.4) illustrated in the form of a map, showed the “global patterns of impacts in recent decades attributed to climate change, based on studies since the AR4” (the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report).

Central to the dispute was the fact that there have been limited studies in developing countries of impacts attributed to climate change. The figure therefore gave the impression that developing countries suffered less impacts of climate change compared to developed countries. Some developing countries wanted the figure to be removed entirely from the SPM while others wanted the figure changed to depict all the impacts that countries suffered. Several others wanted to capture the shortcomings of the figure in the caption. Eventually, changes were made to the figure, its title and caption, which included that fact that there were gaps in studies and data (especially in developing countries).

Tanzania expressed concern that the figure did not quite depict all the impacts African countries suffered, and it would give the wrong impression that Africa only suffered the consequences of glacial melt. It added that drought and food security are major issues that the African countries face, which are also attributable to climate change. Kenya, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Morocco, Zambia and El Salvador spoke along the same lines as Tanzania and added that the map is not a true reflection of the impacts faced as a consequence of climate change.

Venezuela said it is not appropriate to make comparisons of risks on continents of different sizes. It said that smaller and more heterogeneous regions have different impacts in numeric terms, which were not depicted in the figure. It proposed deletion of the figure. Bolivia supported Tanzania and Venezuela and said the figure distorts things simply because the studies of the scale do not exist in the South as opposed to studies in the North. Such a figure would hinder the right messages to policymakers, Bolivia said, supporting the proposal to delete the figure. Nicaragua supported Bolivia. Saudi Arabia expressed sympathy with its African and Latin American colleagues and said that the map did not attempt to explain any major conclusion on impacts on a global scale or for developing countries. It proposed a contact group to discuss and resolve issues. Chile proposed to clarify in the title or the caption of the figure to say that the map represents only assessed impacts of climate change.

Developed countries on the other hand wanted to retain the figure. Switzerland touched a raw nerve when it said that various impacts in developing countries (which could not be attributed to climate change) may be attributed to mismanagement in development or planning. It was not in favour of deleting the figure from the SPM. Germany underscored that these are important findings and that it should be spelt out in the text that attribution was difficult in certain regions. Norway too suggested a contact group, and the United States said it saw a great deal of value in the figure and understood the figure as an illustrative set of impacts. It suggested that the title of the caption could clarify what the figure is all about. Netherlands too wanted to retain the figure and Canada said it is a very important figure for policymakers since it provides “evidence” for states around the world.  New Zealand called for a contact group.

Responding to Switzerland, El Salvador said it had “gone from one extreme event to nine extreme events and that has nothing to do with bad development or mismanagement. In fact, it has nothing to do with development. This figure shows the inequitable access to resources for research,” said El Salvador, and rejected the figure.

A representative of the author team of the report responded that the figure represents very systematic and consistent information on the impacts which could be attributed to climate change and added that the figure serves the purpose of sending out a clarion call for more research on attribution aspects in places that have not been studied.

Pachauri said he shared the anguish of countries for not being able to provide ground information and that not enough work was being done to assess the impacts of climate change, which the figure would convey. He agreed on the need to show the limitations, implications and shortcomings of the figure but also it was important to note that that had been substantial progress since AR4.

A contact group was formed which met on 28th and 29th October and member countries and authors agreed on the title and caption and changed the figure to represent attributed studies on a regional scale. The approved title for the figure was: “Widespread impacts attributed to climate change based on the available scientific literature since AR.4” and the caption approved for the figure reads: “Based on the available scientific literature since the AR4, there are substantially more impacts in recent decades now attributed to climate change. Attribution requires defined scientific evidence on the role of climate change. Absence from the map of additional impacts attributed to climate change does not imply that such impacts have not occurred. The publications supporting attributed impacts reflect a growing knowledge base, but publications are still limited for many regions, systems and processes, highlighting gaps in data and studies…”

Relationship between figures on ‘observations’ and CO2 emissions challenged

The placement of a figure (known as “figure SPM.1) on “global anthropogenic CO2 emissions” alongside three figures on “observed indicators of a changing global climate” led to much deliberation. Discussions on the figure began on 28 October and could only be resolved in the early hours of Saturday, 1 Nov. after several days of wrangling in a contact-group.

Some countries claimed that the figure on “global anthropogenic CO2 emissions” (between 1850-2000) did not fit in with the other three figures on “observed indicators” (on “globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature anomaly”; “globally averaged sea level change” and “globally averaged greenhouse gas concentrations”). This was because the others depicted observations whereas the figure CO2 emissions was an indicator relating to the cause of climate change. It would send a confusing message to policymakers, they said.

Saudi Arabia was concerned that placing all the figures on the same page rendered that there was an “indirect correlation” between them and wanted to guard against such a relationship. It added that during the discussions, the authors had said that they did not want to imply such a relationship. Saudi Arabia also said that it was imbalanced to portray just CO2 emissions and the entire basket of GHG emissions should be presented.

The authors responded that the figure shows three observations and one indicator, which is CO2 emissions and which is important to understand human influence. Referring to the figure as an essential element of synthesis, the author said that the focus on CO2 is appropriate since it is the main driver of climate change due to its long atmospheric lifetime. The authors also clarified that it was not possible to depict other GHGs simply because except for CO2, there was no robust data for methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) for the period 1850-1970.

The Republic of Korea asked for the figure to be removed, as it would confuse policymakers. China agreed with Korea and said that the figure in question is not about observed indicators and that it should be deleted. Venezuela supported these comments and said it did not belong in section 1.1, which was on ‘observed changes in the climate system’, but refers to ‘human activity that causes climate change’. Brazil saw great value in the figure and was in favour of keeping it, but was flexible to move it to Section 1.2, which was on ‘the causes of climate change’.  Nicaragua also said that the CO2 emissions figure did not quite fit in with the other three figures.

Netherlands too said that the figure could be moved to the next section. France supported Netherlands. Switzerland and the United Kingdom were flexible about the positioning of the figure.  New Zealand, Ireland, St. Lucia and Germany wanted the figure to remain as is.

The authors were not in favour of changing the positioning of the figure since it was a point of synthesis between the Working Groups 1 and 3 documents (on ‘physical science’ and ‘mitigation’ respectively). They felt that the figure served as an essential lead in into the causes of climate change.

After unsuccessful break out and contact group meetings, the figure returned to the plenary at 9.30pm on Friday, 31 October, the final day of the meeting. Disagreements followed and the figure was held in abeyance until 3.30 am the following day. A long discussion ensued, but with results this time.

Member countries agreed on a sub-title to highlight the limited quantitative information available on CH4 and N2O for the period 1850-1970, and they agreed to expand the caption to illustrate that the figure on global anthropogenic CO2 emissions was different in nature from the three figures on observations above it.

The agreed sub title reads: “Quantitative information of CH4 and N2O emission time series from 1850 to 1970 is limited.” The caption reads: (Figure SPM.1): “The complex relationship between the observations … and the emissions is addressed in Section 1.2 and topic 1 (on the “causes of climate change)

Carbon budget

On 28 October, protracted discussions took place over the following paragraph, which relates to the remaining carbon space in the atmosphere: “Limiting total human-induced warming to be likely less than 2 ฐC relative to the period 1861-1880 will require cumulative total CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources since 1870 to be remain below about 2900 GtCO2 (2550-3150 GtCO2). Two-thirds of this amount had already been emitted by 2011…”. (GtCO2 is giga tons CO2).

Saudi Arabia wanted policymakers to be given “a complete picture” rather than a “skewed message”. It said that there is a range suggested by different climate models and that policymakers need to know the range depending on the scenarios. It also stressed that anything that did not depict all the scenarios would not help since all of them relate to keeping temperature rise to below 2ฐC. Brazil added that the text is not fully consistent with what was agreed. UK and Germany seemed fine with the text as is and did not want anything more to be added.

A small group was formed, and the following text was approved. The approved text reads: “Multi-model results show that limiting total human-induced warming to less than 2ฐC relative to the period 1861-1880 with a probability of >66% would require cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources since 1870 to remain below about 2900 GtCO2 (with a range of 2550-3150 GtCO2 depending on non-CO2 drivers). About 1900 GtCO2 8 had already been emitted by 2011…”.  A footnote was added to read: “Corresponding figures for limiting warming to 2 degree C with a probability of >50% and >33% are 3000 GtCO2…and 3300 GtCO2 respectively…”.

Solar Radiation Management (SRM)

Under the section on SPM3.4-8, a text was proposed as follows on Solar Radiation Management (SRM). “Solar Radiation Management (SRM) involves large-scale methods that seek to reduce the amount of absorbed solar energy in the climate system. SRM is untested and is not included in any of the mitigation scenarios. If it were deployed, SRM would entail numerous uncertainties, side-effects, risks, shortcomings and has particular governance and ethical implications. SRM would not reduce ocean acidification. If it were terminated… surface temperatures would rise very rapidly impacting ecosystems susceptible to rapid rates of change.”

The US wanted the word “would” to be changed to “could” in the third sentence. It wanted reference to large scale SRM in relation to the risks. Canada also wanted to qualify SRM as being large scale, while Russia wanted implementation of these methods to require further research. Norway disagreed to any changes and wanted retention of the text as is. Bolivia was also against any changes to the text.

The author, in response to the US and Canada said that SRM and Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) technologies are by definition large-scale. No changes were made to the original text.

FAO request for a technical paper on ‘agriculture and climate change’

The FAO had requested the IPCC to produce a technical paper on ‘agriculture and climate change’ to be completed before the conclusion of the Paris deal in 2015. 

New Zealand said that the IPCC should not rush into a technical paper in the next few months but conduct a workshop and take it further. It did not see the need to do something before Paris. Bolivia was against the technical paper and said that IPCC should concentrate on communication of its scientific findings and outreach work next year. It added that technical work is under way in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) under the UNFCCC and the debate should conclude there. Argentina expressed similar concerns. Ireland said that it was an important issue for both IPCC and the UNFCCC and said that it was premature to take a decision. It saw value in holding an expert meeting to discuss the issue.

Tanzania, Mali, Japan, Netherlands, UK, Norway, Spain, Australia, Switzerland and theUS were in favour of the technical paper. The US said that it had been a supporter of the idea for a while now and assured member countries that it was not meant to pre-judge the SBSTA process, but that it could be a complementary process. US supported Ireland’s proposal of a meeting early next year.

Venezuela and Argentina reiterated their views against the technical paper. China suggested a workshop as a way ahead since it was premature to launch a technical paper. Austria added that listening to the concerns on the issue of food security and agriculture by many countries, especially African countries, an expert meeting would provide an opportunity to provide a good basis to consider the issue.

It was finally decided that an expert meeting would be conducted and the executive committee of the IPCC and the Secretariat were given the go ahead to organize an expert meeting at a time that was feasible.

TWN Info Service on Climate Change Nov14/03

12 November 2014