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Can we all please get on the same page regarding "IPCC Reports?"
A modest proposal for a standard citation method for IPCC sources.
Pursue any news article, academic journal, podcast, tweet, etc. and you’ll hear the phrase “IPCC report,” or “IPCC says” or something similar. This leads to much confusion when it comes to what the IPCC (UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) actually said and if they did where they said it if they even said it in the first place. This matters too because often the IPCC are attributed to have said things they never actually said thanks to the authors of various pieces all over the media either editorializing, spinning, or simply accidentally being sloppy with their writing.
I believe in attention to detail, appropriate context, and nuance though without the need for heavy moralizing, catastrophism or other truth-distorting and misleading tactics and this is all especially important when it comes to climate change. I also don’t automatically take someone’s claims at face value just because they’re expertly credentialed. But when it comes to the IPCC, I also want to acknowledge the work they do is important and if done correctly will benefit both humanity and the planet, so we need to be able to sift what they actually say from what activists, journalists, actual climate change deniers and others who spin what they say or insert their personal views as if it’s IPCC consensus.
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Let’s dig on with a few examples of what the IPCC may have said or not said and I’ll get to my point.
My proposal to suggest a common standard for citing IPCC’s various reports and other documents will also be introduced.
Below are several quotes with specific words highlighted along with a (
cryptic code) embedded in a set of parenthesis- these are NOT part of the original quotes and were added by me. I’ll explain that too in a bit what these are and why I use them.
Example 1: Last August, UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres released a statement about “the latest IPCC report” and called it ”Code Red for Humanity.” To quote:
Today’s IPCC Working Group 1 report
(AR6.WG1.UNK)is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk. Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.
Example 2: Page 10 of the newly passed 2022 San Diego Climate Action Plan (CAP), released in Aug. 2020 says the following:
The IPCC, in part two of their sixth assessment report (AR6)
(AR6.WG2.UNK)released in February 20222, sounded the alarm on climate change more urgently than before. The report continues the trend of increasing scientific evidence that climate change is caused by human activity and accelerating at a pace beyond previous predictions. The IPCC warns that levels of risk for extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts and rainstorms are high to very high at lower global warming levels than previously thought. These extreme weather events will disrupt the supply chain, our food systems and put pressure on the supply of fresh water. According to the IPCC, while “[n]ear-term actions that limit global warming to close to 1.5°C would substantially reduce projected losses and damages related to climate change in human systems and ecosystems,”
(AR6.WG1.MISC)current projections show that even the very lowest GHG emissions scenario will bring us perilously close to that 1.5°C threshold. Without immediate, aggressive, largescale action to curtail GHG emissions, we are likely to exceed that threshold in the near-term.
20222 Typo (are we not paying enough in taxes for a proofreader?) with the year aside, at the bottom of the page they have a footnote that appears to be a citation for the source of at least the actual IPCC quote (italicized above) on their page.
2 IPCC, 2022: Summary for Policymakers
(AR6.WG1.SPM)[H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, M. Tignor, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem (eds.)]. In: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.
Example 3: A February 28th article in the BBC by Matt McGrath (“Climate change: IPCC report warns of ‘irreversible’ impacts of global warming”) says:
Many of the impacts of global warming are now simply "irreversible" according to the UN's latest assessment.
But the authors of a new report
(AR6.WG1.UNK)say that there is still a brief window of time to avoid the very worst.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that humans and nature are being pushed beyond their abilities to adapt.
Over 40% of the world's population are "highly vulnerable" to climate, the sombre study finds.
(AR6.WG1.UNK)clearly indicates that places where people live and work may cease to exist, that ecosystems and species that we've all grown up with and that are central to our cultures and inform our languages may disappear," said Prof Debra Roberts, co-chair of the IPCC.
"So this is really a key moment. Our report points out very clearly, this is the decade of action, if we are going to turn things around."
Debra Roberts by the way is listed as a drafting author of
(AR6.WG1.SPM) but not as an author in any of the chapters in
(AR6.WG1.FR) Does that make her “co-chair'“ of the IPCC?
Example 4: This April 10, 2022 opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “We Are Wasting Time on These Climate Debates. The Next Steps Are Clear.” authored by John Bistline, Inês Azevedo, Chris Bataille and Steven Davis opens with:
Example 5: The Editorial Board of the Los Angeles Times on March 3rd 2022 titled “Editorial: Climate catastrophe is already here. What will it take for the world to act?”
In a sweeping assessment
(AR6.WG2.000)released Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scientists from across the globe found that climate change is causing “dangerous and widespread disruption” to billions of people and the natural world. These effects are coming faster and harder than expected, outpacing our efforts and ability to adapt.
The burning of fossil fuels and other human activity have already warmed Earth by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with preindustrial levels. Such activity has worsened wildfires, droughts, air pollution and heat waves; caused animals to go extinct and trees to die en masse; swallowed up coastal habitat; reduced crop yields; increased hunger and shrunk glaciers and other critical water supplies. Any further delay to act “will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all,” a 35-page summary of the panel’s findings
These hard truths should jolt world leaders into immediate action to end the use of fossil fuels and to pour money into protecting communities and ecosystems from the impacts we have already unleashed and those that are yet to come.
Example 6: Roger Pielke Jr, on his Substack quoted UN General Secretary Guterres’ comment stating:
The new IPCC report
(AR6.WG1.FR)dropped yesterday, prompting a flurry of interpretations and, yes, spin. The Secretary General of the United Nations warned of,
“a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”
Not only is this wrong, it is irresponsible. Nowhere does the IPCC report
(AR6.WG1.FR)say that billions of people are at immediate risk.
Example 7: Pielke writes a second post a few days later opening with.
This is a long post on what the new IPCC Working Group 1 report
(AR6.WG1.FR)says about the detection and attribution of trends in the frequency and intensity of climate and weather extremes. I first explain this terminology of the IPCC and then I systematically go through what the report
(AR6.WG1.FR)says phenomenon by phenomenon.
At this rate, anybody still keeping up is probably asking the following questions: why do I keep bolding report and what is the meaning of these various
(crypic codes)embedded in the quotes?
Short Answer: Report often means entirely different documents and sometimes the claims made in these quotes don’t even exist in said documents. There’s in other words a semantic issue here.
(cryptic codes) are my proposal for a new method of citing the IPCC’s reports with the intent for readers to verify the claims more easily but it also provides a way to learn on the surface level about how the IPCC consolidates and distributes their knowledge.
Long Answer: The IPCC is on it’s sixth “Assessment Report” which includes three Working Groups (WG). Confusingly, “Assessment Report” isn’t a report in and of itself but is an umbrella term for all the documents, many of which also have the word “report” in their title.
Each Working Group tackles a different theme; working on one end from hard sciences to softer sciences such as social science and eventually onto economics and politics
Or to be more specific :
WG1: physical sciences
WG2: impacts, adaptation, vulnerability on various systems at various levels
WG3: economics, mitigation, impact of pledges and policies).
These Working Groups generate three main documents: a highly-detailed very -long Full Report , a synthesized and reduced Technical Report, and a brief “layperson’s” oriented Summary for Policymakers.
Each group also generates their own Press Releases, Fact Sheets, and in the case of WG2 the interesting “Headline Statements” document.
At the end of the entire AR process there will be a capstone-type document called the Synthesis Report.
The killer point here is each of these documents are written by different groups of people.
At the risk of being super repetitious, here is most of what I wrote above but in outline form and with working links.
Produces “Assessment Reports” Currently they’re working on 6th one, hence “
AR6” and produced the Sixth Assessment Report. (AR6)
Has Three Working Groups (
WG’s) which produce three contributing parts to AR6. Each WG within the AR6 produces a Full Report (
FR), a Technical Summary (
TS), a Summary for Policymakers (
SPM) and other documents such as Press Releases, FAQ's, Fact Sheets (
WG1: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Released 8/21. “Addresses the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change, bringing together the latest advances in climate science.”
WG2: Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Released 2/22 “assesses the impacts of climate change, looking at ecosystems, biodiversity, and human communities at global and regional levels. It also reviews vulnerabilities and the capacities and limits of the natural world and human societies to adapt to climate change.”
WG3: Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Released 4/22 “provides an updated global assessment of climate change mitigation progress and pledges, and examines the sources of global emissions. It explains developments in emission reduction and mitigation efforts, assessing the impact of national climate pledges in relation to long-term emissions goals.”
Synthesis Report to be released in late 2022 or early 2023
Combines all three WG contributions and additional Special Reports for the entire AR cycle.
21-Aug-22 EDIT: Apparently this document is confusingly called Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers. Or at least that’s what they titled this document when it was completed for WG5.
And here is that same outline again with the
AR6.000.000(Assessment Report #6 in General w/o particular attention to any Working Group)
AR6.WG1.000(refers to WG1 in general but not a specific document)
AR6.WG1.SPM(Summary for Policymakers)
AR6.WG1.MISC(Press releases, Face Sheets, etc.)
AR6.WG1.UNK(Unknown source within WG1)
So this is my proposal: statements or claims made should cite the individual document directly as opposed to more broad statements such as the many shown in the examples above. Those who choose to editorialize or insert their own opinion, should, for the sake of clarity, and to remain as scientific and neutral as possible, separate these statements from whatever is said by the IPCC. This should also apply to individuals who work with or helped write these documents.
In the book Fossil Future by Alex Epstein, footnote number 9, Epstein’s source appears to be the WG1 Full Report, using the url https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/#FullReport
Clicking on this link today simply takes you to the one I linked above with the “coming soon” text. Epstein presumably linked to the page back when it actually had a copy of the full report. This can be seen using the Internet Archive’s compare tool, here. There is indeed a link under the Full Report section to a pdf entitled IPCC_AR6_WGI_Full_Report.pdf. The Internet Archive has no record of the PDF itself, presumably because it’s over 200MB in size but it is available here.