IPCC dilutes stand linking cyclones to climate change

November 30th, 2011 - 10:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Durban, Nov 30 (IANS) The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has considerably diluted an earlier stand strongly linking extreme weather events to climate change.

It now says it has “low confidence” in any observed long-term increase in tropical cyclone activity. It also states that it is “likely” that the global frequency of tropical cyclones “will either decrease or remain essentially unchanged”.

This goes against the strong emphasis it placed on the connection between climate change and cyclones in its fourth assessment report released in 2007.

In its earlier report it had said that both the frequency and intensity of hurricanes (as they are known in the Atlantic Ocean) and tropical cyclones would increase because of the impact of climate change.

Thomas F. Stocker, IPCC’s co-chair of the Working group I, which prepared the new report on ‘Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters’ (called SREX), agreed it was “different to the assessment made in the fourth assessment report, reflecting scientific progress and better understanding of the quality of data”.

The new report was finalised last month and re-released at the ongoing climate change conference here.

Stocker was responding to a question by IANS on phone link, after having made a video presentation at a meeting in Durban Conference Centre, where Rajendra Pachauri, President of IPCC, and Richard Klein, lead author of the extreme events report were present.

In an e-mail response, Canada-based Madhav Khandekar, an expert on weather and climate science who reviewed the IPCC 2007 documents, said those who take recent weather events as evidence for climate change seem to ignore the fact that there were several extreme weather events during the 1960s and 1970s when the earth’s mean temperature was declining.

He was reacting to earlier reports that “time was running out” for the Earth because extreme events were taking place more frequently. He said the IPCC’s earlier contention was not based on good science.

The new report also says it has “low confidence” at the global scale of climate-driven observed changes in the magnitude and frequency of floods.

Stocker conceded that the 2007 report was “not really robust” on some of the extreme events. By the latest report, he said, they had tried to fill the gaps in the past recreation of events.

The latest report also reduces the confidence to “Medium” that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, and says that in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense or shorter.

This is against an earlier contention that droughts are expected to increase globally because of the impact of climate change.

Indur Goklany, a science and technology policy analyst for the US Department of Interior, who represented the US at the IPCC, is critical of SREX for being silent on whether deaths from such events had increased or decreased over the recent past.

The report says that fatality rates and economic losses expressed as a proportion of GDP are higher in developing countries.

Goklany says fatalities are mentioned for all disasters associates with weather, climate and geophysical events (like earthquakes and landslides).

Actually, according to Goklany, deaths from extreme events have decreased.

“What are we doing right?” he asks.

At the meeting in Durban, Richard Klein, the lead author of SREX, said that the report had not looked into earthquakes, landslides or tsunamis, because they were not related to climate change.

(Hardev Sanotra can be contacted at hsanotra@gmail.com)

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