The IPCC now says it’s OK to adapt to ‘climate change’

When I first became interested in global warming ten years ago what puzzled me at once was the insistence on ‘mitigation’ — reducing or abolishing carbon dioxide emissions — and the  almost complete indifference to ‘adaptation’ — preparing in advance to deal with droughts, floods, high temperatures, and all the rest of the climate possibilities. We seemed to  be doing something in that direction, but hardly enough.

Professor Bob Carter, one scientist that has been sceptical from the beginning of the global warming scare, suggested long ago that Australia adopt  and adapt the New Zealand civil defence management system, which is built around the ‘4 Rs’ — Reduction, Readiness, Response, Recovery. As any Australian of mature years knows, we are prone to natural ‘disasters’, and our SES system is one form of our own preparedness.

But the IPCC has never been interested. For it the key thing has been to get carbon emissions down before disaster overwhelms us. As I have argued many times, this strategy has three weaknesses: it is practically unfeasible to do it quickly, it cannot be done on a global scale, and the outcome of whatever any country does will have no discernible effect on temperature there. Given ‘the pause’, now approaching 18 years on one measure, one could also argue that there is no immediate need to do anything at all in the mitigation department. Isn’t it time, for example, that we built some more ‘flood-proofing’ dams?

Well, the IPCC has now given what seems to be a cautious go-ahead to adaptation. According to Chris Field , one of the co-chairs of the new report,

The really big breakthrough in this report is the new idea of thinking about managing climate change… Climate-change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation. This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.

Dr Field also declaredThe natural human tendency is to want things to be clear and simple. And one of the messages that doesn’t just come from the IPCC, it comes from history, is that the future doesn’t ever turn out the way you think it will be… being prepared for a wide range of possible futures is just always smart.

Does this mean that the IPCC is giving up on ‘mitigation’. No. But, at least it seems to me that, the IPCC may well be coming to the view that if it is to survive, it will have to have more than the mitigation arrow in its quiver. If I am right, then we can expect more IPCC papers on how best to adapt. Judith Curry devoted her 30 March blog to this subject, which drew 787 comments at last count. She cited an article by Andrew Lilico she had read in the Telegraph (London), which put forward the following:

… the global GDP costs of an expected global average temperature increase of 2.5 degrees Celsius over the 21st century will be between 0.2 and 2 per cent. To place that in context, the well-known Stern Review of 2006 estimated the costs as 5-20 per cent of GDP. Stern estimates the costs of his recommended policies for mitigating climate change at 2 per cent of GDP – and his estimates are widely regarded as relatively optimistic (others estimate mitigation costs as high as 10 per cent of global GDP). At a 2.4 per cent annual GDP growth rate, the global economy increases 0.2 per cent every month.

So the mitigation deal has become this: Accept enormous inconvenience, placing authoritarian control into the hands of global agencies, at huge costs that in some cases exceed 17 times the benefits even on the Government’s own evaluation criteria, with a global cost of 2 per cent of GDP at the low end and the risk that the cost will be vastly greater, and do all of this for an entire century, and then maybe – just maybe – we might save between one and ten months of global GDP growth.

Whereas previously the IPCC emphasised the effects climate change could have if not prevented, now the focus has moved on to how to make economies and societies resilient and to adapt to warming now considered inevitable. Climate exceptionalism – the notion that climate change is a challenge of a different order from, say, recessions or social inclusion or female education or many other important global policy goals – is to be down played. Instead, the new report emphasised that adapting to climate change is one of many challenges that policymakers will face but should have its proper place alongside other policies.

Our first step in adapting to climate change should be to accept that we aren’t going to mitigate it. We’re going to have to adapt. That doesn’t mean there might not be the odd mitigation-type policy, around the edges, that is cheap and feasible and worthwhile. But it does mean that the grandiloquent schemes for preventing climate change should go. Their day is done. Even the IPCC – albeit implicitly – sees that now.

It’s all too soon to say where this is going. But it would seem to me that the Abbott Government could pick up the drift and win a brownie point or two by talking sagely about ‘adaptation’ — and quote the IPCC in so doing.

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    And the IPCC is setting a fine example of adaptation, accepting this paraphrase of Luke ch 4 v 23 in the Christian New Testament “IPCC, adapt thyself”. Best way to survive.

  • John Morland says:

    Another well written informative article Don. It seems the IPCC has diversified its AGW message to include adaption (finally). However the IPCC will use its mitigation arrow. Today’s Canberra Times reported (at page 4) a leaked draft of the next IPCC report, the third part of its fifth assessment, warning the world is running out of time to make dep cuts to CO2 emissions. The report asserts the world’s energy supply will need to come from low carbon sources such as solar, wind and nuclear as part of the drastic action limit warming by 2°C.

  • Gus says:

    The reason why adaptation had not been mentioned before was because IPCC and its agenda were driven by… industry-haters, sic! By people whose main objective always was to destroy oil and gas industry, which they blamed for wars, US supremacy, Islamic extremism and every other malady and evil that the New Left sees in the world today. It has never been about the climate, if only for this one trivial reason: nothing untoward has been happening! The unleashed hysteria was not based on real, scientific facts. It was instead rooted in propaganda, lies (like the Himalayas shedding their glaciers in 30 years) and global circulation models, which are and always have been pseudo-science, because you cannot model climate with present day computing technology and our limited understanding of how exactly it works, to begin with. In a way, the models are lies too, just dressed to look “scientific.”
    Then the wealth distribution became another side of this coin and for a while it was all about giving money to developing nations, but primarily to those who would promise not to develop in return! So, definitely not to China.
    So, why do they, all of a sudden, get soft and start talking about adaptation? It’s because nations and politicians around the world rejected both their trumped up propaganda and the remedies proposed. Russia, Canada, Japan, China, India, flatly refused to be a part of any future “Kyoto.” Australia turned her back on them. Even the Europeans are wavering. Green technologies cost them so much and produced so little, they are forced to cut subsidies and return to … coal, the worst of all fossil fuels. In the meantime Americans, as they often do, made hay by fracking shale, reduced their CO2 output more than anyone else around the world (not that it actually makes the least difference climate-wise), modernized their power industry, and given how things look in the House and in the Senate, are unlikely to come on board and sign anything… that is, Kerry may sign something, but the Senate won’t ratify anyway.
    So, what’s a girl to do?

  • […] (there’s a great probability that we’re all about to sink) towards messages of  ‘adaptation’ and hope. Report author, Dr Chris Field, has called for more positivity about the […]

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