❄ Is The Response to Climate Change Sufficient?

The Problem

How can citizens judge whether responses to climate change are ‘sufficient’?

[This post does not propose to answer the question. It’s purpose is to identify useful sources for tracking—and understanding—the current response. Answering the question is up to you.]

The Questions

What is the ‘response to climate change’? Starting from scratch, how could I find out how ’climate change’ is being measured, and what specialists say about ‘response’? If I were fashioning a response, what policies and practices would I commend, and what present-day practices shun? And what of claims for urgence? That is, does evidence I credit confirm the case for prompt, extensive change in policy and practice?

Approaches 1: Calls to Action

Almost all well-informed climate scientists and policy scholars judge that climate change poses an urgent issue. Among them are some who have committed their time and effort to raising an alarm, alerting the public, calling for government action and changed economic practices. Some emphasize ongoing change, and change that is foreseen, to show how much is at stake.

These websites and papers voice alarm:

Alex Steffen’s blog: ‘The One Number You Need to Know’.

The Global Carbon Project: ‘Carbon Neutral’ and other pages, for example, the Global Carbon Atlas.

350.org, which advocates reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 ppm: a page about the science. 350.org takes its name from the target proposed by James Hansen and coauthors of the paper …

James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Pushker Kharecha, David Beerling, Valerie Masson-Delmotte, Mark Pagani, Maureen Raymo, Dana L. Royer, James C. Zachos8, 2008:“Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?” originally published in Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231, doi:10.2174/1874282300802010217.

CO2Now.org. “Stabilizing Climate Requires Near-Zero Emissions”. Reposted from ScienceDaily (Feb. 18, 2008).

Approaches 2: Consensual Assessment

There have been successive efforts to design, describe, explain, and use hypothetical constructions of possible energy and climate futures. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is now in its 5th iteration of reviewing evidence and interpreting it to the world. In parallel, three Working Groups have undertaken to present their judgments of the probability that salient effects will occur, or could be brought to occur. The Working Groups (labelled WGI, WGII and WGIII) deal, respectively, with the physical basis, effects in the world, and possible mitigations. Each Working Group has produced, or shortly will, two papers, a long-form study and a short Summary for Policymakers.

The full report of Working Group I, for example, is at


where ar5 means the 5th Assessment Report. URLs for the Summaries are given below.

Approaches 3: Schooling Policymakers

The three current IPCC WG Summary for Policymakers papers are at

WGI ➀     http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/docs/WGIAR5_SPM_brochure_en.pdf   [Note 1]
WGII ➁    http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/WG2AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf  [Note 2]
WGIII ➂   http://report.mitigation2014.org/spm/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers_approved.pdf

Responding to an initiative by Governor Jerry Brown of California, scientists drafted a consensus statement then opened for endorsement by others:

“Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century: Information for Policymakers”.

The Wikipedia process is well-suited to transparent drafting. An example illustrating what can be done is the Wikipedia article on ‘radiative forcing’. Even well-read members of the public are unlikely to be familiar with the phrase, but its use runs through IPCC documents.

Salient Indicators

Whether the response is ‘sufficient’ will depend not only on how ‘greenhouse gases’ make for warming, but also on the quantities of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In turn, that will depend in large part on the quantities of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) that emit CO2 into the atmosphere when burnt. Where could one look for ‘up to date’ estimates of emissions?

The successive Assessment Reports incorporate recent work to measure emissions. But what if you wanted to compare the historical estimates with those for the most recent year?

The Global Carbon Project, mentioned above, produces annual estimates. The 2013 estimates were published on 19 November 2013.

CO2Now.org reports the most current atmospheric carbon estimate on its home page [http://www.co2now.org] and offers free widgets that can be incorporated into a user’s web page linking to the most current data:


In the next section we will consider the disciplined speculations known as ‘Representative Concentration Pathways’ (RFCs). Assumptions—about energy demand, technologies, policy response—underlie each of them. For example, the ‘stability’ paths anticipate that ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ (CCS) will become practical and widely practiced … enabling economies to rely on fossil fuel and biofuels while avoiding today’s levels of greenhouse gas emission. But will these expectations prove sound? Another example: some say the solution to global warming lies in nuclear power … but does the world have the engineering capacity to build that many nuclear reactors? And would doing so be wise—given environmental risk and threat of weapons proliferation?

‘Representative Concentration Pathways’


One way to reach an informed opinion on our subject is to follow—and critique—the logic of the RFCs. Four principal RFCs were developed for the 5th Assessment Report. An unofficial guide, published by skepticalscience.com, is online at

http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/RCP_Guide.pdf[Note 3]

A brief description of RCPs is given in Box SPM.1 of Working Group I’s Summary for Policymakers.[Note 4]

[1] IPCC, 2013: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S. K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Page 9.

[2] IPCC, 2014: Summary for policymakers. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken,
P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-32.

[3] Graham P. Wayne, The Beginner’s Guide to Representative Concentration Pathways, version 1.0, August 2013. http://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/RCP_Guide.pdf

[4] Cited above: IPCC, 2013 … Contribution of Working Group I …

[Bruce’s Blog: 2014.07.28. Post BB09. Short Link p=637. Front Door Index: http://design.learnworld.com/.  Permalink: http://www.learnworld.com/DESIGN/uncategorized/❄-is-the-response-to-climate-change-sufficient/]