Welcome, everyone. My name is Abbie Tingstad. I am one of the co-directors of RAND’s Climate Resilience Center, along with Melissa Finucane. And it is our pleasure to welcome you to this Update on the Findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And we are very glad to be featuring four of our RAND research staff members. I’ll provide a very quick introduction to them, but as I said, a really interesting panel coming up. So, we’d rather leave most of the time to that and to your questions.
So, today we are featuring Robert Lempert, a principal researcher at the RAND Corporation and the director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for Longer Range Global Policy and the Future Human Condition. We also welcome Ben Preston, a senior policy researcher at RAND and the director of the Community Health and Environment Program. We are also very glad to have David Catt and Karishma Patel, who are assistant policy researchers at RAND and Ph.D. candidates in the Pardee RAND Graduate School.
So, and as you know that we’re all here today to hear more about the findings from the Working Group II Report of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment that was released just this past Monday, February 28th. And before our panelists get started, just to give you a bit of a roadmap after this introduction, Ben will be giving an update on how the process works and giving us some insights on that. Rob will take us through a summary of the key findings. And then each of our panelists, beginning with Karishma, will update us on some of the what, in their opinion, is a key theme of interest for us to be aware of in that report. And then, without further ado, I will turn it over to Ben. Thank you so much.
Great. Thanks, Abbie. Thanks, everybody, for joining today. So, I think, you know, it’s pretty exciting to have this webinar today. And I think RAND might be pretty special among organizations in the U.S., if not the world, since we have four people here at RAND that played real substantive roles on this on this very important assessment. So I think it’s a credit to RAND that we were able to participate in this way.
So, what I want to just give you, what I want to do is just sort of give you an overview of the IPCC process. There’s been a lot of this in the news as of late, but I just wanna give you a sense of sort of how this operates for the context for how this report came about. So, in terms a little bit of an intro, what is the IPCC? So this is a, so the scientific body was established back in 1988, was established the combination between the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. And it’s this whole role originally to provide scientific input to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is the international negotiating body that’s working collectively on climate policy.
And the IPCC has traditionally been organized around three working groups. So one working group focuses on the just the facts, right? It’s the science of climate change—what’s happening within the system. Working Group II focuses traditionally on impacts, as well as questions of adaptation and resilience. And then Working Group III is responses in the form primarily of greenhouse gas emissions reduction. So, how do we reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change? So, these three working groups, you know, are somewhat semi-autonomous. Each has its own co-chairs that lead the effort. Each produces its own volume of the assessment report. And so, you have to think of an assessment report as really sort of three bodies of work, which just means that many more thousands of pages to read if you want to read the whole thing.
So, what does the IPCC produce? Well, since 1988, it has completed five assessment cycles, and we are now in for wrapping up the sixth cycle. And so, what that means is Working Group I produced its report on the science of climate change in August of last year. As you heard from Abbie, Working Group II finished its work earlier this week, and Working Group III is due out next month. And so, these assessment reports are kind of the bread and butter for IPCC; it’s what it’s well known for. But IPCC also does reports on methodologies, for example, how to develop greenhouse gas inventories that are methods used by nations around the world. It also does special reports and technical papers or convenings on specific topics of interest to the Framework Convention.
So, what does the process look like? You know, it tends to be producing an assessment report tends to be a three- or four-year process. It starts with a scoping phase, where you develop the outline. And that’s done as a collaboration between governments that have questions they want answered and scientists and researchers that know sort of the state of science and the literature. From there, you move into an author selection phase. And so, for this Working Group II report that we’re talking about today, I think there was just under three hundred authors that were selected. Various seniorities, various around the world from Global North to Global South. And nicely or it’s interesting that the IPCC has made progress, particularly on enhancing gender equity and balance in its author selection, but it hasn’t quite gotten to parity yet. And so, that’s the mission for the future.
Then the authors move to a drafting phase, which starts out with sort of an initial rough draft that precedes to a more formal, polished first-order draft that gets revised and resubmitted and then the second or third draft that gets revised and we send it in as a final draft and through— at each one of these draft phases, there’s a review process, and it starts with a friendly review. You send it to friends and colleagues for which it’s designed to catch like big glaring errors or big structural issues. It then goes into a more formal expert review, which is actually open to anyone who wants to provide comments. That looks more like a traditional peer review process for, like, a journal article or book. And then the last one review is a government review where, you know, governments actually step in and provide their experts to provide review.
At each stage in the process, you know, we receive as authors, we receive comments in written form, and we have to respond to each and every one of those comments stating what we have done in response to the critique or suggestion. Something from my chapter, was Chapter 18, was just over a thousand comments from around the second order draft and final draft that have to be responded to. And then from the final draft things get a little interesting. So you produce different summaries. There’s a technical summary and then a summary for policymakers, and then there’s also a synthesis report, so there’s a fourth report that’s generated that combines information from the three different Working Groups. But as Rob will probably talk about, the summary for policymakers is the big piece that you often hear about, because that’s the summary that’s produced by the report authors. But it’s open up to governments to comment on and authors have to go, in combination with the governments, have to go line by line through the entire summary, every table, every figure, and essentially adjudicate any critiques or comments that the governments have on the summary. Some people say that opens up the process to politics, some manipulation. At the end of the day, it’s up to the authors to have the final word. And another way of thinking about this is it keeps the scientific community honest and making sure that the findings they are expressing are consistent with the underlying literature in the report.
And overall, the process does give you a sense of what the sort of pace look like. It’s an international assessment, right? So the four of us got to travel initially, got to travel to interesting places. So this is sort of the schedule. And the first meeting was in Durban, South Africa, followed by Kathmandu, Nepal, followed by Barrow, Portugal. And then COVID-19 hit, and everything had to move into a virtual environment, which raised a number of challenges. But before that happened, at least we got to enjoy each other’s company in some exotic locations. So hopefully that gives you some orientation to what this whole thing is about. I’m going to stop there and hand it back to others. I’m also going to take the slides down so folks can actually see everybody’s faces. But thanks.
Great. Thank you so much, Ben. Over to you, Rob.
Great. Thanks, Ben, for that that summary of the process. Let me talk to us a little bit about what the topline summary of the report is. In brief, this report, the Working Group II report, finds that the impacts of climate change have arrived and they are worse than expected. The report goes through in great detail about how we’re seeing climate impacts, observed impacts today in every corner of the world. So far, climate change has hit natural ecosystems and the poor and disadvantaged the hardest. But the impacts touch everyone.
One really interesting, I think, consequential new item in this report is that science can now do a much better job of what’s called attribution, measuring the impacts of and attributing them to climate change as their cause, which contributes to what’s called the loss and damage debate, which played an important role in this report.
Many ecological and human systems have begun to reach limits beyond which they can no longer further adjust to climate change. So coral reefs are highlighted and other ecosystems are starting to reach their limits to adaptation. And there are communities which are being displaced by sea level rise and certain agricultural areas which can no longer grow the crops they are used to growing. And what we’ve seen that these observed impacts are just a tip of the iceberg. A lot more is coming and coming fast.
The report also finds many promising examples of actions that people have taken, people and communities, to adapt, to adjust to climate change, which are reducing risks and extending these limits of adaptation. But overall, adaptation is not happening fast enough to keep pace with the accelerating change, and most of the adaptation we see is more incremental rather than more transformational and designed to deal with future changes.
And there’s also many examples of unintended consequences, what the report calls maladaptation, where perhaps a community builds a seawall to protect itself from sea level rise. But that action then has consequences, say increasing flooding for other communities next door. The report then goes through a lot of assessment of what we can do, laying out what we can do. So the first message is that if we don’t get emissions under control, the problem becomes increasingly unmanageable.
There’s a big emphasis on what are called nature-based solutions, ecologically based adaptation in this report. And overall, it’s more effective to work with nature than against it. So things like using natural ecosystems to reduce as a part of flood management, either on rivers or coasts, using trees and vegetation for cooling, that sorts of things. It’s more effective to include everyone in the solutions, both because any reasonable definition of success can’t leave people behind, and because solutions that aren’t fair won’t work because people won’t cooperate.
The report lays out that this is really an all-hands-on-deck problem. No one group, not even national governments, can solve it alone. It is something that needs to involve governments at all level, business, civil society and other groups. The report talks about enablers of the change that is needed. These include finance. It includes both things within countries and assistance, both public and private, between the developed countries, the Global North and the Global South. Governance is an enabler, but formal legal structures and rules and informal structures. Knowledge, both creating new knowledge and sharing it widely. The report has a big emphasis on indigenous knowledge and local knowledge that complements more formal scientific knowledge, and those all come together to help both understand the risks and help us plot and plan adaptation solutions.
The report does a major assessment of where we are on adaptation, but in brief really finds that we’re flying blind. I mean, we had hundreds of scientists who scoured the literature to gather evidence of what works and what doesn’t. And so while there’s been some initial movement on that, that is an area where we really need to know a lot more. And it turns out it’s really hard to do. We just don’t, as a society, haven’t been doing a good job of collecting that sort of information.
So among the big themes that that emerge are urgency, the need to act soon, this issue of equity and that the countries that are most responsible for climate change, largely the developed countries of the Global North, are not the ones that suffer most. The poor and marginalized, the Global South is less responsible and suffers more. That may be an important issue that that comes up.
And then Ben mentioned this summary for policymakers process, this 35 page summary of the contents of the report. That is what a set of authors spent the last two weeks doing. We finished Saturday, late in the day on Saturday, going through this line by line. It’s really sort of an amazing process, even more amazing to do over Zoom. But it is that process, the report that Ben described, the 1,300 pages, is the bedrock. And both the authors, the scientists are referring back to the chapter, the governments are referring back to the chapter, and trying to come up with a crisp, truly policy-relevant summary of the chapter of what’s in the report. And while there’s a lot of debate, often politically motivated over the exact wording, the sort of the underlying themes of the report do come through, and, you know, essentially the final sentence of the summary for policymakers, which was agreed to by all the governments does capture pretty well. And just to read that to you, it says “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted, anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.” And so the report essentially lays out the evidence for that, and tries to provide some guidance on what needs to be done to follow that guidance. So thank you.
Thank you, Rob. Go ahead, Karishma.
Hi. Thanks for this opportunity. I think I wasn’t sure what Ben and Rob were going to cover before I spoke, so I did prepare something, but I might be skipping over pieces of it. I think something that I wanted to start with—eventually I might get to the most important themes that I think Rob covered a lot of them—one thing is, you know, this is the first time I’m involved with the IPCC having been the consumer of the IPCC. And as a research associate, I’m always thinking about what I’m learning and trying to communicate and think is important and then what others are understanding and what they think is most important. So kind of over the last couple of days preparing for this discussion, I’ve been thinking a lot, reading the top five takeaways for different media outlets, and then also just asking friends and colleagues and family members what they are most interested about climate change.
And it’s really interesting because in the top five articles, they always emphasize that, you know, people are observing more of the impacts of climate change. Some people and geographies are more vulnerable and that there’s a window of opportunity to do something. And then the questions tend to be, like, what will travel look like in the future and what’s the best place going to be to live? And concerns about children’s futures. And I think the interesting thing for me is that these kind of skip over a lot of steps where the report does highlight a lot of the impacts and projected risks for the future. A lot of the meat of it is in the steps in between—the strategies, the decisions, the actions that Rob mentioned for framing adaptation. And I think an important thing is realizing that, you know, those framings, if we apply them now, they mean the actions like the projections for the temperatures 10, 30, 50 years from now are kind of decided by those things that are… Whether or not we take those actions now.
So I don’t know who all is here, but I also think another thing we kind of sometimes skip over is that among efforts for climate change, we frame them in two different categories: there’s mitigation and then there’s adaptation. And this report is very much geared towards adaptation, which, mitigation is about reducing emissions for GHGs, whereas doing adaptation is reducing the risk associated with climate change. And so one of the good things that comes out of the report is that at least 170 countries and a lot of local governments are including adaptation in their climate policies and planning. But at the same time, I think a lot of the space is dominated by responding to extreme weather events and making minor changes to business as usual. Whereas adaptation is iterative, risks change over time, and these kinds of measures will prove useful in the short term, but in the long term, we need these kinds of, you know, long-term strategies and actions that are included in the report to think more transformatively about how we behave and plan and think about our relationship to the environment.
So I’m just going to end on some common themes that I thought came out of important things that societies need to do. And I guess the first is obviously that the rapid cuts in the GHG emissions, they reduce risks, but they also give us more time to adapt. The second is addressing equity, where the most vulnerable populations tend to be those that have had the least say in the way that things have developed. The third is there’s a heavy emphasis on water management as that’s going to change for everyone everywhere. And then the fourth is, and I think Rob talked about this a lot, so I won’t say too much is the untapped potential of including nature in the solutions. So with that I’m just going to hand it over to Dave.
Hi all. Similar to Karishma, this was my first time participating in the IPCC process, so I’m certainly thankful to Rob and Ben for including me and the RAND team that contributed to the report. And overall, I have to say it was a fascinating process to be a part of and I’m definitely very thankful for the opportunity. My contribution to the report was involved with one of the cross-chapter papers that focused on coastal cities and settlements by the sea. So I’m going to briefly describe the scope of that paper and touch upon the three key points. First, talking about the overarching message of the cross-chapter paper. Second, on the risks and impacts to coastal cities and settlements. And third, on adaptation in enabling conditions in these areas.
So the overarching message that comes out of this paper is that coastal cities and settlements are on the front lines of climate change. They are where climate change impacts are most acutely felt by the largest percentage of the global population and where the largest risks to the population centers lie in the longer term, which mainly come from the threat of rising sea levels over the latter part of this century. As critical nodes of the global economy and global trade, major coastal cities also contain risks that can produce cascading impacts for other economic centers and nations as a whole. We’ve already seen evidence of typhoon flooding in Asia that disrupts global supply chains and natural disasters in major coastal areas that significantly impact the GDP of entire countries. As we’ve increasingly seen recently in other global events, these types of crises will have significant implications on our own local communities and economic conditions, despite them happening elsewhere around the world. So this paper sort of serves as a call to action and I think links to Ben’s work in Chapter 17 on climate-resilient development, that realizing resilient development globally over time will greatly depend on the extent to which we can actually achieve that in coastal cities and settlements.
Next on a key point on risks and impacts. In support of the points that coastal regions are on the frontlines of climate change, they are simultaneously facing multiple, interlinked and overlapping risks, including degradation and loss of coastal ecosystems, heat stress from heat waves, groundwater salinization and water resource scarcity from upstream sources, rainfall-driven flooding, coastal-driven flooding, and storm surge from rising sea levels. And in some places like Los Angeles, major fire risks. These risks and impacts of climate change in coastal cities are highly heterogeneous around the world, and they greatly depend on different coastline types and levels of development. For example, the threats faced by small island developing states and Central American fishing villages and polar communities in places like Alaska are very, very different than those faced by American, European, and Asian megacities. Echoing the points made by Rob, Ben, and Karishma, there is a major element of inequality and climate injustice in these risks and impacts. The regions in the world that have contributed the least amount of emissions will have the most severe impacts driven by their inherent vulnerability and their inability to adapt. Regions like the U.S. with the most resources that have produced the most emissions over time will have the highest ability to adapt, and thus may face lesser impacts.
Finally, there’s a very intriguing element on risks and impacts, regarding the temporal nature of them. Many risks and impacts are present now, such as heat stress and ecological change, and will remain present and worsen over time. But in the mid to longer term, sea level rise will emerge as the most significant threat to coastal cities, which will probably start to take off between 2040 and 2060 and may multiply thereafter. However, this risk remains somewhat uncertain and is dependent on current decision making on future emission pathways. Sea level rise will become a chronic and inevitable problem, but we still have time to make decisions now and in the near-term future that can mitigate its ultimate impact.
Moving on to adaptation in enabling conditions, many of the points that come out of this cross-chapter paper on coastal cities and settlements echo the same points that Rob, Ben, and Karishma made. I think, relative to coastal cities, again, the point of the longer-term emergence of sea level rise will drive, you know, mid- to long-term decisionmaking that will make implementation of lower regret solutions in the near-term future very important so that we can open up the solution space that will potentially mitigate the ultimate impacts of climate change in these areas.
Thanks, Dave. My chapter actually Karishma and I worked on chapter one, which was the point of departure and key concepts, which was essentially supposed to frame the report. So just let me give you a little flavor of that and the report we try to frame. But after our introductory chapter, the report has seven sectoral chapters, each going in detail through a sector. So land-based ecosystems, water-based ecosystems, water systems, poverty, human health, cities, that sort of thing. Then there are seven regional chapters which focus on Africa, Asia, Australasia, North America, and so forth. There are then seven cross-chapter papers. Dave talked about the one on cities and settlements by the sea, but that look at particular topics of interest. And then there’s three synthesis chapter: one on risks, one on decisionmaking, and one on climate-resilient development. And Ben was one of the leads on the climate-resilient development.
One of our jobs in our chapter was to pull this all together and lay out the overall themes that that connect all the pieces of the report. And we try to organize that around three big ideas. One is the idea of risk, which is the potential for adverse consequences for human or ecological systems, given the diversity of values on what people find most important. And this sixth assessment cycle of the IPCC stands out as having an integrated view of risk over all three working groups really for the first time. So our report identifies 127 key risks where climate change is putting something that people value in serious jeopardy. Also gets into this idea of cascading risk which is new, but the idea of cascading and compound risks that risks aren’t independent, but one can affect another. So we see that in California, say, with fire risk, where it’s the drought, plus heat, plus shifting ecosystems, plus topics of land use, that all combine to put us in real jeopardy of wildfire.
The second big idea is solutions. How do we adjust to reduce these risks? Solutions need to be feasible, effective, and they need to be just and equitable. And the report dives in on each of those things which are relatively new terrain for the IPCC and presents some real excitement, but challenges to address. I mean, what does it mean for a solution to be feasible? What does it mean for a solution to be effective? And as Dave started getting into, it really highlights this question of decisionmaking under uncertainty. How do we make good, resilient, low-regret choices now that will work over a wide range of future climate and socioeconomic scenarios? And so the report really grapples with that in a significant way.
And the third big idea is that of transformation of fundamental changes in human or natural systems, and transformation is necessary to both adapt to the effects of climate change and to achieve the level of emission reductions we need. But this poses, again, some real excitement and challenges for this report. And as Ben noted, the IPCC is traditionally been focused on the national governments who come together every year in these Conference of the Parties, like the Glasgow meeting we had last December, and is supposed to provide information to them. But once you start talking about adaptation and start talking about transformation, it really becomes a large-scale collective action problem. So there are actors at all levels and of all types, not just governments. And so that really expands both the audience for the report and also starts to bring in normative questions, you know, effective for whom? Effective for what?
And I suppose if there’s one big overarching theme for me in the report, it’s this idea that transformation is inevitable, that big changes are inevitable. And really, our choice is, do we try to steer those changes in directions we like, or do we just suffer the transformations we get? And our chapter tries to capture this, but the report lays out that humanity is part of a coupled system with nature. The current system is out of balance. It’s not resilient. And so it is going to change. And the question is, can we nudge it by combining solutions towards transformation in directions that that we like?
Thanks, Rob. Okay, so Rob’s chapters kicked off the assessment with Chapter One, and then the chapter I co-led up brought up the rear with Chapter 18 on climate-resilient development. And in drafting that chapter, what we had to do as authors, the first thing we had to do is figure out what is climate-resilient development? And it turns out that was actually a concept we had to get our heads around and also figure out how to articulate. And from our perspective, it sort of boils down to the notion that, yes, of course, we’ve sort of agreed internationally that we need to take action to address climate change, both to reduce emissions and enhance resilience. But that’s not the only thing the international community has agreed upon. We’ve all agreed that a big overarching agenda for the world is the pursuit of sustainable development. So, yes, we want to address climate change, but we also want to lift people out of poverty and make sure people have access to clean air and clean water, education, health care, ending conflict, and sort of enhancing equity for people everywhere. So that’s kind of a big agenda, right? Climate change is certainly part of that. But the big concern is that, not only is climate change one of the elements of sustainable development, it’s also a threat to sustainable development, it poses a risk. It makes all these things potentially more difficult if we don’t get on top of it. And so what our chapter is really trying to do is figure out how to frame this and talk about, how do we pursue the sort of climate change agenda and the sustainable development agenda at the same time? And a big key feature of this is something that Rob just alluded to, this talk about transformations or system transitions and transformations.
And so, if we’re going to address climate change and develop sustainably, then we need to make big transitions in energy systems. Obviously, energy systems contribute to greenhouse gas emissions as well as poor air quality. We have to address transitions in infrastructure so that people have access to infrastructure services they need. But our development of infrastructure isn’t coming at the cost of nature and environmental services and ecosystem services. We need big transitions in industry. It’s no secret that a lot of our manufacturing and industry around the world is very carbon intensive, dirty in some places, and unsafe. Right. So we have to get on top of that. How we manage the land and oceans. We have to get on top of that. And also we’ve made a big emphasis on—it’s also ourselves. So we need transitions in societal systems and issues around governance and issues around preferences, attitudes towards consumption, attitudes towards growth.
So we have to do all these things kind of simultaneously, right? And sort of therein lies the challenge. And if done correctly, and this is a big emphasis of our chapters, if done correctly, we can take advantage of sort of synergies between these things. So go back to thinking about energy and air quality. So by transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, not only do we significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we also significantly improve air quality, which we know is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths around the world every year. So that’s a synergy we can tap into. At the same time, if we’re not careful in how we approach this, not careful in the way we design policies, we can also run into tradeoffs. One of the big ones is around how we use land. So some people said, “Hey, if we’re going to fight this climate change thing, we can just go plant a lot of trees to soak up the carbon.” But it’s like, so where do you plant them? And what does all that tree planning do for water balance in a particular ecosystem or watershed? What does planting a bunch of trees do for the natural environment ecosystem that was there before? And there’s tradeoffs associated with that. The other would be using biomass for energy. So we’re basically converting biomass on land into an energy source, which then using it for other purposes. What does that do to how we use the land? What implication does that have for the natural environment and subsequently for people? So the whole idea of climate-resilient development involves to some extent figuring out how to make these sort of how to capitalize on the synergies and avoid tradeoffs.
Nevertheless, some folks essentially object to this type of frame. Right? This idea that we can simply make tradeoffs between benefits in some areas and cost in other areas is very much kind of a technocratic approach to policymaking. So the argument comes up: how do you trade off someone’s cultural home or ancestral land? How do you make tradeoffs about people’s lives? So this other sort of argument that’s entered into through the climate change assessment discourse are these sort of notions or ethical and moral arguments around climate action, sustainable development. Like, it’s not a sort of bean counting exercise or sort of trading off, you know, economic damages and economic gains. It is fundamentally about people’s existence, people’s livelihoods, people’s dignity. And that leads to, I think, the big take-home message from Chapter 18, which Karishma and others already raised earlier, it’s this issue of equity. So if we are going to make these choices that imply tradeoffs, who gets to make those choices and how do we do that in a way that we do it in an intelligent way? How do we do it in a way that we’re not enhancing vulnerability, we’re not enhancing inequities, but we’re lifting up the well-being of all? And so I think that’s a real grand challenge that’s laid down in Chapter 18, I think for the broader assessment is, how do we make sustainable development and climate action work for everyone? And I’m not sure we resolved how to do that, not in Chapter 18, but it’s certainly laid down as an ambition which we should be shooting for. So I’ll leave it there. Thanks.
Great. Thank you so much, Ben, and all the panelists. I’m not sure that everyone knows that this is a voluntary effort. And so thank you sincerely for the many, many hours that you’ve put in to thinking very deeply about not only the impacts and the risks and the adaptation actions, but how these differ across different people, different communities, different parts of the world. We have a lot of questions coming in already, so we’ll try and get as many of those as we can. Ben, since you were just talking about tradeoffs and the pros and the cons of the different factors that have to be considered in how we address the challenges, the first question is, has there been any effort to identify if there are regions that have already or will benefit in the future from climate change versus regions that will be more damaged?
It’s a great question. I love it because to be honest, I think there’s a secret. I think it’s sort of a clear bias in the literature away from looking at potential upsides of climate change. But some of those upsides are out there, and they tend to have kind of a regional flavor to them. So there’s certainly, but what we hear about, sort of in the media reports and everything, is less about which parts of the world might benefit, at least on sort of a sectoral basis, you hear about which one is the most vulnerable. And that’s fairly straightforward, I think Rob sort of already covered it. You know, it’s the Global South in general. It’s lower income communities, marginalized communities and groups. Those are excluded from political processes. You know, those are the communities that bear the brunt of a climate change and it’s downstream impacts.
But that said, I think some folks are looking into, well, what about expanding northward of growing regions? Could that be beneficial to certain types of agricultural activities and people whose livelihoods depend upon agriculture? And yeah, the evidence is there that that’s actually the case. There’s one study from the U.S. that’s often cited which looks at the economics of climate impacts and it arrives at the conclusion that the northern half of the U.S. generally benefits and the southern half of the U.S. sort of loses out. And that has to do with impacts on different sectors, health being a big one of them. So I think we have a reasonable handle on what this looks like in different regions, but I don’t think we talk about it enough and certainly not some of the potential upsides.
Great, thanks Ben. Karishma, we have a question for you. Given the overall findings, which seem pretty dire, should the world be focusing more on adaptation instead of mitigation at this point, like moving people or ensuring resilience in different places?
I think Ben’s talk after that question came in kind of got into this, but I don’t think it’s an either/or. One of the last points I made was that reducing GHG emissions is essential to reducing risks and giving us more time to adapt. So it’s not an either/or, and it is figuring out the synergies. And also I think different people have different responsibilities. So some people need to mitigate and I guess everyone needs to adapt.
Great, thanks Karishma. Rob, let’s throw this one to you. This is from Emmanuel Asinas, Chief Economist for the California Department of Water Resources. He said that we know that climate change adaptation and mitigation mean focusing on limiting the extent of the damage and dealing with the consequences of climate change. As you know, there’s now a growing movement to introduce a third approach to this, to address an existential threat, climate change restoration. Can you speak to climate change restoration? Is the IPCC thinking of or covering climate restoration in the Sixth Assessment Report?
Yeah, and a very interesting question. And the short answer is yes, in part. The report certainly talks a lot about restoring ecosystems, and good and bad ways to do that. So in that sense, helping ecosystems recover from the consequences of climate change and other human impacts on them is a big, big issue. There’s another way in which people use climate restoration, which is taking carbon out of the atmosphere and starting to bring emissions down. And so our report covers parts of that, which is particularly parts that have to do with using, again, ecosystems, natural ecosystems to extract carbon, sequester carbon, be it through natural lands or agricultural systems to manage those in such a way to bring carbon out of the atmosphere. And it’s been alluded to, a big theme there is doing it in the right way, doing it so, avoiding causing more problems than you solve. And so a lot of studies about what sort of lands says it makes sense to reforest, where does that not make sense? Where does it make sense to use a land for bioenergy which can help extract carbon from the atmosphere? There is a really grand version for climate restoration, which involves large-scale carbon dioxide removal on an industrial scale. And that is not covered in our report, but will be covered in the Working Group III report, which is going to come out later this year.
Great. Thanks, Rob. David, I’m going to throw this one to you. Easy question. Does the disproportionate impacts part of the report help legislators make a stronger case for bipartisan support of the Build Back Better Act, or is a slimmer version of the $2 trillion social spending plan more likely to pass now? Any specifics you could share on global versus local disproportionate impacts would be helpful.
Thanks. That’s a good question. I’m not sure of, I cannot remember all the aspects that are in the bipartisan Build Back Better Act. But in terms of global versus local disproportionate impacts, I think that in the U.S. specifically, which is what this question is someone asking, we will continue to see the most marginalized communities in places like New Orleans in low lying, flood prone areas, and in other areas that have, even in where we’re located in Los Angeles, less shade cover in areas of the city that will be just more prone to heat stress during heat waves. Hopefully, legislators can recognize that historical development pathways have contributed to a lot of this inequality that exists and can incorporate those aspects into decisionmaking on these larger spending bills, because to a certain extent, suburban or wealthier areas of the US will be able to, I think, withstand some of the larger impacts of climate change over time, but the most vulnerable populations will continue to struggle to remain resilient. So that’s certainly where resources will need to be allocated in the future in order to achieve an equitable balance as we plan to adapt moving forward.
Great response, David, thank you. Rob, I’m going to throw this one to you. How are the shared socioeconomic pathways different from the representative concentration pathways used in AR5?
Okay, great. Now this is a real in-the-weeds techie question. So thank you for this one. The IPCC organizes its analysis around various types of scenarios that both these acronyms have to do with different sorts of scenarios. So the RCP are Representative Concentration Pathways, and they essentially represent different levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. And those were used in the AR5 report and they are also used throughout our report, the AR6 report. The SSP, Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, are meant to be scenarios that represent different descriptions of social and economic and political conditions throughout the 21st century that are different visions of how the world might evolve and which tend to be associated with different concentration pathways, though not on a one-to-one basis. So, and the shared socioeconomic pathways are organized around how hard would it be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in such a world? And how hard would it be to adapt in such a world? And so the SSPs are used a little bit. So first off, those two things, the RCPs and the SSPs, are related. They’re not identical, but they’re connected to one another. And the SSPs are used where available in the AR6 report. But the literature is somewhat spotty in the use of the SSPs. They by and large use the RCPs, but literature which uses both RCPs and SSPs is rather sparse. So where we had an opportunity to assess the literature that use them both we did, and where we didn’t, we just went with the literature that uses RCPs.
Great. Thank you so much, Rob. Ben, let’s see if you can answer this one. These are all easy questions, obviously. It says: “I often hear climate change being spoken of as both ‘We are past the point of no return’ and also ‘if we don’t change now, we’ll soon be past the point of no return.’ Where would you say we actually are, and how does the report address urgency without necessarily falling into despair? Or are we past the point of despair?”
You know, that should be what we’re assessing, really, because that’s the question that emerges. Depends upon what you want to return to, I suppose, is a big question. Yeah, I think to some extent this isn’t really a scientific question. I think this is— Rob raised normative issues earlier, and I think that has a lot of play. I think in the discourse around climate change, you see various narratives being spun. So one is, like, I’ve seen one that is like, “game over.” Like, “we lost. It’s done. You know, sorry, but climate change has gotten away with us and we’re just going to suffer the consequences.” I’ve seen that the common narrative is, “we have ten years to act, we have to make big shifts in a short amount of time.” And then I think there’s other narratives that are like. “Well, I mean, like overall, like, you know, economic losses per unit of GDP around the world are going down, not up. We’re continuing to see communities and in developing nations continue to grow and prosper, lifting people out of poverty. So there’s a number of signs pointing to things getting better for a number of people.” So there’s a lot of sort of dueling narratives. And I think it comes back to this conversation around scenarios, like, where do we want to be? What are our preferences?
You know, if we want to be in a future world where we have non-declining ecosystems and we don’t want to leave vulnerable communities high and dry or underwater, then yeah, we need to get our act together really quickly. But if you are an affluent person living in an interior part of a developed state, you might say, I can pay a little bit more for water and electricity and energy and I’ll be fine. So I think these narratives really come back to that they’re basically are an expression of people’s value framings. And I think to some extent scientists can’t necessarily answer the question of where we should be. But I choose personally to value the ecosystems around the world and value the lives of people around the world. And therefore, I think urgent action is necessary. I prefer to talk about urgency without putting a clock on it, necessarily. I think these narratives of, “We have ten years to act or eight years to act,” we end up painting ourselves into corners. So one example would be, we have to limit warming to less than 1.5 degrees. Well, we’re quickly headed there. And so if we’re not thinking about how do we respond if we go beyond 1.5 degrees, then what are we going to do when we get there? So I think this nuance of communicating urgency and importance, while also not promoting doomsday scenarios that freeze people up that make them not want to act, is tricky. So I don’t have an answer. Other than to say it’s tricky. But you have to be realistic about how much objective scientific research can really address this issue.
Right. Thanks, Ben. All right. We’ll see if Karishma can do that balancing act with this next question. And I’m not sure if we’ll have time for one more after that. We’ll see. So this question is, “Can the governments that are now interested in doing things for climate change do enough to make a difference without getting some of the other big countries that impact emissions to do more like China, India, and other regions?”
This is a really tough question, if anyone will help me. I think there’s obvious implications where there are higher-emitting countries that have developed. And I think that there hasn’t been a blueprint necessarily set for low-carbon development trajectories yet, and that’s something that needs to be figured out. And I think inevitably, thankfully, like, China and India and other regions do seem to be trying to take whatever little action they are to set emissions as well as, like, in investment space there. Recently, there’s been some moves to try to do better to measure carbon with respect to portfolios and that sort of thing—there is greenwashing. But I think the problem with climate change is that it does require transboundary and international cooperation. So countries can do individually as much as they want and can do but in the end, it’s going to take a lot of international cooperation. I don’t know. Ben, do you mind glossing over my answer?
Oh, you’re absolutely right. I mean, it is a transboundary issue, right? So folks can’t go it alone necessarily. But everyone likes to point at China and India, and I also add in sub-Saharan Africa, which is likely to be a big player later in the century, as being like, well they’re the ones where the emissions are growing, so they need to be the ones tackling the problem. But let’s think about how we get there. Let’s see, I mean: trade. Trade is global, markets are global. It’s like a purely economic argument. Why has the price of solar photovoltaic electricity production plummeted over the past decade? It’s because markets for those things have grown and countries like China have been able to manufacture them, at increasing lower cost because there are big markets, one of the biggest markets being China.
So there is a lot of synergy among countries—even if the Chinas and Indias of the world, don’t say, oh, we’re going to net zero, in ten years—as other countries move forward, the opportunities for low-carbon development just grow. And countries, whether it’s India or China, start to say, oh, wow, well, instead of building a coal plant or a natural gas plant, I can produce something that deals with my air quality problem, doesn’t use as much water, and reduces my emissions, and it’s cheaper. So as much as we point to the market as the problem, the market can actually be a solution. And the fact that we live in global markets actually can help drive some of these things forward. And it’s with countries sort of pushing and pulling each other. So, I’m fairly optimistic of where China and India are going to land, but at the same time, we can’t say to India, like, you guys are really emitting too much. Don’t lift your people out of poverty and don’t lift your people out of energy poverty because we have a climate change problem. Right? So countries like the U.S. and Europe don’t really have the moral authority to tell other countries like, no, you can’t develop folks. But I think because everything is interconnected, everything is going to move forward collectively. The question is just how quickly?
Great. Thank you both. We are well and truly out of time, but I wanted to encourage the audience members whose questions we didn’t get to reach out to any of our panelists or any of us doing climate-related research at RAND. We will definitely try and answer the questions as we can. Thank you, panelists, for your time and again for your efforts on this very important work and for communicating your findings in such a compelling and understandable way. With that, we’ll say good night to all and see you again soon.