Updated IPCC Working Group II Special Alert


The Working Group I chapter of the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – launched in Stockholm last September – found that human interference with the climate is occurring, and that climate change is unequivocal. Working Group II (WGII) launched its report in Yokohama, Japan, today; dealing with the risk to society, how to manage this risk, what level of risk is deemed acceptable and the set of values upon which such judgements are made.

The focus of this meeting has been the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), which summarises the underlying WGII chapter of AR5. The SPM is the last step in a three year process that has pulled over 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers together into a single report, involving hundreds of authors and thousands of expert reviewers. The WGII report is based on double the amount of scientific literature than the previous report from 2007, and offers an unprecedented analysis of climate impacts at the regional level.

The report finds that climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent, and throughout the world’s oceans, and the big risks and impacts are far more immediate and local than scientists once thought. Not only does it warn of crop failure, food and water shortages, rising sea levels, and serious impacts on human health, but also that countries around the world are ill-prepared for these impacts. For the first time WGII looks extensively at the world’s oceans and shows that marine species and biodiversity are highly sensitive to warming waters and ocean acidification. Climate change will also threaten global security, causing civil wars and conflict between nations. The failure to act on climate change is the world’s “gravest threat to human and national security”. The full WGII report features the word “risk” over 5,000 times, while the 49 page SPM mentions it 108 times. This is a resoundingly clear warning for world governments of the threat climate change poses to all aspects of life on Earth.

The report also tells us that we can no longer chose between mitigation and adaptation, that there are limits to adaptation, and that funding for necessary adaptation efforts is insufficient. It proves everyone wrong who argues that we can just keep on polluting our way into the future, and adapt to changes ahead. The report shows that current emission trends mean that we will start exceeding limits to adaptation in both natural and human systems. According the IPCC the world can’t choose to either pollute and adapt, or to mitigate without adapting. We have entered an era that requires both, managing the impacts hitting us already while preventing the impacts of the future. The WGII report compares how risks will increase if we continue on the current path towards 4DegC warming, and which impacts we can we avoid if warming is limited to 2DegC or less. It clearly shows that 4DegC of warming is not an option if we don’t want to put civilisation as we know it at risk.

The report also prominently discusses the costs of climate change. We are currently on course for 4DegC of warming, and this risk represents a debt of economic, health, social and environmental consequences that we already have to pay. So the fact that climate change will inflict huge damage to the global economy is abundantly clear. We are faced with the costs of the impacts we are already locked into, and with the additional costs that will result from failure to cut carbon emissions. According to the WGII SPM a rise of 2.5DegC “may lead to global aggregate economic losses of between 0.2 and 2 percent of income”. However, the costs of climate change can’t just be measured in GDP. The report is careful to emphasise that the economic impact figures are not comprehensive, describing the 0.2 to 2 percent figure as an “incomplete estimate” as it doesn’t include all sectors, or cover all risks.

Unlike the UNFCCC meetings, which are more politically focused, the IPCC Working Groups deal first and foremost with the science, and there has been a remarkable level of cooperation among governments, as well as a strong desire to ensure a scientifically robust outcome. Overall, the WGII report is the most authoritative overview of the scientific reality of climate change ever. It represents a definitive and resounding dismissal of climate denialism, and it will only be rejected by the most sceptical of sceptics.

What counts now are the days, weeks and months to come, and whether governments will take this update of the science as an urgent reminder of the need to take stronger action, and to take it now. Governments own this report, they have ordered it, so we can expect them to take it seriously, and reflect the science in their policies.


Key Points

Please find more detailed information on risks and the underlying report here on our website.

  • Warming of the land and oceans is unequivocal, caused by human activity, and is already having observable and serious impacts on food and fresh water supplies, human health, global security, and the environment.

  • Developing countries and rural communities are likely to be the hardest hit because of impacts to food production, livelihoods and local economies, trapping communities in poverty and increasing infant malnutrition.

  • Climate change is a threat multiplier, and there can be no real, lasting progress on poverty without meaningful, urgent action on climate change. The IPCC report features the word “risk” over 5,000 times.

  • Prevention is better than the cure. Adapting to climate change will not be cheaper than mitigating it, and there will be limits to how much we can adapt as past emissions have already ‘locked in’ decades of climate impacts.

  • This report is a resoundingly clear warning for world governments, and every day that climate action is delayed will lead to exponentially higher costs and human suffering that could have been avoided.

  • The cost of climate change is far higher than what is represented in GDP alone. We’re already locked into significant impact costs due to inaction, and further inaction will raise the bill higher, faster.

  • Some areas may experience temporary benefits as the world warms, but these will be both extremely limited and far outweighed by widespread negative impacts. The IPCC report predicts, for example, that climate change will reduce median crop yields by two percent per decade for the rest of the century, and do it at a time of rapidly growing demand.

  • This report is the last step in a three year process that has pulled over 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific papers together into an updated overview of the science, involving hundreds of authors and thousands of expert reviewers.

  • The IPCC calls the next few decades to 2040 the “era of climate responsibility”. Governments own this report, they have ordered it, so we should expect them to take it seriously, and reflect the science in their policies.

  • Heads of State have to make it a personal priority to solve the climate crisis. At the Ban Ki-moon summit in September they will have ample opportunity to ramp up funding and ambition for climate action, shift investments from dirty to clean energy, and properly fund adaptation and mitigation efforts. Solutions are available, and they deliver benefits for communities, the economy and the environment.


From briefing documents, to recent coverage, infographics and videos, here are some key resources which could help you better understand the IPCC process and aid your messaging.

Background tools

Economic tools

Health tools

Other useful tools

Debunking tools





We have pulled together some of the best rebuttals to help with your own messaging surrounding the report. If you need more information or further help with more reactive materials and ad-hoc support with rebuttals, please contact Christian Teriete.

Debunking myths requires positive communication, but most importantly: a compelling, memorable fact that replaces the myth. Fight sticky myths with even stickier facts. To debunk a myth you usually have to mention it, running the risk of reinforcing it. So before you do, you should give an explicit warning about it to put the audience on guard. Finally, explaining how the myth distorts the facts will help resolve contradictions and dispel the myth. Explained here, and in detail here.

General rebuttals

On economic impacts

On poverty alleviation

On the “benefits” of climate change




For more great photos as well as a host of other resources check out the Tree’s Resource Library.

Key quotes

  • “We live in an era of man-made climate change. In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.” Co-Chair of Working Group II, Vicente Barros.
  • “The report concludes that people, societies, and ecosystems are vulnerable around the world, but with different vulnerability in different places. Climate change often interacts with other stresses to increase risk. Understanding that climate change is a challenge in managing risk opens a wide range of opportunities for integrating adaptation with economic and social development and with initiatives to limit future warming. We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world in the near-term and beyond.” Co-Chair of Working Group II, Chris Field.
  • “Climate change really is a challenge in managing risks. It’s very clear that we are not prepared for the kind of events we’re seeing.” Co-Chair of Working Group II, Chris Field.
  • “This is risk management […] you have to be confident that the risks are very, very small. The science tells us that the risks could be very big and it’s irreversibility here.” Lord Nicholas Stern.
  • “The IPPC report along with the evidence we’re seeing on the ground in developing countries shows climate change is the single biggest threat to poverty reduction that exists today. It has the potential to undermine years of hard-won gains in improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. We have the means to end poverty within our lifetimes, but not if we don’t tackle climate change, by cutting our emissions and by helping poor people to cope with its impacts.” Climate and Policy Analyst at CAFOD, Rob Elsworth.
  • “Scientists are warning us, but they are not telling us to give up. The solutions are already here. A growing wave of people, communities, corporations and investors around the world are already making a difference by moving to clean and safe renewable energy and demanding governments to stand with them. There’s a better future than the one we are currently offered and it’s ours if we want to grasp it.” Senior Political Advisor, Greenpeace International, Kaisa Kosonen.
  • “The good news is that we still can avoid the most destructive impacts of climate change. The centerpiece of President Obama’s climate action plan will set the first limits on carbon pollution from power plants, and that will help in a big way. We must take that step forward, and now, to protect future generations from climate catastrophe.” President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Frances Beinecke.
  • “The latest IPCC report adds a tremendous sense of urgency for Congress to wake up and do everything in its power to reduce dangerous carbon pollution. “ US Senator Barbara Boxer.
  • “Climate change is hugely threatening to our way of life, in the UK, Europe and the world. Not to lead is deeply irresponsible. If you don’t lead, you will not bring others with you.” UK Energy and climate change secretary Ed Davey.
  • “The big risks and overall effects of global warming are far more immediate and local than scientists once thought. It’s not just about melting ice, threatened animals and plants. It’s about the human problems of hunger, disease, drought, flooding, refugees and war, becoming worse.” AP Journalist Seth Borenstein.

One economic impacts

  • “There are very strong grounds for arguing that [integrated assessment models] grossly underestimate the risks of climate change … [The models] come close to assuming directly that the impacts and costs will be modest, and close to excluding the possibility of catastrophic outcomes.” Former World Bank chief economist Lord Nicholas Stern.
  • “The costs of stabilising the climate are significant but manageable; delay would be dangerous and much more costly. ” Stern Review 2006.
  • “GDP does not tell the whole story. You could tell the story of World War II just through GDP, but it wouldn’t tell you about the millions of people who died. The losses of livelihoods a result of climate change impacts are not captured by the GDP story.’’ Policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Bob Ward.
  • “We need urgent support for adaptation, particularly in the poorest and most vulnerable countries, to stop millions more people from going hungry in the next two decades as a result of climate change impacts that are already locked in. This need not break the bank. Poor countries’ adaptation needs are estimated to be about $100bn a year – equivalent to just 5% of the wealth of the world’s richest 100 people.” Philippines climate change commissioner Naderev M Saño.
  • “The science tells us that much deeper reductions are needed in the decades ahead. Ultimately, a national price on carbon would be the most effective way to expedite a transition to a safer, low-carbon future.” Former governor of New Mexico, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson.

On health and human impacts

  • “The report talks about the economic cost of climate change. But the true cost of climate change cannot be represented just in monetary terms. There can be no cost put to losing a husband, a mother, a son or a daughter; there can be no cost to losing the home where our ancestors settled hundreds of years ago; there can be no cost to losing an ecosystem that sustains our life and the life of the earth we call home. This is the true cost of inaction on climate change.” Senior Adaptation Policy Advisor from WWF International, Sandeep Chamling Rai.
  • “This report is clear: the impact of climate change on food is worse than previously estimated. We have already seen significant declines in global yields for staple crops like wheat and maize and food price spikes linked to extreme weather, and the picture is set to get much worse. Without urgent action on both adaptation and emissions reduction, the goal of ensuring everyone has enough to eat may be lost forever. Political leaders should ask themselves whether this will be the generation to let that happen.” Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research for the GROW campaign, Oxfam International, Tim Gore.
  • “Asia is the most vulnerable continent to climate change, but it is not just developing countries in the region which are affected. Japan is already experiencing climate change and faces severe risks if action is not taken.  Japan imports about 60% of its food from overseas, thus climate impacts, like poor crops yields in other countries, will boost the price of food here – with inevitable negative consequences on our economy. This is not an issue somewhere far away, but an issue for us here.” International Director, Kiko Network, Kimiko Hirata.
  • “Human health is incredibly fragile in light of the threat that climate change poses, and especially when looking at the likely magnitude of changes. The IPCC’s 5th Assessment report makes it exceedingly clear that many health systems in the world will not be able to cope with this challenge. Mitigation efforts can have large health benefits – walking and cycling more often, reducing the burning of fossil fuels and eating less red meat are well-targeted measures to bring down the rates of important chronic diseases, especially cardiopulmonary diseases and diabetes.” The Health and Environment Alliance’s (HEAL) Julia Huscher.
  • “Big countries are responsible for climate change, more than countries like El Salvador. I know that it is impossible for us to do anything here if countries that are responsible for emissions don’t do anything. They need to change their way of life, but we’re trying too, because we understand the impact of climate change.” Climate witness Mauricio Cruz, El Salvador.
  • “In the past, farming used to be a good living. People had goats, cows, rice and fruit trees to feed their families. Now, because of climate change, this is not possible.” Climate witness Mofazzal Kagzi, Bangladesh.
  • “Climate change is increasing because rich people are using our communities like garbage. As poor people, we don’t have a voice – we are invisible to others.” Climate witness Maria Martinez, El Salvador.
  • “Now things happen with no warning, people can’t read the weather anymore, they’re lost. It’s all very confusing. Now, when people go to hunt or collect fruit they have to go further and further afield.” Climate witness Carlos Printes, Brazil.

Other useful quotes

  • “We have seen great climate leadership from countries and companies, but emissions are still rising, the poor are suffering. This [2014] is the year to take action on climate change. There are no excuses.” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
  • “Decades of progress are now in danger of being rolled back because of climate change. This is a ‘make-or-break’ decade for action on global warming. The time to address the interlinked challenges of climate change and ending extreme poverty is now.” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
  • “The problem seems to be to be that the bad guys are spreading untruths and exaggerations and assertions without a lot of hard evidence and serious debate, cheered on by the big companies who make similar assertions and repeat those assertions without thorough debate. The bad guys are the mavericks, the kind we hear on the radio, who don’t accept the science and who attack the scientists, I ignore them and they deserve to be ignored … but it’s more serious when you get to people in positions of influence, in industry associations or companies, or in the government and the opposition who in some cases say they believe the science but then don’t act as if they do.” Chairman of Australia’s independent Climate Change Authority, Bernie Fraser.
  • “Whilst there may be trivial benefits in some parts of the world for some of the time, the long-term direction for all of us is a negative direction. The question is, when do you take out fire insurance? If you take out your fire insurance by the time the first storey of your house is in flames, then you’re a bit late. The metaphor I use is, what price a grandchild? And if not what price a grandchild, then what price a grandchild’s grandchild?” UK chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport.

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