The release of the first part of the 5th IPCC report has provoked different reactions. What they share is that there are few new findings and the evidence, that science is useless if one doesn’t understand its output.
In broad terms we can say that the first part of the 5th report which has been published last Friday, 27 September hasn’t brought forward any major news. On one hand a pity, considering the effort and costs required to producing it. Considering the opportunities, some details might be worth looking at: for example NZZ stressed that “half of the CO2 budget was used up”, quite an important statement that was reflected even in the title of the article but, however, can’t be found in any Australian article. Why might that be?
Climate change as a social problem
I’m currently participating in a climate change course at Coursera and I mention it here because I can recommend this course to any person on this planet. One thing I learned during the lectures was so striking that I will probably never forget it for the rest of my life. As an environmental engineer I felt like punched in the face when Professor Jon Barnett said that climate change was a social problem and not an environmental one. I had never heard that before and had, like many others, believed that climate change was an environmental problem. It’s not. We can explain it with environmental models, but the problem it causes is definitely of social dimensions.
The IPCC and other sources have long shown that the consequences of climate change will be uneven felt: those countries that are least responsible for human forced climate change will be affected most. At the same time they are the economic poorest nations and will have the least economic means to adapt to the consequences of climate change.
Within a nation or country, poorer citizens will have less means to adapt to climate change than richer ones. Hence, one could also conclude that climate change will be felt differently as a consequence of the adaptation being a class question.
When Australian comments on the 5th report fail to address all the details, then this might reflect exactly this class issue. Why should people down-under focus on what we are responsible for?
Another detail that all articles I have looked at failed to address are the opportunities the 5th report reveals. If the equilibrium climate sensitivity is now down to 1.5-4.5 °C per doubling of CO2e (from 2-4.5°C) and if the likely sea level rise by 2100 will be less than previously expected (in case of accordant measures being taken), then this means that while the need for action is still the same, mitigation measures will likely have a higher impact than previously expected if taken early. In other terms, while the physical understanding of climate change is still the same, the difference between action and inaction to reduce GHGs will be costlier than previously expected.
Capitalism and lack of responsibility
One thing that is missing in the physical part of the IPCC report is the main cause of climate change. As mentioned above climate change is not an environmental problem. What’s more, also the causes are not environmental. That part of climate change the Earth is struggling with is the human forced part. Its cause is mainly overuse of natural resources and population growth. Both have one common denominator and it is called capitalism! Capitalism is what has helped humans to extract natural resources in a disproportionate way and as a consequence to grow an unhealthy big population, both heavily affecting climate change.
Capitalism doesn’t stop there. It will also have a major influence on climate change adaptation. Adaptation is not impossible, but it will be very costly. In other words, those who have the economic means, will be those that can adapt and hence who will comparatively benefit from climate change (or suffer less).
If the outcome of the 5th report is rather moderate, then one reason is that it was done by people that represent the richest 10% of the world’s population. Scientist, researcher and politicians will not be the big losers of climate change and hence, they don’t have that much need to focus on the real challenges of climate change. After all, it’s easier to focus on those terms that we can measure and predict with mathematical models than trying to understand the big picture.
Overall, the 5th IPCC report has confirmed what we knew before: the fact that climate change will have consequences and that it will hit sooner or later. What it did not (and could not) answer is the question when it will hit and to what extent.
What can be expected though, is that those who are currently responsible for inaction will unlikely be there and take responsibility when things get really bad. Whoever has seen how Tony Abbott run away when a reporter wanted to interview him as regards the recent tragedy of refugees (mainly children) drowning off the coast of Indonesia, know that he and people of his type who benefit from inaction on climate change will be hiding once its consequences will be felt strongly.
 Coursera is a free open source University. The course I am participating in is from the University of Melbourne.
 GHG = Greenhousegas
 There is also a natural part of climate change caused by natural cycles, which is not harmful because it’s much slower and much less extensive than the human induced one, giving flora, fauna and ecosystems the chance to adapt.