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Major climate science report from the IPCC: what to look for

The much-anticipated sixth assessment report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be rolled out on Aug. 9, generating a burst of climate coverage in the media and putting pressure on lawmakers to act.

Why it matters: The IPCC's reports are designed to be the most authoritative summaries of the latest knowledge regarding our changing climate.

  • The new report will be used to help inform policymakers headed to the next round of UN climate talks in November in Glasgow.

The five key areas to watch in the new report, based on conversations with report authors and others who are familiar with its contents:

  1. For the first time, this report will include information — an entire chapter, in fact — on how human-caused global warming is tilting the odds toward more extreme events, such as heat waves and heavy precipitation.
  2. The report will place a greater emphasis on regional information that policymakers can use for climate risk assessments.
  3. It will look at a wider range of emissions scenarios, including more information about how greenhouse gas emissions are evolving in the real world. This could address concerns that too many climate studies use worst-case scenario projections that don't match actual emissions trends.
  4. The report will have revised figures for how sensitive the climate is to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, using a new suite of computer models, some of which have shown a far higher sensitivity than older models.
  5. Expect a new range of both projected temperature changes and sea level rise through 2100. The 2014 report, for example, did not include scenarios of significant melting that has since been observed in Greenland and parts of Antarctica, which the new report is expected to include.

What they're saying: According to Zeke Hausfather, director of climate and energy at The Breakthrough Institute and a contributor to the forthcoming report, it is likely to reshape our thinking on how close we are to the Paris Agreement's target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above preindustrial levels.

  • "It's really important that policymakers understand the latest science on these issues in order to make decisions. And the IPCC in many ways is explicitly set up to inform policymakers," Hausfather said.
  • Hausfather said there have been some revisions to surface temperature data sets in recent years, which will be included in the IPCC report, that slightly increase the amount of warming that's already taken place. This means we're actually closer to the 1.5°C target than previously thought.
  • He said to expect a focus on when we might cross 1.5°C and 2°C under different emissions scenarios and estimates of how sensitive the climate is to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases.

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