Climate inaction to be ‘catastrophe’

Or so says Auntie, reporting well-known climatologist John Kerry. beeb1 In fact, I have a guilty secret that I will share with you: I faked this screenshot. But only a bit. Here's the original. My monkey, whilst faked in, is every bit as valid as their monkey. Its from the Rare Animals feed on facebook, which I recommend.

I have another secret I'll share with you: I haven't read the report. Not only that, I haven't really read other people reading the report. But what I was interested in, at least somewhat, was the general tenor of reactions. So the Beeb has Viewpoints: Reactions to UN climate impacts report with reactions by Corinne Le Quere, Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, John Kerry, Nicholas Stern, Prof Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Rachel Warren, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Sir Mark Walport, the Government's chief scientific adviser, Caroline Flint, Labour's Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Al Gore, Prof Sam Fankhauser, contributing author to the UN's climate report (AR5) and co-director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth executive director. Can you guess what they thought of the report? Oh go on, have a guess. Yes, you're right, they loved it, to a man and woman. OK, I shouldn't take the piss. The interesting point is that there's not a shred of false balance there: no token denialist was thrown in (one in the eye for you, Victor ;-).

RC has a not-very-interesting but neutral post that just points you to the thing. Sou has some reactions. Phil Plait also posts, but makes the mistake of asserting that Food production rates are already getting lower, with crop yields dropping. They aren't. See here for example. As says:

The three primary factors that affected recent increases in world crop production are (FAO, 2003; 2006):

Increased cropland and rangeland area (15% contribution in 1961–1999);
Increased yield per unit area (78% contribution); and
Greater cropping intensity (7% percent contribution).

Perhaps PP means "the contribution of climate change to food production rate is negative". Who knows? Meanwhile, there is some evidence that Eli has actually read it, credit to him (also credit for his helpful flowchart).

Ed Davey, Energy and Climate Change Secretary

I think its instructive to quote our E&CC Sec in full:

We do have to act. I see the expenditures we're having to make as an insurance policy, if you like. By paying a small premium now we deal with the risks so we prevent catastrophic climate change.

We have doubled the amount of renewable electricity in the last three years so we are making progress. We have to make an awful lot more. But part of our role is to lead across the world and we've got people across the world working with other governments. And I've seen signs at the UN climate talks that I go to of change in China and the United States. I think it's important that Britain continue to work with our European partners because I think there is a chance now that the world can make the deal it has so far failed to do.

There's an awful lot of things that if we act now and reduce our carbon emissions we can prevent it from getting worse.

(my bold). Notice how he is pushing the "small" premium now idea. Small is, to some extent, in the eye of the beholder. But that does look to me like a don't-frighten-the-horses sort of quote. As regular readers know, I'd go for a "small" premium now, in the form of a carbon tax of perhaps £40 tonne (don't hold me to the exact number, I made it up). But instead we have the stupid ETS and not really sensible subsidies to renewables. Lets hope we don't lead with that across the world.

Crop yields

Well, this isn't my area of expertise, so I'm open to instruction. Looking at the Graun they headline with "Climate change a threat to security, food and humankind - IPCC report. Warming is leading to more volatile weather patterns that are already reducing crop yields, the IPCC has warned". And continues The report said climate change had already cut into the global food supply. Global crop yields were beginning to decline – especially for wheat. However, quoting Michael Oppenheimer they say ...already climate change is slowing those yields which is somewhat different. Somewhat lower down they belatedly quote from the report itself: Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts. Which is likely true, but doesn't mean that crop yields are actually decreasing.


* Cosmos is a bit rubbish
* Similar estimates of temperature impacts on global wheat yield by three independent methods - Liu et al., Nature 2016, doi:10.1038/nclimate3115

More like this

It is great to see that my post changed the media so fast. Not just the BBC also the German media.

Before the post we had the news that Richard Tol had stopped participating (6 months ago), even on the short 4 minute radio news summary.

Since my post is out, we have people reporting on what the science indicates. The future looks bright and hot.

By Victor Venema (not verified) on 31 Mar 2014 #permalink

Today's absence of reporting on the nonsense suggests that it might be helpful if science would produce more material, so that the media does not have to go to Watts for an attention-grabbing story on "climate".

Scientists, if you have an interesting paper, measurement campaign or meeting, write a press release.

By Victor Venema (not verified) on 31 Mar 2014 #permalink

Reference to volatile weather suggests to me they're talking about the impact of extremes. The SPM states:

'Since AR4, there have been several periods of rapid food and cereal price increases following climate extremes in key producing regions, indicating a sensitivity of current markets to climate extremes among other factors. [Figure 7-3, Table 18-4] Several of these climate extremes were made more likely as the result of anthropogenic emissions (medium confidence).'

The rest appears to be as you suspect. They're looking at negative numbers for climate change influence and confusing with actual yield trends:

'Climate change has negatively affected wheat and maize yields for many regions and in the global aggregate (medium confidence).'

William was so fixated on the monkey, he did not see the link to the article boosting Richard Trol which is quite visible in his screenshot above.

Chris Field on Australian TV last night
"Year-on-year, yields have increased by something like two per cent. But they've been increasing by less than that recently, and based on a number of very careful, thorough statistical analyses, researchers are now able to see that for at least two of the world's major food crops, wheat and maize, the increases in yields year-on-year have slowed, partly as a consequence of climate change."

"So the drag, the anchoring effect of climate change in making it more and more difficult to increase yields is something we're seeing at the global basis. I'm sure there are some places where there are still yield increases, but there are other places that are offsetting those where yields are decreasing. This idea that we're seeing slower-than-expected yield increases is emerging at the global scale."

Kerry Emanuel talks about tail risk:

"Do we not have a professional obligation to talk about the whole probability distribution, given the tough consequences at the tail of the distribution? I think we do, in spite of the fact that we open ourselves to the accusation of alarmism and thereby risk reducing our credibility. A case could be made that we should keep quiet about tail risk and preserve our credibility as a hedge against the possibility that someday the ability to speak with credibility will be absolutely critical to avoid disaster."

[mt has been saying this for ages. Obvs KE is more important, so its nice he's finally catching up with mt.

Also note that you've evaded my question re the "RP #110" -W]

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 31 Mar 2014 #permalink

Everything is geared toward the nicro-attention span public. If we're not going to die tomorrow. it's not news. So even IPCC tries to make news.

By Tim Beatty (not verified) on 31 Mar 2014 #permalink

WMC, I have not "evaded" your question. I had other things to do (my visits here are occasional in any case) but had failed to register the specificity of your note and have now begun to hunt. I think it's an interesting question, where all those dollars went. I suspect Cheney and his clique had something to say about that, and also that cancer research (a worthy goal, mind) got it's usual lion's share but that's just an opinion.

By Susan Anderson (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

It's been widely demonstrated that the press generally can't tell the difference between an actual decrease, a decrease in the rate of growth, and a decrease in the rate at which a growth rate is growing. What do you expect, accuracy?

[From PP, I expect accuracy -W]

"Phil Plait also posts, but makes the mistake of asserting that Food production rates are already getting lower, with crop yields dropping. They aren’t"

You are right to correct him, and others too, but aside from the open goal it leaves for those who deliberately want to misinform it's not much more than a technicality and has little effect on the point being communicated (all the more reason to get it right, I suppose). What's important is that the rate of increase in food production appear to be dropping below the rate of increase in population (I think I've got the rates of rates right there, but maybe not) for the first time in decades. Climate change is likely impacting on our ability to increase food production as we need to if we are to keep pace with population and increasing demands.

[I don't think it is a technicality, because its relevant to the question "yes, GW is bad, but perhaps it can be offset by other activities?". So, to grossly simplify, if we only cared about food production, and knew that GW reduced it but using fertilisers (which means more GHG, which means more GW) increased it, then we'd care about the balance between the two -W]

Who is mt? Monkey Testicles?

[Michael Tobis, currently of P3. He has been "mt" ever since sci.environment in the 90's, and perhaps before -W]

By Victor Venema (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

[So, to grossly simplify, if we only cared about food production, and knew that GW reduced it but using fertilisers (which means more GHG, which means more GW) increased it, then we'd care about the balance between the two -W]

But we don't care about the rate of food production in isolation, it's only how it compares to our needs that matters. If food production were dropping but demand for food were dropping faster then that wouldn't be a problem either. The key point is that climate change is impacting on the rate of increase in food production and likely causing it to drop below what we need it to be. Saying 'food production is still rising so climate change isn't a significant problem yet' is mispleading.

[I think you're still missing my point. We're doing various things to spew out GHG's. Some of those things increase our food production. But the GHG's decrease food prod, says the IPCC. What's the balance between those two? As far as I can tell, that question is being comprehensively avoided -W]

Or misleading (but I quite like mispleading too).

Any word on what this means for zombies?

By Joe Mehma (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

[I think you're still missing my point.]

To be fair that looks to be a new point, or maybe you're right that I missed it the first time round - I did miss it in your reply to my first comment. It's an interesting question whether the contribution to climate change from intensive farming practices will counter the benefits in terms of production. It's a microcosm of the wider problem of climate change, with local short-term benefits set against global long-term impacts. Though the benefits aren't just local, as food is a global system. I would guess there are discount rates involved.

But whilst GHG emissions from food production is significant the majority comes from unrelated activity. So the equation is at most marginally affected by your point, I think.


re "What's the balance between those two? As far as I can tell, that question is being comprehensively avoided "

Isn't this what the nice summary in Assessment Box SPM.2 Table 1 is for? Lots of bars showing the risk with and without adaptation (ie more fertiliser)

For some risks (eg ecosystem impacts) there is no adaptation. For others (eg vector borne diseases) we can adapt pretty well.

[No, I don't think so. This seems to be a surprisingly hard point to get across. Crop yields are increasing - they have been for some time now - as a result of various factors: better knowledge, mechanisation, better seeds, whatever. That drives up yields. "Adaption to GW" doesn't have any significant part in that increase in yield, I think. Meanwhile, the IPCC is saying (or so people report, I haven't read it, as I've said) that GW is or will act to decrease yields. But "Assessment Box SPM.2 Table 1" doesn't in any way quantify those changes in yields - its only talking about risks and the potential for adaption to mitigate those risks -W]

By verytallguy (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

In the video to their report the WG2 makes the claim that while the crop yields are still growing, they would have grown faster without climate change.

By Victor Venema (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

> doesn't in any way quantify those changes in yields

Isn't this a "signal still lost in the noise but just you wait" item? Kind of like the other infrastructure damage numbers; we'll first see a change in the extreme, local conditions, hard on the affected geographical areas but that don't dent the national or global averages on yields. I'm sure I've seen mention of that.

a brief 'oogle suggests:

Scholarly articles for agriculture extreme temperature critical seed production
Carbon dioxide and agricultural yield: an assemblage … - Kimball - Cited by 1278
The effect of temperature on the oil content and fatty … - Canvin - Cited by 281
Temperature variability and the yield of annual crops - Wheeler - Cited by 237

This perhaps merits one of those pie-chart diagrams,
"__% of agronomists believe climate change will ..."

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

FAO says crop yields growing by 1.5% per annum

Human population growth is 1.1% per annum.

By thomaswfuller2 (not verified) on 01 Apr 2014 #permalink

re 15,

I'm not sure what adaptation means, if not exactly things like using more fertiliser to increase yields that GW would otherwise reduce.

Why doe the fact that some of these actions are happening anyway mean they're not relevant as part of adaptation?

An example: Adaptation to rising sea levels caused by GW means building more flood defences. Flood defences are also built for other reasons eg Thames Barrier. However, flood defences are still adaptation.

Or have I misunderstood something?

[I would mean, by adaption, things-we'll-do-differently. It seems odd to consider things we're already doing, which have nothing to do with GW, as "adaption". We're already doing that stuff -W]

By verytallguy (not verified) on 02 Apr 2014 #permalink

Tom, could you provide a link to the source of the FAO figure? I couldn't immediately find it, though it doesn't look unreasonable. I did find this report, which looks interesting:
It includes:
"For example, world cereals production is projected to grow at 0.9 percent per year from 2005/2007 to 2050, down from the 1.9 percent per year of 1961-2007."

Apologies as ever for being slow, but I'd like to understand more about the basis for the suggestion that food production is expected to keep on growing at a fairly impressive rate. Is it possible or likely that we'll hit some sort of limits to this growth (even without several degrees C of global warming) due to factors such as soil erosion and lack of new land to expand into? Is this growth dependent on new technologies that haven’t been developed yet? Or is it that already existing measures that would improve production are not yet being instituted?

(I understand that the level of production is just one of many factors affecting food security, and personally I'm not confident that the world's politicial and economic systems are moving in the right direction to improve some of the other factors, but that's a different issue).

[Without having a really good answer for this, I'd say (a) if you don't know any different, then extrapolation is better than prejudice, (b) there's still an awful lot of scope for efficient use of land - much of the poor world compared to the West, for example -W]

By Rob Nicholls (not verified) on 02 Apr 2014 #permalink

The Weasel, of course, dances the Roger. Anyone gonna claim that inaction on climate change won't lead to a disaster? The only questions are when and when will it be too late to avoid. Also how dire, but that is second order.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 02 Apr 2014 #permalink

> [Without having a really good answer for this, I'd say (a) if you don't know any different, then extrapolation is better than prejudice, (b) there's still an awful lot of scope for efficient use of land - much of the poor world compared to the West, for example -W]

Really taking your silly pills today Weasel

a) is of course what the Republican dominated North Carolina Legislature did when then forbid the state environmental agency from using anything but linear extrapolation on sea level

[As I said, "if you know no better". If you do know better, then use that knowledge -W]

b) was Soviet farm policy. Didn't work.

[I imagine there's a lot of scope for the FSU to get more efficient too -W]

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 02 Apr 2014 #permalink

I think this is the 1.5% growth reference from the FAO:…
"Slower production growth. Global agricultural production for commodities covered in this Outlook is projected to grow at 1.5% annually, on average, compared to 2.1% in the previous decade. This slower growth is expected to be exhibited by all crop sectors and livestock production. These trends reflect rising costs, growing resource constraints, and increasing environmental pressures, which are anticipated to inhibit supply response in virtually all regions."

The report also suggests that production is still above population growth:
"Agricultural output for the products covered in this output grew by 2.1% p.a. over the last decade and this Outlook projects a slowing of output growth to 1.5% p.a., but still faster tha[n] population growth, with growth in output per person estimated at 0.5% p.a."

[As I said, "if you know no better". If you do know better, then use that knowledge -W]

There is a reason that there was a popular political party in the US called the Know Nothings. There are many who would deny knowing better to delay taking any action. Apres moi le deluge appears to be Aunt Judy's policy and maybe yours.

By Eli Rabett (not verified) on 02 Apr 2014 #permalink

Rice production in Thailand has experienced a recent spike, and subsequent mass stock piling i.e. excess to need.

A improved rice growing climate? No, their government instigated an expensive vote buying policy of subsidized rice buying above market rates.…

Most food production is done by profiteers who don't actually give a stuff about the IPCC's preferred output (which seems to simply be 'more').

Well, given our staple crops are grasses, and they need a 30C +/-5C temperature regime before their enzymes denature, lap it up while you can.

* Increasing CO2 threatens human nutrition. Myers et al (2014)
* Carbon Dioxide Enrichment Inhibits Nitrate Assimilation in Wheat and Arabidopsis. Bloom et al (2010).
* Sharply increased insect herbivory during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum. (Currano 2007)
* Insects Will Feast, Plants Will Suffer: Ancient Leaves Show Affect Of Global Warming.
* Grassland Responses to Global Environmental Changes Suppressed by Elevated CO2. (Shaw 2007)
* Photosynthetic inhibition after long-term exposure to elevated levels of carbon dioxide.(DeLucia 1985)
* Insects Take A Bigger Bite Out Of Plants In A Higher Carbon Dioxide World.
* Crock of the Week - Don't it make my Green World Brown
* Food for Thought: Lower-Than-Expected Crop Yield Stimulation with Rising CO2 Concentrations
* Global crop exposure to critical high temperatures in the reproductive period: historical trends and future projections. Gourdji et al (2013).
* Widespread crown condition decline, food web disruption, and amplified tree mortality with increased climate change-type drought
* Temperature dependence of growth, development, and photosynthesis in maize under elevated CO2 (PDF)
* Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming
* Europe-wide reduction in primary productivity caused by the heat and drought in 2003
* Nitrate assimilation in plant shoots depends on photorespiration
* Climate change, interannual weather differences and conflicting responses among crop characteristics: the case of forage quality (Seligman & Sinclair, 1995)
* Climate change, plant diseases and food security: an overview – Chakraborty & Newton (2011)
* Historical Warnings of Future Food Insecurity with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat – Battisti & Naylor (2009)
* “Shredded Heat” – Crop Failure and Climate Change
* Increased crop failure due to climate change: assessing adaptation options using models and socio-economic data for wheat in China - Challinor et al (2010)
* Russia's Heat Wave Wilts Crops
* Russia swelters in heatwave, many crops destroyed