IPCC Report Less Alarming Than It Appears

Report Reduces Amount of Warming Estimated Compared to Previous Reports, Notes NCPA Scholar

DALLAS (February 2, 2007) - Contrary to ominous news reports, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summary report shows less expected warming and lower estimated sea level rise than previous reports. According to a scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), "we can expect this news to be lost among dramatic claims of impending disaster by politicians and environmental lobbyists alike."

"You'd never know it from watching the news, but every time the IPCC releases a new report, future warming is reduced and the impacts are less severe and more distant," said NCPA Senior Fellow H. Sterling Burnett.

Burnett notes that the report estimates the Earth's surface temperature will probably rise between 3.24 and 7.24 F by the turn of the century, according to their "best estimate." This is a reduction from the last report in 2001 which predicted an increase range of 2.52 to 10.4 F. In addition, the new report estimates sea levels will rise by as much as 17 inches, significantly lower than the possible 35 inches predicted in 2001.

In addition, while many have focused on the reports increased certainty that human activity is causing warming, Burnett notes that the new report cuts in half the amount of warming scientists are attributing to human action. Most importantly, even if the IPCC report is correct that humans are responsible for the current estimated warming, the report suggests that the Earth will continue to warm regardless of likely efforts to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, according to Burnett, "our policy focus should be on taking steps to adapt to the consequences of a warming world."

A 2005 study by the NCPA compared the costs and benefits of adapting to global climate change with strategies that prevent global warming, such as the Kyoto Protocol, and found that problems most often projected to dramatically worsen as a result of global warming are more effectively and economically lowered by adapting to climate change rather than trying to prevent it. For example:

  • Meeting Kyoto emission targets would reduce fatalities from malaria by one-half of one percent, but investing an additional $1.5 billion annually for treatment would cut the death toll in half.
  • Meeting Kyoto targets would reduce the population at risk for hunger by only 2 percent by 2085, but investing an additional $5 billion to solve agricultural problems in developing countries would reduce hunger by 50 percent beginning today.
  • The population at risk for coastal flooding would decline by meeting Kyoto emission standards, but at a cost of $165 billion a year. By contrast, investing an additional $1 billion annually in preventive measures would address the problem just as well, if not more effectively.

Moreover, adapting to climate change would enhance both economic development and human capital and increase the capacity for technological innovation in developing countries.