EU climate policy badly out of date? | Brussels Blog

EU climate policy badly out of date?

posted by Geoff on 2nd Jun 2012

Is EU Policy on climate seriously out of date? Can anyone help me find out?

European Commission waits for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

Last year a reply from the European Commission Directorate-General Climate Action told me that they rely on IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)  when making judgements about individual pieces of climate research. This also indicated that the Commission were actively engaged with the IPCC processes, in particular the Fifth Assessment Report, which they expect will produce new comprehensive climate assessments in the coming years.

But is this fast enough?

I have contacted them again to ask how newer climate science (and not several years old) can be fed into policy making.

Missing feedbacks from current models

There are clearly feedbacks missing from the current generation of climate models.

Professor John Mitchell (2) has given me two examples of climate feedbacks that are not included in current climate models (indicating that although these things may be important, they are not always easy to quantify, model, initialize and validate)

“ melting permafrost - we don’t have [CO2 and CH4 emissions from permafrost] in the GCM [global climate model], but have some simple modelling of. Too early to show any results yet, but we plan to publish later this year. Bottom line is that both CH4 and CO2 will be released as permafrost thaws. The magnitude is uncertain, but likely to be significant.”


more forest fires - We don’t do yet, but could be important for changing ecosystems response to climate.”

The IPCC timetable

Cut-Off Dates for scientific literature to be considered for the 5th Assessment Report are (3):

31 July 2012 Papers submitted
15 March 2013 Papers accepted

The papers submitted must be peer reviewed before submission. According to Wikipedia the peer review process can be slow, typically taking several months (or in some subjects, over a year) before an accepted manuscript appears (4):

Subtracting publication delay may mean that new climate science results made in from late 2011 onwards will not be considered in the synthesis report which is due for publication in 2014.

The previous IPCC report (AR4) was published in 2007. If the reply to me from DG Climate Action is taken seriously, current European Commission policy judgments are made on climate science based on measurements made in the years up to 2005.


The publication of the synthesis report in 2014, will shorten the lag of material available for decision making from 9 or 10 years (in the AR4) to 2 or 3 (AR5).

We do know that the climate is changing rapidly bringing surprises every year. The IPCC timetable suggests that the work in progress on the Met Office’s climate models will not be included in AR5.

There are other more contentious issues, such as the methane clathrates in Arctic seas that it would be wise to watch, but the timetable of the IPCC may exclude these until AR6.

Do these matters wait to 2021?


1) Received 26th July 2011

2) Professor Mitchell OBE FRS is Principal Research Fellow at the Met Office.

3) Cut-Off Dates for literature to be considered for AR5

4) Wikipedia: Academic Publishing


Another feedback recently discovered: “Global warming turns tundra to forest-study”,

The Reuters article says “Warming in the Arctic is happening about twice as fast as in the rest of the world. As reflective snow and ice recede, they expose soil or water which are a darker colour and so soak up more of the sun’s heat. The same occurs when trees are tall enough to rise above the snowfall, presenting a dark, light-absorbing surface.”

As the paper by Marc Macias-Fauria et. al. was published in Nature Climate Change, a peer reviewed journal, it can be considered by the IPCC 5th Assessment Report but will climate models based on this newly discovered effect be ready in time?

Geoff Beacon ( June 4, 2012 at 7:12 pm )

I think you are correct, in that the information in the IPCC reports is already out-of-date in research terms by the time the reports are published. But does this matter?

The IPCC’s key trump-card is that it’s reports are recognised and approved by every country that sends a delegation, before publication. It also has the power of not being just one article, that might be disproved or questioned by one article, but it represents the agreed input of thousands of experts. Its authors and editors read like a list of all the professors who ever did science in the field of climate change and if they all say something we should all listen!

But my point is all this agreement takes time. Does that matter? Do global or EU negotiations really resolve around the minute elements of modelling or is it the overall output and the force of that message that matters?

The message that should really matter to governments – “we need to take action now” has not changed since the first IPCC report.

I think we would be on very dangerous ground if any government policy was based on one professor or one article, for this reason alone I think the IPCC is “worth the wait”.


Matt ( September 12, 2012 at 5:09 pm )

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