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Adaption to Climate Change: A cost-effective and precautionary approach to policy

Views on the publication of the report by Working Group II of the IPCC

This week, the IPCC launches the next part of its Fourth Assessment Report. Once again, there will be reports of the apocalyptic changes which are projected to occur over the next century, and calls for drastic measures to curb emissions of carbon dioxide as a way of controlling climate. But, according to Martin Livermore, director of the Scientific Alliance “These projections are the outcome of computer models based on an imperfect understanding of the complex, chaotic system which is global climate. Models of far simpler systems such as the UKeconomy give unreliable results even over much shorter timescales, and it is difficult to understand why the IPCC seems to place such faith in mathematical simulations of the Earth’s climate.”


Nevertheless, the focus of this particular report is partly on adaptation, and the Scientific Alliance strongly endorses this as a sensible approach to managing the impacts of climate variability. Such adaptation could be done at local level, with a good understanding of the real risks and vulnerabilities. This is likely to be a far more effective policy than trying to force the EU, China, the US and other countries to comply with a set of top-down global targets in a quixotic attempt to control the uncontrollable.


We can argue about whether the stringent emissions reductions called for are necessary or not, but the fact is that they stand little chance of being achieved. The European Union is positioning itself as the global leader in fighting climate change at a time when most member states are not even likely to meet the rather undemanding targets set by the Kyotoprotocol for 2012.


“Putting enormous resources into efforts to control atmospheric carbon dioxide levels is well-intentioned but misguided”, said Martin Livermore. “All we know for sure is that regional climates will continue to change in ways which are largely unpredictable, and we need to protect vulnerable populations. Targeting resources at whatever are the likely threats in particular areas –  whether flooding, water supply or storms –  would be a sensible, precautionary approach which would produce real benefits for communities at risk.”







  1. On 6th April in Brussels, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will launch the report of Working Group II:  “Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. This forms the second part of the organisation’s Fourth Assessment Report, and follows the publication in February of the Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I report on the scientific basis of climate change.
  2. The Scientific Alliance is a membership-based organisation which campaigns for an evidence-based approach to environmental issues and policy-making.
  3. For further comment or interviews, please call on 01223 421242 or 07984 033354