Students, Professors Share IPCC Findings

Clockwise from top left: Karishma Patel, David Catt, Benjamin Preston, and Robert Lempert

March 7, 2022

Students David Catt (cohort ’16) and Karishma Patel (’17) joined Professors Robert Lempert and Benjamin Preston for a recent webinar to discuss the findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report, Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

The RAND Climate Resilience Center hosted the virtual event earlier this month to explore the report, which had been released two days earlier. The four speakers had unusual insight into the report’s contents, as they helped to author it: Lempert and Preston were coordinating lead authors of the first and last chapters, while Catt and Patel were contributing authors and chapter scientists.

Lempert pulled no punches in summarizing their work.

“In brief,” he said, “this Working Group II report finds that the impacts of climate change have arrived, and they are worse than expected. The report goes through, in great detail, how we’re seeing climate impacts today in every corner of the world.”

He said the report recommends reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and finding “nature-based solutions” to adaptation. It also emphasizes the importance of equity and inclusivity in developing responses.

“It’s more effective to include everyone in the solutions, both because any reasonable definition of success can’t leave people behind and because solutions that aren’t fair won’t work, because people won’t cooperate,” he explained. “No one group, not even national governments, can solve [the climate problem] alone, it is something that needs to involve governments at all levels, business, civil society, and other groups.”

“RAND might be pretty special among organizations in the United States, if not the world, since we have four people here who played real, substantive roles on this very important assessment.”

—Benjamin Preston

Lempert read the final sentence from the summary for policymakers to express the urgency: “Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.”

Patel said that the dire nature of those top-line findings have led to some interesting differences between the scientific community and the general public. She said she asked friends and family what questions they have about the report and was surprised by what people asked.

“Their questions tended to be, ‘What will travel look like in the future?’ or ‘What’s the best place going to be to live?’ and concerns about children’s futures,” she said, but “these questions kind of skip over a lot of steps.”

Although the report does highlight the impacts and projected risks for the future, she added, “a lot of the meat of it is in the steps in between, the strategies, the decisions, the actions for framing adaptation.”

She added, “The projections for the temperatures 10, 30, 50 years from now are decided by whether or not we take those actions now.”

Catt’s research and chapter contributions explored how people on the world’s coasts will be affected by climate change and whether they can adapt to it. “Coastal cities and settlements are on the front lines of climate change,” he said, but the risks they face “can produce cascading impact for other economic centers and nations as a whole.”

He echoed Patel in saying that this risk “remains somewhat uncertain and is dependent on current decisionmaking on future emission pathways.”

“We still have time to make decisions now and in the near-term future that can mitigate the ultimate impact of climate change.”

—David Catt

Although the report makes clear that sea level rise will become a chronic and inevitable problem, he said, “we still have time to make decisions now and in the near-term future that can mitigate the ultimate impact of climate change.”

He emphasized the importance of developing “low-regret solutions” now to mitigate the ultimate impacts of climate change.

Lempert, in describing the introductory chapter that he and Patel authored, followed up on Catt’s phrasing.

“What does it mean for a solution to be feasible, what does it mean for a solution to be effective? It really highlights this question of decision making under uncertainty: how do we make good, resilient, low-regret choices now that will work over a wide range of future climate and socioeconomic scenarios? The report really grapples with that in a significant way,” he said.

Preston described the process of developing the report and then detailed the findings of the chapter he coauthored.

“RAND might be pretty special among organizations in the United States, if not the world, since we have four people here who played real, substantive roles on this very important assessment,” he said. “I think it’s a credit to RAND that we were able to participate in this way.”

The IPCC consists of three working groups, and the RAND team are members of Working Group II, which focuses on climate change adaptation. Working Group I focuses on “the science of climate change, what’s happening with the system,” he said, while Working Group III looks at how to mitigate climate change and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Preston summarized the focus of the final chapter by Working Group II, on climate-resilient development, as, “How do we pursue the climate change agenda and the sustainable development agenda at the same time?”

He said not only is climate change “one of the elements of sustainable development, it’s also a threat to sustainable development.”

The chapter explores how to capitalize on synergies and avoid trade-offs, Preston said.

“The idea that we can simply make trade-offs between benefits in some areas and costs in other areas is very much kind of a technocratic approach to policymaking,” he said. “How do you trade off someone’s cultural home or ancestral land? How do you make trade-offs about people’s lives?”

—Monica Hertzman