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The IPCC’s Extreme Weather Report: News Roundup

The next big assessment report on climate change from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) isn't due for a few years yet, but the U.N.-sponsored body hasn't exactly been sitting on its hands. Today, it released an interim report focused on extreme weather — an aspect of global warming that's already causing all sorts people around the world all sorts of trouble, and promises more trouble in years to come.

Cllmate Central has acted as a consultant to the IPCC in putting together the website materials for the new report, so we can't cover it without creating a conflict of interest. What we can say is that the report argues that some kinds of extreme weather have become more prevalent, and that in some cases climate change is playing a part. And it suggests that the harm to people and property has to do not just with extreme events themselves, but with the number of people in harm's way and how well prepared those people are to deal with such events.

Other news organizations have no such restrictions, however, and the report — or rather, its executive summary, since the full formal report won't be issued for several months — is generating plenty of headlines.  Here's a sampling of the coverage.

Some of the heat records set during the unusually hot summer of 2011 in the US.

In the New York Times, reporter Justin Gillis argues that the report "did not break much ground scientifically, essentially refining findings that have been emerging in climate science papers in recent years." Of course, that's what the IPCC is designed to do: it collects and summarizes results that have already been published, almost all of it in peer-reviewed journals. Still, Gillis leads with a message that will inevitably be new to many non-scientists.

At least some of the weather extremes being seen around the world are consequences of human-induced climate change, and can be expected to worsen in coming decades, a United Nations panel reported on Friday.

What he doesn't get to until further down in the story is another aspect of the report: the fact that any climate-related changes in weather extremes are made far more destructive because more and more people, many of them poor, are living in harm's way — a real challenge for those who need to think about how to manage risk. The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin seems to find this worth highlighting in her story, which begins this way: 

Climate change will make the drought and flooding events that have battered the United States and other countries in 2011 more frequent in years to come, forcing nations to rethink the way they cope with disasters, according to a new report the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued Friday.

In USA Today, reporters Dan Vergano and Doyle Rice were even more clear in highlighting the human factor in extreme weather risk. Their lead paragraph: 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, obtained in draft form by USA TODAY, stresses that expanding cities and populations worldwide, also raise the odds of severe impacts from weather disasters.

And the Associated Press's Seth Borenstein, who first wrote about the report two weeks ago after seeing a leaked version of the document, came back today with an especially vivid and pointed take:

Top international climate scientists and disaster experts meeting in Africa had a sharp message Friday for the world's political leaders: Get ready for more dangerous and "unprecedented extreme weather" caused by global warming.

Making preparations, they say, will save lives and money.

These experts fear that without preparedness, crazy weather extremes may overwhelm some locations, making some places unlivable.

Finally, for a seasoned take on all of the coverage — who's saying what, and how — check out the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, a blog that monitors and comments on science-news coverage. The meta-headline there: "Wires, etc.: IPCC says it again — more confidently — expect extreme weather more often."


Hotter Years, More Fires The average number of large wildfires burning across the Western U.S. each year has tripled from the 1970s to the 2010s.

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