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Chatting about the IPCC report with lead author Dr. Lisa Schipper (@schipper_lisa)

Date: Mar 1 2022, Twitter Spaces

Guest: Dr. Lisa Schipper, IPCC Coordinating Lead Author

Outline of the chat:

What is the IPCC?

What was it like working with the team from around the world to assemble this scale of information at such a critical moment in history?

What does your chapter “Climate Resilient Development Pathways” say?

What do you think it would look and feel like as the world embarked on some of these systemic changes on an emergency time scale?

What’s one unexpected thing you learned working on this report?

(All discussion paraphrased unless it's in direct quotes)

Eric Holthaus: Congratulations on your role in assembling this week's IPCC report, it's a tremendous contribution not only to climate science, but to all of humanity — at such a critical moment. Can you describe a bit about what the IPCC is, when your role started, and what it was like to work with

Lisa Schipper: We received our author assignments for this report in January 2018, we began work in January 2019. My own research career on the themes in this report — adaptation, vulnerability, and development — started way back in 1998.

The IPCC is about science. The "working group 1" report is all about climate science and physics — understanding the "what is happening" question about climate change. The "working group 2" report, the one we release this week, is all about "why does it matter". We incorporated a huge amount of qualitative social science, we have philosophers involved, we made a huge effort to incorporate Indigenous knowledge — both from peer reviewed journal articles, and with the recognition that other kinds of knowledge, spoken word knowledge, is equally valid.

Adaptation knowledge has absolutely exploded in the past six years since the last report. There’s just no end.

The expectation from the public is tremendous. We feel responsible for covering the topic as thoroughly as we can. But in the end, the world governments — the UNFCCC — are the clients.

Once we create a draft, we put it up for public review. We need to respond to every single comment, and we get thousands of comments. This time, we also had the pandemic. Everything had to go virtual. It was exhausting and frustrating at the same time.

For the past two weeks, we were working directly with governments to unanimously approve each word of our summary report and making sure everything was consistent with the underlying science. Even after the report is published, we do service for the public to do interviews. We do ongoing service to other academics to explain the findings.

One other hugely important thing: IPCC authors don’t get paid. Since our work is all volunteer, it's difficult to get authors from the Global South - it’s a tremendous amount of work we're asked to do. So the IPCC often becomes a self-selecting bunch who have privilege. Universities may see it as a distraction, some participants have to take out third jobs doing consulting work just to pay the bills.

I'm thankful that my university allowed me to work on IPCC tasks during normal working time, but because the IPCC is a global project, I ended up having a coordinating meeting every evening at 9pm for two months. Most of our families would never allow us to do it again.

LS: “Climate Resilient Development” has emerged from the need to acknowledge the fact that we’re already at 1.1 degrees C of warming above pre-industrial levels. We’ve found that there are very serious hard limits to adaptation for ecosystems as well as human systems. With more warming that's expected, the adaptation gets further constrained.

As a planet, we have to reduce emissions and adapt at the same time. It doesn’t seem like there’s any other option at this point.

Also, climate change is not an independent thing that is happening. There are development problems that worsen inequity. There are all the myriad other things that are happening in all of our lives across society.

Since the 1.5°C report there’s a tremendous amount of new literature at each global warming level. It’s easier to model ecosystems than human systems. What we now know is that “this call for doing lovely things and bringing people together”. “It has to happen now”

1.5 report, really changed society

All of this research shows us that we’re doing things wrong. That adapation is sometimes making things worse, what in the report we call "maladaptation". But I think that's actually good news — now that we know this is happening, it means we can stop.

One example, from Bangladesh: On advice from experts, the country built a flood management that destroyed the flood plain, and there was an effect on women that took away gathering of natural resources in the very biodiverse ecosystems that were destroyed. For those women, this adaptation strategy made things much worse.

We actually need to talk to people, ask them what are the issues, what is happening, what’s driving the problem, what is your livelihood, before we take adaptation actions. If we don’t have really participatory processes, we have the risk of interventions actually making people worse off.

Not everyone has to hold hands and sing, but marginalized voices need to be heard. We need to create processes for listening. With the urgency of climate change, we don’t have time for everyone to be exactly on the same page.

EH: And these actions have to start this year, right now, in 2022.

LS: Yes, exactly.

EH: How could the world change if the world embarks on large-scale "climate resilient development" like this?

LS: In this report we outline five key system transitions that we must undertake immediately as a global society: Energy, Urban, Infrastructure, Industry, Society. We added 'Society' in this report because what we've learned in the past six years is that as the special report on 1.5°C said, "limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". In this report we take advantage of the awareness that people have about the need to change lifestyles and livelihoods, we also do this in a just and equitable way.

The last two words in the report are “for all”. Those two words are really critical. It’s a demonstration of global solidarity.

There are places, including small islands, where the window is closing much faster than for others. There’s hope that with this new knowledge, we can improve things. I'm personally very encouraged that the governments were so keen to have climate justice and social justice in the report in lots of places.

EH: And we need to do all this so the people who have been made vulnerable can lead the processes, Sweden helps Tuvalu,

LS: Yep, that's a core part of the UN climate principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

Here in Europe, refugees need to be welcome. I live outside of Vienna, the Ukraine flag is flying, but how far does that solidarity go? We still have some work to do.

Love is one of the words that comes to mind, we’re all humans. Since I started working on this, there’s a huge amount of more understanding and concern, but we can’t wait until the people who are 15 years old are old enough to be in decision making position.

Every choice we make today as individuals and as societies moves us either toward or away from climate resilient development. Those choices are not evenly shared.

That goes for everything from online shopping but also to things like how our government is structured, or dismantling racist systems. We can choose to change these systems, but it can be slow, that’s why we have to start now.

EH: Did you learn anything unexpected while you were working on this report?

LS: I didn’t know you could experience such lack of sleep. But seriously, it’s very satisfying to know firsthand how many dedicated people are out there.