US Abandons Global Science Leadership, Zeroes Out IPCC Funding

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US Abandons Global Science Leadership, Zeroes Out IPCC Funding

Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments.

"Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments." (Photo: Gerry Machen/flickr/cc)

In stark contrast to the leadership role the US has historically contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the enacted 2017 U.S. Budget zeroes out funding for the institution.

 U.S. Contribution to the IPCC (2005-2017). Data Source: IPCC http://bit.ly/2uAmEm3; Rachel Licker converted to US dollars based on June 1 exchange rate each year from xe.com.

The IPCC also appears as zero request for the fiscal year 2018 in both the State Department’s Congressional Budget Justification, as well as the House’s State and Foreign Operations Bill (whose summary includes the IPCC on a list that “does not include funding for controversial or unnecessary programs”).

A remarkable departure from the well-regarded IPCC that was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about  man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

The longest serving science advisor to a U.S. President since World War II, John Holdren, recently opined about the critical role of the IPCC:

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself, which works under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, can be regarded as a “red team-blue team” operation, in which every conclusion must pass muster with a huge team of expert authors and reviewers from a wide variety of disciplines and nations (including from Saudi Arabia and other major oil producers inclined to be skeptical).”

Military leaders find national security implications in IPCC projections

I remember distinctly Vice Admiral Walter E Carter, Jr., USN, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy testifying before a U.S. Congress field hearing in July 2015.

He told of seawater inlet temperature for the aircraft carrier that approached almost 100 degrees Fahrenheit, far above normal temperature for that time of year in the region they were operating (listen 1:19:19 into to this video).  “That is a very difficult place for anybody to operate regardless of what type of equipment you are working with,” declared Vice Admiral Carter.

Confronting these and other climate trends, the Department of Defense (DOD) and security organizations cite the IPCC findings and incorporate these into national security risk assessments. For example, the National Intelligence Council uses IPCC climate projections as the basis for their assessment of the risk of extreme weather events for national security.

IPCC sea level rise projections also formed part of the basis of the Department of Defense’s 2016 assessment of the risk of sea level rise for DOD coastal installations.  Take a look at examples of U.S. military bases confronting rising seas.

IPCC budget is small change compared to combined cost of communities preparing for climate risks

The information generated by the IPCC (e.g. special reports and comprehensive climate assessments) is incorporated into the U.S. National Climate Assessment and similar activities in nations around the world.

The US has historically contributed around $2 million a year to the IPCC Secretariat to facilitate gatherings of hundreds of world experts to assess the latest developments in climate science published in peer-reviewed journals. Through these assessments, IPCC scientists produce highly vetted climate projections for governments, and identify key risks and sources of exposure and vulnerability to climate change.

To put this annual historic contribution of around $2 million to the IPCC in perspective, New York City, in 2013 embarked upon a $20 billion climate resiliency plan.

In one year, the climate resiliency portion of the New York 2017 Executive Budget included $170 million in City funds for storm water management infrastructure to complement the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project from Montgomery Street to East 23rd Street and $27.5 million in City funds for the Two Bridges section of Lower Manhattan Protect and Connect flood protection.  The design for these investments must incorporate the latest climate projections.    New York City and other communities around the US benefit from a sustained IPCC that continually draws upon experts worldwide, including many from the U.S.

Without the U.S.’ contribution in FY 2017, the IPCC was short in contributions. As a result, the institution was forced to draw from its financial reserves.

This may not be sustainable in the long run and risks the institution’s ability to provide governments with the best available information on changes ahead. Accordingly, in June 2017, the Netherlands announced it would double its IPCC contribution in light of U.S. actions and is urging other nations to increase their contributions.

There is a large return on investment in the IPCC for the United States.  Annual U.S. contributions to the IPCC trust fund could help ensure the IPCC Secretariat can sustain convening functions that leverages largely voluntary contributions of experts that produce robust IPCC assessments. Highly vetted information from the IPCC is key for our nation’s risk assessments.

Brenda Ekwurzel

Brenda Ekwurzel

Brenda Ekwurzel is a senior climate scientist and the director of climate science at UCS. She has expertise on many aspects of climate variability, including the Arctic Ocean and sea ice, wildfires, groundwater, and coastal erosion. She holds a Ph.D. in isotope geochemistry from Columbia University (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory).

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