„I’d like to see more courage, especially when it comes to making unpopular decisions“
FAU palaeobiologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling has been appointed as an author of the World Climate Report
The World Climate Report, published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), lays the foundation for global climate policy. The sixth assessment report is due to be published in 2022 and, like its predecessors, provide an extensive overview of the current state of research on climate change. One of the main authors is palaeobiologist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling from Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU). In our interview, he talks about his role and the importance of the World Climate Report.
Professor Kießling, how would you assess the influence of the World Climate Report? Does it have any tangible results or implications?
In my opinion, hardly any other scientific publication has a more direct effect on politics than this report. The World Climate Report serves as the basis for political decisions on both a national and international level. The last report formed the basis for the famous Paris Agreement in December 2015 in which far-reaching agreements were made, such as limiting global warming to below 2°C. I think it’s also important that the general public is confronted by and informed about these issues when the reports are published.
What’s your role in the World Climate Report?
I’m acting as a so-called lead author for Working Group II, which deals with the effects of climate change on socio-economic and natural systems. As a lead author, I’m responsible for individual chapters that I’m writing with a small group of authors. It’s the first time that historical and palaeontological findings are being included explicitly in the World Climate Report. It will be my task to collate and evaluate relevant palaeontological findings and prepare them for the general public, especially as regards the relevance of these findings to current climate change.
Hundreds of scientists are collaborating as authors on the World Climate Report. How does this collaboration work?
It can indeed become a bit confusing when umpteen scientists start arguing about how to formulate sentences. I’ve seen some documents where five different comments have been inserted for almost every sentence. However, in practice, the large number of participants quickly form small operational teams that have their work checked by independent experts and who have to take responsibility for their work in front of the entire IPCC.
For example, over 200 experts from 60 countries were present at the meeting held for creating the structure of the new World Climate Report in May 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They quickly formed three working groups in which operational teams of eight to ten scientists then discussed the details. We all met again at the end of the meeting to discuss and agree upon the suggestions made. The way the IPCC organised is exemplary in terms of the combination of its efficiency and its democratic structures. I expect there will probably be a lot of wrangling about individual statements at the end, but I can’t really say yet – I’m doing this for the first time.
What do you hope the World Climate Report will achieve? What would you like to see coming from politics?
Personally, I would like to see greater public awareness of the effects on the climate in the past. I think you can only successfully predict what will happen in the future if you understand how climate change affected organisms and ecosystems in the past.
I’m also interested to find out how global warming, which has again increased rapidly since 2014, is affecting climate predictions for the next 80 years. I would also like to see quantified uncertainties not being interpreted as weakness in the next World Climate Report. All too often, accurate science plays into the hands of climate change sceptics when some predictions are reported as being only “likely”. Scientists, the media and the general public all have an obligation in this respect.
I’d like to see more courage from politicians, especially when it comes to making unpopular decisions. Interesting ideas, such as the one recently about offering free public transport, are abandoned too quickly.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling