Last week’s release of the IPCC Working Group I’s contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) prompted a moment of self-reflection for the climate community.
It reported incremental gains in the scientific community’s confidence in its findings, with a few important tweaks to past findings. For example, it is now extremely likely (rather than just very likely) that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century (see C2ES’s table of increasing certainty). The Working Group also significantly revised the upper bound of their sea level rise estimates (see Nature’s News Feature on this topic).
However, there is a feeling that we have reached a point of diminishing returns in our current lines of inquiry. As a recent Nature editorial pointed out, comprehensive assessments of climate science may no longer represent the best use of our resources; continued investment in the IPCC process as it stands may result in smaller policy-relevant returns over time. We should feel a great sense of achievement and satisfaction at having reached this point. However, we may also need to sit back in our chairs, grab some old-fashioned writing implements, and reframe our questions.