Spinning uncertainty? The IPCC extreme weather report and the media

When it comes to weather, scientists and the media have different understandings of risk. Ameel Khan

The “reasonable person” would agree that disaster risk is best avoided. Under a changing climate, how exposed people are to risk and how socially and physically vulnerable they are affects how often disasters may happen. The more we know about risk, the better we can avoid it.

The recently released IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation Summary for Policymakers (IPCC SREX SPM) assesses adaptation measures to reduce disasters and resilience – the ability to bounce back after an event. In the main, reporting of the SREX has concentrated on what’s known about climate extremes and their relationship to disaster, and the management of disaster risk under a changing climate.

But in the articles they have published on the SREX SPM, The Australian newspaper has concentrated instead on uncertainty.

Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environment reporter, said:

Widely-held assumptions that climate change is responsible for an upsurge in extreme drought, flood and storm events are not supported by a landmark review of the science.

And a clear climate change signal would not be evident for decades because of natural weather variability.

Despite the uncertainties, politicians - including US President Barack Obama in his address to federal parliament yesterday - continue to link major weather events directly to climate change. Greens leader Bob Brown yesterday highlighted Mr Obama’s climate change comments and said the extreme weather impacts were “not just coming, they are happening”.

Some areas have experienced more and longer droughts; others have had fewer. suburbanbloke