UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol

The UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol do not figure prominently in the ACIA scientific and overview documents, except for one issue: carbon flux and storage. The connection is explicit in Chapter 18. Summary and Synthesis of the ACIA and is probably also important for the extensive treatment of carbon flux and storage in Chapter 14. Forests, Land Management and Agriculture and in Chapter 7. Arctic Tundra and Polar Desert Ecosystems. Documentation of the ACIA process illustrates that this emphasis is not only driven by scientific interests, but by a perception that the policy community needed to know how climate change might affect carbon stores in the Arctic. Specifically, meeting notes from the discussion on cross-cutting themes in the Assessment Steering Committee quotes participants saying that "This is not simply a scientist-to-scientists issue." The cross-cutting themes also were raised with reference to what "policy makers want or need" and what could potentially be important topics for the ACIA policy docu-ment.103

102 ACIA, Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 3.

103 Summary Report on the Tenth Assessment Steering Committee (ASC) Meeting, 15-16 October 2003, London, U.K.

The UNFCCC could also be seen as making an important context in the efforts to attribute Arctic climate change to anthropogenic impact, which was another cross-cutting theme that was raised at the same meeting. The issue of attribution figured prominently in IPCC's second assessment, with a statement that: "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."104 New stronger evidence was released in the third assessment showing that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.105 This focus on attribution is in turn linked to UNFCCC's definition of climate change: "'Climate change' means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods."106 A lively discussion during the ACIA process was whether the ACIA could make a similarly strong statement about the Arctic as the IPCC had done with the global signals. For example, at one of the Assessment Steering Committee meetings, there was a clear wish from ACIA's chair to have a strong statement on attribution of Arctic climate change, while several scientists saw problems because of the large natural climate variability in the Arctic.107 In the scientific report, the difficulties of detecting such a signal in the Arctic come out very clearly, as the following quotes illustrate:

The combination of a sparse observational dataset and high variability makes it difficult to distinguish with confidence between the signals of climate variability and change.108

These climate changes are consistent with projections of climate change by global climate models forced with increasing atmospheric GHG [greenhouse gas] concentrations, but definitive attribution is not yet possible.109

The question is whether there is definitive evidence of an anthropogenic signal in the Arctic. This would require a direct attribution study of the Arctic, which has not yet been done In climate model simulations, the arctic signal resulting from GHG-induced warming is large but the variability (noise) is also large.110

The wish to still come up with some strong statement was very clear during one of the meetings of the Assessment Steering Committee.111 It is also apparent in Chapter 18. Summary and Synthesis of the ACIA, which uses similar wording as the IPCC:

104 IPCC, Climate Change 1995. The Science of Climate Change. Summary for Policymakers.

105 IPCC, Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report. A Contribution of Working Groups I, II, andIII to the Third Assessment Report of the Integovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), Summary for Policymakers.

106 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Article 1. Definitions.

107 Observation notes Assessment Steering Committee Meeting London Oct 15-15, 2003; Summary Report on the Tenth Assessment Steering Committee (ASC) Meeting, 15-16 October 2003, London, U.K.

108 Chapter 2. Arctic Climate: Past and Present. 22.

109 Chapter 2. Arctic Climate: Past and Present, 54.

110 Chapter 2. Arctic Climate: Past and Present, 38.

111 Observation notes, meeting of the Assessment Steering Committee, London, October 2004. Interview Erland Kallen, November 30, 2004.

The IPCC stated that most of the global warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities (IPCC, 2001), and there is new and strong evidence that in the Arctic much of the observed warming over this period is also due to human activities.112

It is also apparent in the overview:

Examining the record of past climate conditions indicates that the amount, speed, and pattern of warming experienced in recent decades are indeed unusual and are characteristic of the human-induced increase in greenhouse gases.113

In relation to the impact of climate change, this is not a central concern, but it definitely is central to the political responsibility of reducing anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. The IPCC statement has been subject to intense debate and I argue that the framing of climate change in the UNFCCC, as well as a wish to influence policy in the UNFCCC, was an important context for the discussions of this topic. In this sense, the ACIA was influenced by the political processes related to the UNFCCC. However, in the ACIA scientific process, the Arctic context and the in-depth assessment of this particular region instead lead to a focus on variability. In fact, one of the lead authors highlights this variability focus as one of the major conclusions of the assessment in his chapter and something that was not clear beforehand.114 Based on interviews with the lead authors and observations, I suggest that a key factor behind this difference was that the lead authors asserted their scientific independence in relation to the policy sphere. In the overview, on the other hand, the larger context of the UNFCCC process appears to have favored a focus on human-induced change. The issue of attribution illustrates how the policy context of an assessment can put pressure on the scientists to assess certain issues that may be more important to global climate politics than to issues of regional and local impacts and adaptation.

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