Box 192 Reference for temperature levels

Levels of global mean temperature change are variously presented in the literature with respect to: pre-industrial temperatures in a specified year e.g., 1750 or 1850; the average temperature of the 1961 -1990 period; or the average temperature within the 1990-2000 period. The best estimate for the increase above pre-industrial levels in the 1990-2000 period is 0.6°C, reflecting the best estimate for warming over the 20th century (Folland et al., 2001; Trenberth et al., 2007). Therefore, to illustrate this by way of a specific example, a2°C increase above pre-industrial levels corresponds to a 1.4°C increase above 1990-2000 levels. Climate impact studies often assess changes in response to regional temperature change, which can differ significantly from changes in global mean temperature. In most land areas, regional warming is larger than global warming (see Christensen et al., 2007). Unless otherwise specified, this chapter refers to global mean temperature change above 1990-2000 levels, which reflects the most common metric used in the literature on key vulnerabilities. However, given the many conventions in the literature for baseline periods, the reader is advised to check carefully and to adjust baseline levels for consistency every time a number is given for impacts at some specified level of global mean temperature change.

ecosystems, global biogeochemical cycles, ice sheets, and modes of oceanic and atmospheric circulation (see Section 19.3).

19.1.22 Scientific assessment and value judgements

The assessment of key vulnerabilities involves substantial scientific uncertainties as well as value judgements. It requires consideration of the response of biophysical and socio-economic systems to changes in climatic and non-climatic conditions over time (e.g., changes in population, economy or technology), important non-climatic developments that affect adaptive capacity, the potential for effective adaptation across regions, sectors and social groupings, value judgements about the acceptability of potential risks, and potential adaptation and mitigation measures. To achieve transparency in such complex assessments, scientists and analysts need to provide a 'traceable account' of all relevant assumptions (Moss and Schneider, 2000).

Scientific analysis can inform policy processes but choices about which vulnerabilities are 'key', and preferences for policies appropriate for addressing them, necessarily involve value judgements. "Natural, technical and social sciences can provide essential information and evidence needed for decision-making on what constitutes 'dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system'. At the same time, such decisions are value judgments determined through sociopolitical processes, taking into account considerations such as development, equity and sustainability, as well as uncertainties and risk" (IPCC, 2001b).

19.1.23 UNFCCC Article 2

The question of which impacts might constitute DAI in terms of Article 2 has only recently attracted a high level of attention, and the literature still remains relatively sparse (see Oppenheimer and Petsonk 2005; Schellnhuber et al., 2006 for reviews). Interpreting Article 2 (ultimately the obligation of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) involves a scientific assessment of what impacts might be associated with different levels of greenhouse gas concentrations or climate change; and a normative evaluation by policy-makers of which potential impacts and associated likelihoods are significant enough to constitute, individually or in combination, DAI. This assessment is informed by the magnitude and timing of climate impacts as well as by their distribution across regions, sectors and population groups (e.g., Corfee-Morlot and Agrawala, 2004; Schneider and Mastrandrea, 2005; Yamin et al., 2005). The social, cultural and ethical dimensions of DAI have drawn increasing attention recently (Jamieson 1992,1996; Rayner and Malone, 1998; Adger, 2001; Gupta et al., 2003; Gardiner, 2006). The references to adverse effects as significant deleterious effects in Article 1 of the UNFCCC1 and to natural ecosystems, food production, and sustainable development in Article 2 provide guidance as to which impacts may be considered relevant to the definition of DAI (Schneider et al., 2001).

Interpreting Article 2 is necessarily a dynamic process because the assessment of what levels of greenhouse gas concentrations may be considered 'dangerous' would be modified based on changes in scientific knowledge, social values and political priorities.

19.12.4 Distribution and aggregation of impacts

Vulnerability to climate change differs considerably across socio-economic groups, thus raising important questions about equity. Most studies of impacts in the context of key vulnerabilities and Article 2 have focused on aggregate impacts, grouping developing countries or populations with special needs or situations. Examples include island nations faced with sea-level rise (Barnett and Adger, 2003), countries in semi-arid regions with a marginal agricultural base, indigenous populations facing regionalised threats, or least-developed countries (LDCs; Huq et al., 2003). Within developed countries, research on vulnerability has often focused on groups of people, for example those living in coastal or flood-prone regions, or socially vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

No single metric for climate impacts can provide a commonly accepted basis for climate policy decision-making (Jacoby, 2004; Schneider, 2004). Aggregation, whether by region, sector, or population group, implies value judgements about the selection, comparability and significance of vulnerabilities and cohorts (e.g., Azar and Sterner, 1996; Fankhauser et al., 1997; Azar, 1998, on regional aggregation). The choice of scale at which impacts are examined is also crucial, as considerations of fairness, justice or equity require examination of the distribution of impacts, vulnerability and adaptation potential, not only between, but also within, groupings (Jamieson, 1992; Gardiner, 2004; Yamin et al., 2005).

19.1.2.5 Critical levels and thresholds

Article 2 of the UNFCCC defines international policy efforts in terms of avoidance of a level of greenhouse gas concentrations beyond which the effects of climate change would be considered to be 'dangerous'. Discussions about 'dangerous interference with the climate system' and 'key vulnerabilities' are also often framed around thresholds or critical limits (Patwardhan et al., 2003; Izrael, 2004). Key vulnerabilities may be linked to systemic thresholds where nonlinear processes cause a system to shift from one major state to another (such as a hypothetical sudden change in the Asian monsoon or disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet). Systemic thresholds may lead to large and widespread consequences that may be considered as 'dangerous'. Examples include climate impacts such as those arising from ice sheet disintegration leading to large sea-level rises or changes to the carbon cycle, or those affecting natural and managed ecosystems, infrastructure and tourism in the Arctic.

Smooth and gradual climate change may also lead to damages that are considered unacceptable beyond a certain point. For instance, even a gradual and smooth increase of sea-level rise would eventually reach a level that certain stakeholders would consider unacceptable. Such normative impact thresholds could

1 Article 1 reads, "For the purposes of this Convention: 1. 'Adverse effects of climate change' means changes in the physical environment or biota resulting from climate change which have significant deleterious effects on the composition, resilience or productivity of natural and managed ecosystems or on the operation of socio-economic systems or on human health and welfare."

be defined at the global level (e.g., Toth et al., 2002, for natural ecosystems) and some have already been identified at the regional level (e.g., Jones, 2001, for irrigation in Australia).

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