Reasons for Concern Framework - Our Common Future Conference 2015

Climate Analytics’ close collaborator Leon Charles reflects on whether the Reasons for Concern Framework reflects the climate change risks for Small Island Developing States at Our Common Future conference in Paris. The Framework has been used by the IPCC to communicate its results to policy makers in a policy informative, but not policy prescriptive manner.

Date2015, July 08
Fishermen in St. George's, Grenada. ©Photo by Neil Moralee courtesy Flickr

The Reasons for Concern framework has been used by the IPCC to communicate its
results to policy makers in a policy informative, but not policy prescriptive manner. It assesses the risks in light of the UNFCCC Article 2 – to avoid dangerous interference with the climate system – by presenting a continuous representation of how key risks change with temperature rise. The framework has been used in the UNFCCC negotiations as one of the key inputs to the process of the 2013-2015 review of the adequacy long-term global goal under the UNFCCC.
Key issues that Leon Charles will explore in this context are (a) how well do the RFCs reflect the full scope of Article 2, including impacts on ecosystems, food production and sustainable development? and (b) The extent of its use in the UNFCCC review, the results obtained from its use and the utility of these results.

From a policy perspective, the RFC framework has approached the analysis of these risks through a global lens. However, policy responses to these risks take place at the national and regional levels, primarily through adaptation action. It is therefore very relevant to also review the framework’s applicability in informing policy at the national and regional levels. This will be done from the perspective of Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Key questions to explore in this context include:

  • What is dangerous Climate Change from the perspective of SIDS? What are their key risks? How well do the RFCs reflect these risks?
  • How are these RFCs, and the associated risk levels, perceived by policy makers and does that match with the scientific definitions? Are these consistent with
  • SIDS experience of the impacts from these risks and their perception of these risks?
  • Does this framework help SIDS to assess these risks? What kinds of decisions can policy-makers arrive at from using this framework?

In reviewing these questions, two major obstacles can be identified, which may be of general importance beyond the SIDS context. Firstly, is the somewhat different character of the RFCs. While RFC 1,2 and 5 (unique systems, extreme events and singular events) are clearly defined and understandable, this is not the case for RFC 3 and 4 (distribution and aggregated impacts), where the names of the RFCs may imply a different assessment than what is in the scope of the RFCs.

A second obstacle identified is connected to the question of the translation from regional to global risks and relates to the assessment of the specific risk levels. In particular, the step from moderate to high risks is crucial. While moderate risks reflect that “associated impacts are both detectable and attributable to climate change”, high risks indicate “severe and widespread impacts”. From the perspective of a region that is highly vulnerable but not widespread in terms of land area, this is not an intuitive categorization, since there is a lot between these two risk levels and the question arises re how high, or very high, local risks translate to global risks in such an assessment.

Our close collaborator Leon Charles will reflect on these issues and discus the pros and cons of the RFC approach giving special consideration to its usefulness for the UNFCCC process and for SIDS. He will also discuss a potential way forward for further improvements of the concept.

Our Common Future under Climate Change is the largest conference of the scientific community ahead of the climate summit COP21 in Paris in December. 2000 scientists will meet to address key issues concerning climate change in the broader context of global change and to discuss solutions for both mitigation and adaptation issues.