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IPCC Communication handbook

Filed under: — gavin @ 31 January 2018

A new handbook on science communication came out from IPCC this week. Nominally it’s for climate science related communications, but it has a wider application as well. This arose mainly out of an “Expert meeting on Communication” that IPCC held in 2016.

6 principles to help IPCC scientists better communicate their work

There was a Guardian article on it as well.

The six principles are pretty straightforward:

  1. Be a confident communicator
  2. Talk about the real world, not abstract ideas
  3. Connect with what matters to your audience
  4. Tell a human story
  5. Lead with what you know
  6. Use the most effective visual communication

Each is supported with references to the relevant literature and with climate-related (“real world”) examples that are themselves confidently communicated with effective visuals.

But what do people think? Is this a useful addition to the literature on communication? Anything you think doesn’t work? or that perhaps surprises you?

PS. I’m perhaps a little biased because they use a Peter Essick photo for their cover art that was also in my book.

73 Responses to “IPCC Communication handbook”

  1. 51
    Racetrack Playa says:

    To continue with the notion of using discrete, short talking points as the basis of communicating climate science to non-experts, politicians, the general public etc., here’s a brief history of the development of climate science over the past two centuries, based mainly on Spencer Weart’s “The Discovery of Global Warming” with some edits for brevity. Here’s the source:

    AIP Climate Science History
    Milestones in Climate Science, Spencer Weart

    1824 Fourier calculates that the Earth would be far colder if it lacked an atmosphere.

    1859 Tyndall discovers that some gases block infrared radiation. He suggests that changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases could bring climate change.

    1896 Arrhenius publishes the first calculation of global warming from human emissions of CO2.

    1930s A global warming trend since the late nineteenth century is reported. Milankovitch proposes orbital changes as the cause of ice ages.

    1938 Callendar argues that CO2 greenhouse global warming is under way, reviving interest in the question.

    1945 The U.S. Office of Naval Research begins generous funding of many fields of science, some of which happen to be useful for understanding climate change.

    1956 Phillips produces a somewhat realistic computer model of the global atmosphere. Plass calculates that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will have a significant effect on the radiation balance.

    1957 Revelle finds that CO2 produced by humans is not readily absorbed by the oceans.

    1958 Telescope studies show a greenhouse effect raises the temperature of the atmosphere of Venus far above the boiling point of water.

    1960 Keeling accurately measures CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere and detects an annual rise. The level is 315 ppm. The mean global temperature (a five-year average) is 13.9°C.

    1963 Calculations suggest that feedback with water vapor could make the climate acutely sensitive to changes in the CO2 level.

    1965 At a Boulder, Colo., meeting on the causes of climate change, Lorenz and others point out the chaotic nature of the climate system and the possiblity of sudden shifts.

    1966 Emiliani’s analysis of deep-sea cores shows the timing of ice ages was set by small orbital shifts, suggesting that the climate system is sensitive to small changes.

    1967 The International Global Atmospheric Research Program is established, mainly to gather data for better short-range weather prediction, but climate research is included.

    1968 Studies suggest a possiblity of collapse of Antarctic ice sheets, which would raise sea levels catastrophically.

    1969 Budyko and Sellers present models of catastrophic ice-albedo feedbacks. The Nimbus 3 satellite begins to provide comprehensive global atmospheric temperature measurements.

    1971 A conference of leading scientists (SMIC) reports a danger of rapid and serious global climate change caused by humans, and calls for an organized research effort.

    1972 Ice cores and other evidence shows big climate shifts in the past between relatively stable modes in the space of a thousand years or so.

    1974 Serious droughts since 1972 increase concern about climate; cooling from aerosols is suspected to be as likely as warming; journalists talk of a new ice age.

    1975 Manabe and his collaborators produce complex but plausible computer models that show a temperature rise of several degrees for doubled CO2.

    1976 Studies find that CFCs (1975) and methane and ozone (1976) can make a serious contribution to the greenhouse effect. Deep-sea cores show a dominating influence from 100,000-year Milankovitch orbital changes, which emphasizes the role of feedbacks.

    1977 Scientific opinion tends to converge on global warming as the biggest climate risk in the next century.

    1979 A U.S. National Academy of Sciences report finds it highly credible that doubling CO2 will bring about global warming of 1.5°C – 4.5°C.

    1981 Hansen and others show that sulfate aerosols can significantly cool the climate, a finding that raises confidence in models showing future greenhouse warming.

    1982 Greenland ice cores reveal dramatic temperature oscillations in the space of a century in the distant past. Stong global warming since mid-1970s is reported; 1981 was the warmest year on record.

    1985 Ramanathan and his collaborators announce that global warming may come twice as fast as expected, from a rise of methane and other trace greenhouse gases.

    1988 Ice-core and biology studies confirm that living ecosystems make climate feedback by way of methane, which could accelerate global warming. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established.

    1989 Fossil-fuel and other U.S. industries form the Global Climate Coalition to tell politicians and the public that climate science is too uncertain to justify action. (*Exxon internal documents later show Exxon knew that global warming projections were robust science in 1978)

    1990 The first IPCC report says the world has been warming and future warming seems likely.

    1991 Mt. Pinatubo erupts; climate scientists predict a cooling pattern, which will validate (*by 1995) computer models of aerosol effects (*and of the water vapor feedback effect). Studies from 55 million years ago (PETM excursion) show a possiblity that the eruption of methane from the seabed could intensify enormous self-sustained warming.

    1992 The study of ancient climates reveals climate sensitivity in the same range as that predicted independently by computer models.

    1993 Greenland ice cores suggest that great climate changes (at least on a regional scale) can occur in the space of a single decade.

    1995 The second IPCC report detects a ‘signature’ of human-caused greenhouse-effect warming; it declares that serious warming is likely in the coming century. Reports of the breakup of Antarctic ice shelves and other signs of actual current warming in polar regions begin to affect public opinion.

    1998 A “Super El Niño” causes weather disasters and the warmest year on record (approximately matched by 2005 and 2007). Borehole data confirm an extraordinary warming trend. Qualms about arbitrariness in computer models diminish as teams model ice-age climate and dispense with special adjustments to reproduce current climate.

    2000 The Global Climate Coalition dissolves as many corporations grapple with the threat of warming, but the oil lobby convinces the U.S. administration to deny a problem exists.

    2001 Debate effectively ends among all but a few scientists. Warming is observed in ocean basins; the match with computer models gives a clear signature of greenhouse-effect warming.

    2003 Numerous observations raise concern that collapse of ice sheets (in West Antarctica and Greenland) can raise sea levels faster than most had believed. A deadly summer heat wave in Europe accelerates the divergence between European and U.S. public opinion.

    2007 The level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 392 ppm. The mean global temperature a five-year average) is 14.5°C, the warmest in hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

    2015 and 2016 are the warmest years on record. Atmospheric CO2 is now 410 ppm.

    Now, if there’s a single take-away from this summary, it would be that the science on the relationship between fossil fuel combustion, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, and global warming and climate change was really settled by 1979. If someone challenges that statement, the above summary can be given to them; it’s short and concise enough for any audience.

  2. 52
    Radge Havers says:

    Nigelj @ ~ 49

    “I used to think he was, but he seems to have passed his psychological evaluation test ok, and seems to have managed to get a university degree.”

    Well I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to be senile or whatever at college age. And you’re right, the evaluation did have a picture of a camel which he did indeed manage to identify as a camel… Other than that I tend to be a little skeptical of those kinds of reports.

    I don’t want to wander any further OT here, but do watch and listen to him closely. Something’s amiss, IMO.

  3. 53
    nigelj says:

    Radge Havers @52, it was a pretty standard test. But you are dead right, something is definitely hugely ‘amiss’ with Trump. I think its more an issue of deliberate stupidity, over simplified world view and huge psychological narcissism. However I don’t want to wander more ot either, so I will leave it there.

    Just in passing I like RP’s historical narrative approach. I learned something here, and it brings it home that we are not dealing with a modern climate conspiracy. A lot of people will relate to history easier than differential equations and ocean heat content. Although the red state crowd would need to be bribed with some alcohol to have a listen.

  4. 54
    Thomas says:

    #51 excellent timeline. thx. saved it.

  5. 55
    Dominik Lenné says:

    What’s increasing credibility is to minimize our own carbon footprint and communicate it. “If this guy is sacrificing something to curb climate change, then there is probably something real in it.” It’s working in the unconscious.

  6. 56
    Mal Adapted says:

    Dan Da Silva:

    1) People will not change their preconceived beliefs.
    2) The most important problem is the alarmist facts are fake.

    LOL! Despite his evident lack of skill to evaluate the multiple lines of evidence accumulated by 2 centuries of climate science, DDS has made it clear he believes the lopsided consensus of working climate scientists is ‘alarmist’. Taking his point 1), I guess there’s no point in telling him he can solve his ‘most important problem’ by getting his climate information from peer-reviewed scientific sources, rather than from unnamed alarmists ;^).

  7. 57
    nigelj says:

    Dan De Silva says “People will not change their preconceived beliefs.”

    Well clearly Dan De Silva won’t. This has been amply demonstrated.

    But clearly some people do. Look at how things like gay marriage have gradually become accepted by more and more people. I’m not gay, but this is a current issue in several countries. And its very much an issue related to beliefs.

  8. 58
    Cody says:

    Digby @ # 11 (1/31/18; 8:41 PM) – We have no OPTION, of “ignoring” the Deniers. At least in the US, any notion that what went on in the Obama years, W/its Hail Marry Medical reforms say, ought instruct. Effective Long Term Policy simply must be based upon some minimal level of consensus, in a democracy.

    The Old Saw is: walk a mile in the moccasins, of your opponents. I’ve long held a warm spot for what Ghandi accomplished, so long ago, & his means and methods of attempting to get inside the minds of his opponents. W/AGW, in particular, there is a whole lot of just plain cant which has become intertwined in the ‘Big Green,’ version of things–and unfortunately what ought be done. The set backs which come with them, such as the ‘Denier/Minimalist’ electoral college victory last November, are entirely explicable to folks who LISTEN to the other side, and their most heart-felt, views. Religion especially.

    Just to try illustrating this point with a single example, and folks could correct my quotations of the Bible, a personal weak spot, certainly. One of the moving Psalms describes to the devout, God’s promise that the “Sheep will get the security of lying beside the ‘calm waters’.” (Sheep with their heavy wool coats are acutely endangered by flowing waters.) A huge number of very sincere and righteous Americans simply do not conceive it as a possibility, that their God & Creator would hand mankind so imperfect a World, as one which could go bat-shit insane–weather-wise–from what Dr. Archer has described, if consolidated by freezing say, 1 sixteenth of an inch of anthro-CO2.

    Yet, it appears, that IS the hill we must climb, to reach such folks.

  9. 59
    Mal Adapted says:


    A huge number of very sincere and righteous Americans simply do not conceive it as a possibility, that their God & Creator would hand mankind so imperfect a World, as one which could go bat-shit insane–weather-wise–from what Dr. Archer has described, if consolidated by freezing say, 1 sixteenth of an inch of anthro-CO2.

    IMHO those Americans are hardly righteous, even if they are sincere. They are happy to ascribe their material prosperity to divine provenance, bestowed on them wholly without hidden or deferred costs. IOW, their sincerity is founded on a transparently self-serving delusion of cosmic entitlement.

  10. 60
    Digby Scorgie says:

    Cody @58

    Of course there is also the thought that the whole story is becoming moot. Even if there were no deniers around, I can’t see humanity transforming our entire global civilization from one based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable energy sources — especially not in the required couple of decades. But then I’m an old man with no offspring to worry about, so I can afford to be cynical.

  11. 61
    Cody says:

    My 1st boss on The Ford Administration’s “Energy Policy Staff of the Executive Office of The President” (was how the R’s billed us, the authors, in the Year following the Crash publication of R. Nixon’s ‘PROJECT INDEPENDENCE REPORT’–a term the Senior folks thereabouts had come to hate, and so by the Ford years became: “The National Energy Review”), had A) the following, “Desiderata”* posted upon his office wall, including this bit:

    … ‘Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.’ …

    & B) had immediately prior to my meeting him, worked directly for a quite young for so High Up a staffer @ the Cost of Living Council–where a hand full of DC denizens set the prices for virtually all commodities in the US economy–by the name of Richard Cheyney. For my first month in the Capital I heard nothing at lunchtime except “Cheney Stories,” and then, of a sudden, presto! My Boss’s former Boss was the brand new Deputy White House Chief of Staff!



  12. 62

    The problem is that climate scientists are asking people to make a substantial economic sacrifice in the here and now, in exchange for some supposedly beneficial good in the sweet bye-and-bye. That’s a hard sell. Indeed, I think it’s an impossible sell, and you’ll never succeed.

  13. 63
    Russell says:

    It’s hard to distinguish many of this IPCC handbook’s precepts from those of John Podesta’s White House climate communications playbook

  14. 64

    DJ 62: The problem is that climate scientists are asking people to make a substantial economic sacrifice in the here and now,

    BPL: What sacrifice would that be? Living in mud huts and walking to work? As it turns out, that’s NOT what climate scientists are asking people to do.

    DJ: in exchange for some supposedly beneficial good in the sweet bye-and-bye. That’s a hard sell. Indeed, I think it’s an impossible sell, and you’ll never succeed.

    BPL: Then we’re all dead, and not too long from now, either.

  15. 65
    Thomas says:

    I had a chance to peak into who are the experts at the Climate Outreach “Think Tank”.

    At least one of them has a degree in Marketing and she actually worked as a Marketing Manager at one point in her career. Not so sure about the rest, though a cpl did have some academic psychology training knowledge. Then I wondered, how much did the IPCC pay this ‘think tank’ for their 6 point booklet? Obviously I don’t know but it was probably somewhere around a 6 or 7 figure sum.

    I can’t help thinking why didn’t the IPCC, way back in the 1990s and since, not hire a Roger Stone like character instead, or Lakoff or a Phillip Gould or Saatchi & Saatchi or Burson-Marsteller or Publicis Groupe and have David Attenborough doing the voice over on the 30 second ads at the Superbowl … and fronting the AIT movie?

    I’m pretty sure I have covered all those 6 points from multiple angles and provided the supporting refs many times over the years. But, whatever. Image matters more than substance. Don’t need to believe me, go ask The Donald and Hillary. C’est la vie. Horses and Water is the norm not the exception, unfortunately.

    It’s those well funded RW Think Tanks and Denier groups and WUWT that done gone and done it. Blame them. :-)

  16. 66
    Ray Menard says:

    Think it’s an excellent guide. I think we often forget to engage about things people care about, particularly failing to connect with those that live in rural areas, where at least in the US there’s huge and disproportionate politic power to change things. If I talk to a buddy on the East coast, I sometimes start talks about climate change by remembering a great time we had searching for trout in the mountains; on the West coast about the great times we used to have eating raw oysters off the beaches–things our children will never get the chance to experience.

  17. 67
    nigelj says:

    “The problem is that climate scientists are asking people to make a substantial economic sacrifice in the here and now,”

    Yes maybe a couple less lattes each week, a modest type of electric car, one less ensuite bathroom in the mansion. Crippling stuff.

  18. 68
    Mal Adapted says:

    Daniel Jelski:

    The problem is that climate scientists are asking people to make a substantial economic sacrifice in the here and now, in exchange for some supposedly beneficial good in the sweet bye-and-bye.

    I know of no working climate scientist who’s asking that. Who told you they were, Mr. Jelski? Why do you trust your sources, if you don’t trust scientists?

    Why do you say ‘a supposedly beneficial good in the sweet bye-and-bye’? Are you aware that AGW is already costing homes, livelihoods and lives around the world? Even in the US, economic damages from rising sea levels, more extreme rainfalls and more severe wildfires are increasing along with global temperatures. How many lives saved 10 years from now do you suppose is beneficial? What if one of them was yours?

  19. 69
    Adam Lea says:

    “”The problem is that climate scientists are asking people to make a substantial economic sacrifice in the here and now,””

    “Yes maybe a couple less lattes each week, a modest type of electric car, one less ensuite bathroom in the mansion. Crippling stuff.”

    Except it is far more than that. It is more like cutting right back on consumption, stop flying, cut meat intake right down, walk/cycle instead of drive, turn central heating down. In other words, cut right back on the things that (people believe) make life comfortable and enjoyable.

    Killin has it about right advocating a much simpler way of living, which, if I understand correctly, runs more along the lines of a circular system. How does this simpler way of living compare with how Western nations live now?

  20. 70
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Daniel Jelski: “That’s a hard sell. Indeed, I think it’s an impossible sell, and you’ll never succeed.”

    Nobody ever said the continued existence of human civilization is a requirement, did they? We only have to make the changes if we don’t want our grandchildren to be hunter gatherers.

  21. 71
    Thomas says:

    68 Mal Adapted says: “I know of no working climate scientist who’s asking that.”

    Well I guess one could claim that Hansen is no long “working”. But then again, one only needs to look at what he has been doing since “retirement” to see that he is in fact still working.

    Then there are his Papers and the names of all the other working climate scientists in the author list. Working Scientists like Gavin occasionally.

    So if MA does not “know” of any, then it probably a case of “a lack of evidence is not evidence of absence” … LOOK HARDER and CLOSER MA (smile)

    Then there is Professor James Anderson (is he retired or still working?) Australia is full to the brim with climate scientists telling us we need to do “just that” and to start doing it NOW!

    Then there’s stuff like this as well.

    The delusions of corporations and the high priests and wizards of the invisible hand of the market religion.

    Delusional to the extreme.

  22. 72
    Thomas says:

    And yes #69, Killian is also right! In spades! And Kevin Anderson, an engineer, but good enough to be considered a working climate scientist on the subject matter of WTF to do about it.

  23. 73
    nigelj says:

    Adam Lea @69

    I don’t think any climate scientists have actually said exactly that, so you would need to provide a link to someone.

    I’m also not sure whats wrong with cutting back meat consumption, flying less, and cycling where possible. None of this is the end of the world as I said. Cutting back on meat also increases lifespan and cycling is enjoyable and good for health.

    I don’t think anyone has said cut right back on heating and freezing to death. This is why its more important to promote renewable electricity as fast as possible.

    You don’t quite understand Killians view. He wants people to cut energy and technology consumption by 80 – 90%, so it is an extreme version of what you have just posted. That really does have impacts.

    I don’t know what is meant by circular system, but perhaps he simply means sustainable. This is separate sort of issue to climate change, although they overlap in some ways.

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