WG II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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1.3. Approach of the Assessment

The assessment process involves evaluation and synthesis of available information to advance understanding of climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. The information comes predominately from peer-reviewed published literature. Evidence also is drawn from published, non-peer-reviewed literature and unpublished sources, but only after evaluation of its quality and validity by the authors of this report.

WGII's assessment has been conducted by an international group of experts nominated by governments and scientific bodies and selected by the WGII Bureau of the IPCC for their scientific and technical expertise and to achieve broad geographical balance. These experts come from academia, governments, industry, and scientific and environmental organizations. They participate without compensation from the IPCC, donating substantial time to support the work of the IPCC.

Figure TS-2: Regions for the IPCC Working Group II Third Assessment Report. Note that regions in which small island states are located include the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic Oceans, and the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. The boundary between Europe and Asia runs along the eastern Ural Mountains, River Ural, and Caspian Sea. For the polar regions, the Arctic consists of the area north of the Arctic Circle, including Greenland; the Antarctic consists of the Antarctic continent, together with the Southern Ocean south of ~58°S.

This assessment is structured to examine climate change impacts, adaptations, and vulnerabilities of systems and regions and to provide a global synthesis of cross-system and cross-regional issues. To the extent feasible, given the available literature, climate change is examined in the context of sustainable development and equity. The first section sets the stage for the assessment by discussing the context of climate change, methods and tools, and scenarios. Individual chapters assess vulnerabilities of water systems, terrestrial ecosystems (including agriculture and forestry), ocean and coastal systems, human settlements (including energy and industrial sectors), insurance and other financial services, and human health. A chapter is devoted to each of eight major regions of the world: Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, North America, polar regions, and small island states. These regions are shown in Figure TS-2. All of the regions are highly heterogeneous, and climate change impacts, adaptive capacity, and vulnerability will vary in important ways within each of the regions. The final section of the report synthesizes adaptation capacity and its potential to alleviate adverse impacts, enhance beneficial effects, and increase sustainable development and equity and reviews information that is relevant for interpretation of Article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and key provisions of international agreements to address climate change. The report also contains a Summary for Policymakers, which provides a brief synthesis of the conclusions of the report that have particular relevance to those who have responsibility for making climate change response decisions. This Technical Summary provides a more comprehensive summary of the assessment; it references sections of the underlying report in brackets at the end of the paragraphs for readers who would like more information on a particular topic. [1.1]

1.4. Treatment of Uncertainties

Since the SAR, greater emphasis has been placed on developing methods for characterizing and communicating uncertainties. Two approaches to evaluate uncertainties are applied in the WGII assessment. A quantitative approach is adopted to assess confidence levels in instances for which present understanding of relevant processes, system behavior, observations, model simulations, and estimates is sufficient to support broad agreement among authors of the report about Bayesian probabilities associated with selected findings. A more qualitative approach is used to assess and report the quality or level of scientific understanding that supports a conclusion (see Box 2). These approaches, and the rationale for them, are explained in more detail in Third Assessment Report: Cross-Cutting Issues Guidance Papers (, supporting material prepared by the IPCC to increase the use of consistent terms and concepts within and across the Working Group volumes of the TAR. [1.1, 2.6].

Box 2. Confidence Levels and State of Knowledge

Quantitative Assessment of Confidence Levels

In applying the quantitative approach, authors of the report assign a confidence level that represents the degree of belief among the authors in the validity of a conclusion, based on their collective expert judgment of observational evidence, modeling results, and theory that they have examined. Five confidence levels are used. In the tables of the Technical Summary, symbols are substituted for words:

Very High (*****)

95% or greater

High (****)




Low (**)


Very Low (*)

5% or less

Qualitative Assessment of the State of Knowledge

In applying the qualitative approach, authors of the report evaluate the level of scientific understanding in support of a conclusion, based on the amount of supporting evidence and the level of agreement among experts about the interpretation of the evidence. Four qualitative classifications are employed:

  • Well-established: Models incorporate known processes, observations are consistent with models, or multiple lines of evidence support the finding.
  • Established but incomplete: Models incorporate most known processes, although some parameterizations may not be well tested; observations are somewhat consistent but incomplete; current empirical estimates are well founded, but the possibility of changes in governing processes over time is considerable; or only one or a few lines of evidence support the finding.
  • Competing explanations: Different model
    representations account for different aspects of observations or evidence or incorporate different aspects of key processes, leading to competing explanations.
  • Speculative: Conceptually plausible ideas that are not adequately represented in the literature or that contain many difficult-to-reduce uncertainties [Box 1-1]

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