Bringing Heritage, Social Science Expertise to the International Study of the Impacts of Global Warming

By Marcy Rockman, PhD, RPA, Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for Cultural Resources, National Park Service

Editor’s Note: Meeting in Nairobi in April 2016, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set its strategy and timeline for its next series of reports, the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), and the special reports that will be prepared in the next few years. The Panel agreed to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways. It also agreed to prepare two other special reports: on climate change and oceans and the cryosphere; and on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.  Preparations for the main AR6 report, which is expected to be released in three working group contributions in 2020/2021 and a Synthesis Report in 2022, will start later in 2016. The IPCC has said AR6 will have a special focus on the impacts of climate change on cities and their unique adaptation and mitigation challenges and opportunities.

In its solicitation for experts for the August 2016 scoping meeting for its upcoming special report on limiting global warming to 1.5C, the IPCC listed several areas of expertise that are calling cards for cultural heritage, including

“Risk perception, psychosocial, sociological, economic and anthropological underpinnings of human responses to climate change”

“Human vulnerability and adaptation, including infrastructure, cities, and other human settlements.”

The newly established Society for American Archaeology Climate Change Strategies and Archaeological Resources Committee-Agency and Policy Work Group (SAA CCSAR-A&P) and the Pocantico Framework for Cultural Heritage and Climate Change International Working Group (Pocantico FIG3) are working together to increase representation and incorporation of archaeological and anthropological resources and research in future reports of the IPCC and programs of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Response to this IPCC solicitation was the first action toward this goal.
Together, these groups fostered seven nominations that were submitted to the US State Department. The nominees and their areas of expertise included:

  • Dr. Tim Kohler, Washington State University:  Human adaptation to climate variability in Neolithic (farming) societies in prehistory; modeling climate-driven variability in maize production in prehistory; agent-based modeling of human social, subsistence, and economic responses to climate change in prehistory; the Neolithic Demographic Transition; paleodemography;
  • Victoria Herrmann, The Arctic Institute/National Geographic Explorer: direct engagement with Arctic communities experiencing climate change;
  • Dr. Peggy Nelson, Arizona State University:  Models of social structure flexibility and rigidity, experience with Hohokam and US Southwest, comparison of adaptation to arid environments between US Southwest and North Atlantic islands;
  • Dr. Anna Prentiss, University of Montana: Cultural evolution, human ecology, archaeology of complex hunter-gatherers, Pacific Rim, Rocky Mountains, Arctic.  Major research on rise and collapse of large villages as related to demography, sociality, and climate change;
  • Dr. Peter Richerson, UC Davis: Cultural evolution, ecology, organic evolution, paleoclimatology;
  • Dr. Marcy Rockman, US National Park Service: 1. Connecting archaeological and anthropological models of human adaptation and social change to modern climate change and homeland security policy, research, and guidance; 2. Diversity of climate impacts on cultural heritage; 3. Landscape learning: how individuals and human groups learn new and unfamiliar environments; and
  • Dr. John Welch, Simon Fraser/University of Arizona: Collaboration, science translation, and research advocacy with Indigenous communities.

Next steps include review of nominations by the US State Department and selection of nominees by the IPCC Scientific Scoping Committee. Nominees will be notified of their selection early in the summer. The scoping meeting itself will take place in Geneva, Switzerland from August 15-17, 2016.

What is this IPCC and what does it do?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. The IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.  IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate-related policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision-makers because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature.
One of the main IPCC activities is the preparation of comprehensive Assessment Reports about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change, its causes, potential impacts and response strategies. The IPCC also produces Special Reports, which are an assessment on a specific issue and Methodology Reports, which provide practical guidelines for the preparation of greenhouse gas inventories.  . IPCC assessments are written by hundreds of leading scientists who volunteer their time and expertise as Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors of the reports. They enlist hundreds of other experts as Contributing Authors to provide complementary expertise in specific areas.  The most recent Assessment Report – AR5 – was released was released between September 2013 and November 2014.

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