Lessons Learned from IPCC’s Underestimation of Climate Change Impacts About the Need for a Precautionary Climate Change Science

  • Donald A. Brown
Conference paper


Several recent studies reveal that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the organization created by the international community to synthesize the peer-reviewed climate change science to provide governments with objective, scientific understanding of climate change, its natural, political and economic impacts and risks, and possible response options has been underestimating likely climate change impacts. Analysis of the causes of IPCC’s failure to identify the likely worst climate change impacts attributes the IPCCs underestimation of climate change impacts to: (a) the “consensus” methods of IPCC processes and, (b) that the relevant sciences follow epistemic norms designed to prevent false positive conclusions about cause and effect. This chapter argues that given the enormous potential harms from climate change, a precautionary science that allows scientists to identify all scientifically plausible harms is required by ethics and international legal principles.


  1. Anthony W et al (2018) 21st-Century modeled permafrost carbon emissions accelerated by abrupt thaw beneath lakes, Accessed 14 Sept 2019
  2. Bamber JL et al (2019) Ice sheet contributions to future sea-level rise from structured expert judgment. Proc Natl Acad Sci 116(23):11195–11200, Accessed 12 Sept 2019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Breakthrough Institute, What Lies Beneath, (WLB) (2018) On the understatement of existential climate risk, Accessed 21 Oct 2019
  4. Brown D (2019) Six things that citizens around the world urgently need to know about climate change in light of several recent scientific reports, Accessed 22 Oct 2019
  5. European Commission (2017) The Precautionary Principle: Decision-making Under UncertaintyGoogle Scholar
  6. Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) (2018) Special report on warming of 1.5 °C. Accessed 8 Oct 2019
  7. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2019) Summary for policymakers of IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C. Accessed 10 Oct 2019
  8. Jonas H (1984) The imperative of responsibility; in search of an ethics for a technological age. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  9. National Geographic (2018) Climate change impacts worse than expected, global report warns, Accessed 8 Oct 2019
  10. Nesbit EG et al (2019) Very strong atmospheric methane growth in the 4 Years 2014–2017: Implications for the Paris Agreement. Global Biogeochem Cycles 33(3):318–342. Accessed 9 Oct 2019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Stephan W et al (2018) Trajectories of the earth system in the anthropocene. Proc Natl Acad Sci 115(33):8252–8259, Assessed 30 Sept 2019CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (1992) FCC/INFORMAL/84/Rev.1 GE.14-20481 (E)Google Scholar
  13. World Resources Institute (2018) Half a degree and a world apart: the difference in climate impacts between 1.5 °C and 2 °C o f Warming. Accessed 14 Oct 2019

Copyright information

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donald A. Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Widener University, Commonwealth Law SchoolHarrisburgUSA

Personalised recommendations