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climate changes

A climate of dialogue

IPCC improves scientific accuracy and communication strategies

EDUARDO CESARFrom the Andes to the Amazon Region: bartonellosis bacteria are spreadingEDUARDO CESAR

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is being reformulated. It is to expand the scientific accuracy its team of scientists work on and become more sensitive to the worries of international negotiators such as Sir John Beddington, chief scientific advisor of the United Kingdom government. On May 11, the first day of a workshop at the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG), Beddington warned the participants of the probably dramatic consequences of climate change, urbanization, and food and water scarcity in the world. Two days later, on May 13, in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, the IPCC leaders announced that they will comply with the recommendations of the InterAcademy Council (IAC) on changing methods of work and communication strategies. These recommendations form the basis of the changes that are currently under way.

In April of 2010, the United Nations, which supports the IPCC, requested that the IAC form an independent committee to review the procedures of the IPCC, after it lost some of its credibility when a series of e-mails came to light, indicating that some forecasts on the impact of climate change had been too hasty. One such forecast was that the glaciers of the Himalayas would disappear by 2035. “The errors, though small, had a tremendous impact,” commented Robbert Dijkgraaf to Pesquisa FAPESP. An IAC member, he also chairs the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and is a professor at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. “They should have been corrected immediately, but IPCC thought no communication or explanations were needed, as there was a consensus regarding the measures presented.”

Dijkgraaf monitored the work of the IAC committee, which brought together 12 experts from science, academia and the research councils of several countries, including Brazil, represented by Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the FAPESP scientific director. “The heads of IPCC accepted most of our recommendations and suggestions,” said the economist Harold Shapiro, a professor and former president of Princeton University in the United States and the committee coordinator.

The IAC committee recommendations suggest making changes in IPCC governance and management, in its method of reviewing scientific work, in its characterization and communication of scientific uncertainties and in its communication strategies. “Any organization has to review itself from time to time, because times change,” stated Shapiro to Pesquisa FAPESP. The IAC committee suggested that the IPCC chairman should only hold this position for one term and that its focus be reviewed every four to six years.

It was also suggested that the IPCC explain more clearly how technical documents are to be reviewed and present a greater variety of scientific views, including controversial ones. Another relevant point was to explain scientific uncertainties. “The IPCC and the climate scientists should acknowledge more clearly what they do know but also what they don’t know,” said Dijkgraaf. Another recommendation that was strictly followed: to implement a communication strategy emphasizing transparency and fast, satisfactory responses to any interested party. “The IPCC should become more interactive, and climate scientists more critical of what they do.”

During the opening of the workshop at the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (PFPMCG), Shaun Quegan, a researcher at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, commented: “The annual estimates of deforested areas in tropical forests are precise and highly reliable, at least in Brazil.” However, he added, “the use of these data to evaluate carbon emissions that are due to changes in the use of the soil is highly uncertain, mainly because forest biomass measurements are precarious.” The objective of the meeting was to encourage integration among the teams of the several research projects of which the PFPMCG is comprised, now under the coordination of Reynaldo Luiz Victoria, a researcher from the University of São Paulo, who has replaced climatologist Carlos Nobre.

In one of the presentations on the second day, the physican Manuel Cesario, a researcher from the University of Franca (Unifran), described his study on the dissemination of infectious diseases in the Amazon Region – which have increased due to the changes in land use, caused by the surfacing of roads, deforestation and urbanization – and climate change in South America. Researchers from the University of São Paulo, Paulista State University, the Federal University of Bahia, the Federal University of Santa Catarina and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation took part in this work.

Cesario believes that bartonellosis, a bacterial disease causing malaria-like symptoms, previously limited to the Andes from altitudes of 500 to 3,200 meters, may have expanded geographically and adapted to lower regions in the wake of the increasing migration and climate change. He feels that this disease, first identified in 2004 in the region of Madre de Dios in southeastern Peru, may easily cross the border with Acre, in Brazil, and with Pando, in Bolivia. The cities in this area are becoming increasingly interconnected by the extension of the BR-317 highway. Called Rodovia Interoceanica (Interoceanic Highway), it is also known as Estrada do Pacifico [Pacific Highway]. It is already being used and has been almost entirely asphalted.

Leishmaniasis is also advancing. “The two forms of leishmaniasis, the visceral one and the cutaneous one, were diseases that, in Brazil, used to be associated with deforestation, being transmitted by typical forest-related factors. However, they are now tied to urbanization as well as to deforestation,” he said. Bartonellosis and leishmaniasis are transmitted by insects of the Lutzomyia genus, abundant in the region. In 2008, Cesario and his team were covering the municipality of Assis Brazil and, to capture insects, they installed traps from six o’clock in the evening to six o’clock in the morning. In one week, they collected more than 3 thousand insects of 56 species of Lutzomyia. “Houses with openings situated near the forest and with farm animals in the vicinity,” he said, “provide the ideal environment for insects that have left their natural habitats and resort to the remainders of organic material to reproduce and to animals to suck blood, coming closer to people and transmitting the diseases.”