In the past, skeptics have leaked IPCC drafts in hopes of undermining confidence in the science in advance of the reports’ release. However, this time around the IPCC’s leaders took a more media-friendly attitude than in the past. Rather than refusing to talk about the leaked report, “they took the offensive to regain control after it happened and tried to steer reporters toward covering it in a fair way,” said Doyle.

In recent months, Field has repeatedly spoken in general terms about this year’s report with reporters, individually or in groups, stressing the need to “manage risks” and adopt adaptation approaches that may help reduce potential impacts in hard-hit regions.

Many stories have already started to bring the story home, using continent-wide assessments in the leaked draft report as well as local reporting. A March 23 Sydney Morning Herald story warned, for example, that “Australia’s multibillion-dollar mining, farming and tourism industries all face significant threats as worsening global warming causes more dangerous and extreme weather.” It linked economic losses in tourism to deterioration of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef .

A March 27 feature story by BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath, in Japan for the IPCC report, localized the threat that rising temperatures pose to the world’s food supplies. The provocative BBC headline asked, “Is Japan playing hunger games with climate change?”

A far more measured analysis of the IPCC’s forthcoming report ran in Yale University’s Environment360. UK-based freelance journalist Fred Pearce wrote:

Careful readers will note a new tone to its discussion of these issues that is markedly different from past efforts. It is more humble about what scientists can predict in advance, and far more interested in how societies can make themselves resilient. It also places climate risks much more firmly than before among a host of other problems faced by society, especially by the poor. That tone will annoy some for taking the edge off past warnings, but gratify others for providing a healthy dose of realism.
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Cristine Russell is a CJR contributing editor and the president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. She is a former Shorenstein Center fellow and Washington Post reporter.