Climate change concerns creating heat

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The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the first part of its fifth Assessment Report after almost six years of spade work. The release covers the work of Working Group-I, in charge of the scientific assessment of climate change, while the other two groups responsible for impact and mitigation will release their reports next year.

The IPCC was established by the UN in 1988 to provide policymakers with supposedly authoritative reports on climate change. It does not have a programme of research by itself but rather synthesises the results of scientists from around the world working on a voluntary basis.

The report, presented in Stockholm last Friday, is said to have had inputs from 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries and was agreed through consensus by 800 scientists and government delegates from 194 countries.

The official press release from the IPCC could have been predicted in advance as the group never changed its mind on any issue and has been hardening its position since its creation. The release states: “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”, a change from the previous report.

“Warming is unequivocal”, the release said and added “since 1950 unprecedented over decades to millennia.” But the press conference failed to explain why there has been no warming since 1998, although this point is supposedly well covered — and even dismissed — in the report.

To be honest, I have never been as confused about IPCC reports as I am now. I have been associated with this issue since the 1990s as an observer for the Opec Secretariat in Intergovernmental negotiations. I do believe in the seriousness of the issues surrounding climate change, but I also believe the IPCC and its advocates should give hope to humanity rather than offer a persistent language of despair, or scaremongering as some term it, that we find in their reports.

Thomas Stocker, the Co-Chair of Working Group-I, said: “Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios”.

This is better than the 4.5°C we used to hear but it is negated when Stocker added: “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.”

Only the negative part of this statement will stick in the minds of the public and governments. He does not give us any hope at all no matter what we do as he said: “We are committed to climate change, and effects will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 stop.”

Perhaps this is why The Onion said ‘Scientists Recommend Having Earth Put Down’.

I am sure the report will be discussed endlessly by specialists, when the 2,500-page report is released online on September 30. Unfortunately, there will be no agreement as the positions of climate change “warmers” and “deniers or sceptics” are absolutely entrenched.

In fact, the war of words has been going on since an early draft was leaked last June. Judith Curry, a professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US and a well-known “denier”, questions the IPCC “since the science clearly is not settled and is in a state of flux”.

“An increase in confidence in view of the recent pause and the lower confidence level in some of the supporting findings is incomprehensible to me,” she added and even questioned the process of consensus seeking. She recommended that such a move “be abandoned in favour of a more traditional review that presents arguments for and against” to “better support scientific progress and be more useful for policy makers.”

No matter what, Connie Hedegaard, EU’s climate commissioner, said EU policy on climate change is right even if the science was wrong and that the bloc is pursuing correct energy policies even if they lead to higher prices. This is the hidden agenda of using the environment to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, especially oil.

Australia’s new government, meanwhile, has moved to wind back Australia’s climate change response and even cancelled funding for renewable energy.

Worrying about the climate in 2100 is welcome, but why can’t we worry equally about poverty and the provision of human necessities now? 

— The writer is former head of the Energy Studies Department at the Opec Secretariat in Vienna.