IPCC Report - Scientists Pass Baton to Policy Makers

The official website for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ran hot today. It took several attempts before I could reach the site - a clear indication of the level of interest in today's release.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level - Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (9.3mb PDF)
unequiv'ocal adjective unambiguous; explicit; clear and emphatic

So says the long-awaited and critically important final chapter of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from the IPCC, which was just released today (23-page summary version only for now). Approximately 29,000 pieces of real-world evidence were used in compiling this document - a report produced by over 450 main authors, 800 contributing authors and 2,500 scientific reviewers from over 130 countries. It brings together in one final document the findings of the previous three reports that were produced incrementally throughout 2007.

Although it is not the role of the IPCC to dictate policy, the report does outline projections for different scenarios, and gives clear encouragement on setting a firm price on carbon. The objective scientific reporting and the scope and seriousness of the topics covered, make this the most policy relevant document on the planet today. We have two weeks to go before the desperately important Bali Summit begins, and this report will, we hope, be a keystone influence on the minds of our planet's leaders as they prepare.

By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%
If you've been monitoring the progress of global warming, you won't need me to tell you about all the changes in natural systems that are currently underway around the world. The Summary for Policymakers (9.3mb PDF) displays startling graphs and facts produced with data input from records of temperature rises, sea level rises, precipitation, wind patterns, melting ice and the retreat of snow cover and more, as well as drawing projections via computer modelling on what to expect over the coming decades. I would encourage you to read the document thoughtfully.

One of the more alarming statements, but not one that's wholly unexpected, is that dangerous climate change effects "are projected to be larger or to occur at lower increases in temperature" than previously stated. Additionally, the report made it clear that since we are already locked into a dangerous level of global warming, adapting to a warming world is going to be almost as critical as efforts at mitigation.

But, if the saying "there's no use crying over spilt milk" applies to global catastrophe in the same way it does minor kitchen accidents, then there's nothing for it but to face up to the reality of our situation and to see what we can do to minimise future warming. Indeed, this was the subdued but fervent thought expressed by Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, as he introduced the report to press today in Valencia, Spain (see webcast at bottom).

He ended his introductory speech thus:

Is the current pace and pattern of development sustainable? We need to ask some fundamental questions. What changes in lifestyle, behaviour patterns and management practices are needed, and by when? And, I would like to end by quoting from Mahatma Gandhi. He said "Be the change you want to see in the world" and I think therefore, what we really need is a new ethic by which every human being realises the importance of the challenge we are facing and starts taking action to meet it effectively, through changes in lifestyle, through changes of attitude and behaviour. - Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC
The work of the scientists is, in a sense, complete (the IPCC itself won't report, in full at least, for another five years). It is now up to governments to take this knowledge and put it to good use. The summary confirms what we already know - that continuing with 'business as usual' will see the continued increase of greenhouse gas emissions - rather than the necessary decrease we need to rapidly action:
There is high agreement and much evidence that with current climate change mitigation policies and related sustainable development practices, global GHG emissions will continue to grow over the next few decades....

The IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES, 2000) projects an increase of global GHG emissions by 25-90% (CO2-eq) between 2000 and 2030 (Figure SPM.5), with fossil fuels maintaining their dominant position in the global energy mix to 2030 and beyond. - Summary for Policymakers of the Synthesis Report of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (9.3mb PDF)

The 25-90% increase by 2030 is consistent with the midway point of 57% given by the recently released World Energy Outlook 2007 report for 'business as usual' for the same period.

Some of the questions by the press were very interesting. I particularly appreciated the response from Mr. Achim Steiner to BBC reporter Richard Black. Richard queried, if I can paraphrase, that since the summary for policy-makers makes the above point - that if we don't change course we're heading for impact - what course of action, what roadmap, do we need to follow to reach safer ground?

The private sector, the consumer and the markets, need signals that governments can give through legislation incentives and subsidies that make sense from a carbon management perspective, but may not make sense for me as an individual or me as a corporation. That is why the IPCC, that is why the negotiations in Bali are so critical, because unless governments provide the markets of this world the right signals and the right incentives these transitions that are listed in these reports will simply not happen. Because the market alone cannot deliver, but the market with the right incentives and the right regulatory frameworks is perfectly capable of delivering gigatonnes of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the timelines that the IPCC has shown so very clearly in its report. - Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
All eyes are now on Bali. International leaders, please don't fumble.



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  • Posted on Nov. 17, 2007. Listed in:

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