Climate Change, “The Facts” and what’s happening now.
Space-age technology is being lined up to fight global warming
Putting giant mirrors in space or salting clouds to make them brighter may sound more like science fiction than reality. But these and a raft of other futuristic ploys have made it into the pages of a landmark UN report that concludes some have the potential to “substantially” curb global warming, according to a final draft seen by our scources. Scientists have been working on so-called geo-engineering ideas for years but the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has largely confined its analysis of it to less closely-watched volumes of the extensive assessments it produces every six or so years.
This year, as atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have reached record levels, the panel has elevated the issue to the most carefully scrutinised volume of its report, on the physical basis of climate science, which is due to be finalised in Stockholm next week. The report assesses the two main types of geo-engineering that have emerged as global temperatures have risen: carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management. Carbon dioxide removal includes measures such as fertilising the ocean with iron to spur the growth of plankton that would absorb carbon, or using chemicals to capture C02 directly from the air, then storing it under the sea or ground.
Solar radiation management covers a range of measures to reflect sunlight, from giant reflectors in space to injecting sulphate particles, or aerosols, into the stratosphere, or salting clouds to produce more droplets of water so the clouds appear whiter and brighter. The panel’s draft conclusions say computer modelling has shown some solar management methods could sharply reduce global temperature rises, but both types of geo-engineering risk “unintended side-effects and long-term consequences on a global scale”.
Scientists whose research contributes to the new report have previously warned that tinkering with the oceans’ fertility could have many unknown effects on complex marine ecosystems, and that using aerosols to reflect sunlight could cause stratospheric ozone depletion. In addition, because high carbon dioxide concentrations would stay in the atmosphere for thousands of years unless curbed, there could be problems if solar management started then ended, the IPCC draft says. “If solar radiation management were terminated for any reason, there is high confidence that global surface temperatures would rise very rapidly,” the report. The uncertain effects of artificially manipulating the climate is only one reason geo-engineering is seen as contentious. Many methods would also be extremely expensive. A study by US researchers last year found shooting aerosols into the sky could cost between $1bn and $8bn a year. The draft report summarising the IPCC’s lengthy assessment must be approved by governments this week before its release and some wording may change in the process.
CO2 at highest level for millions of years
The level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere has hit its highest level in millions of years, scientists said on Friday, focusing fresh attention on the risks of climate change. The average daily level of carbon dioxide, the most important of the man-made greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, has risen above 400 parts per million, according to Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, where researchers have been recording CO2 levels since 1958. The record is not a surprise, given the amount of CO2 emitted as fossil fuels such as coal are burnt around the world. But it is a significant symbolic landmark for scientists who have long warned that the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide raise the risk of potentially dangerous climate change in coming decades.
“The last time in the earth’s history when we saw similar levels of CO2 in the atmosphere was probably about 4.5m years ago when the world was warmer on average by three or four degrees Celsius than it is today,” said Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London. “There was no permanent ice sheet on Greenland, sea levels were much higher, and the world was a very different place.” In addition, the rate of increase in CO2 concentrations has accelerated from about 0.7 ppm per year in the late 1950s to 2.1 ppm per year during the past 10 years.
“That increase is not a surprise to scientists,” said Pieter Tans of the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The evidence is conclusive that the strong growth of global CO2 emissions from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving the acceleration.” The average global temperature has already risen about 0.8C since pre-industrial times as carbon dioxide levels have increased. Many scientists fear warming of 2C or more will cause a far less predictable climate, with many more incidents of extreme weather such as the disastrous floods and droughts many countries have experienced in recent years.
What happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy It is widely thought that, to avoid serious climate risks, CO2 levels should not exceed 450 ppm. “There’s no stopping CO2 from reaching 400 ppm,” said Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. “That’s now a done deal. But what happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy.”
Environmental groups said the 400 ppm level was a sign of the need for a global deal at the 2015 UN climate talks in Paris, where countries will try to agree on how best collectively to tackle global warming. “It challenges us all to come to terms with the fact that fossil fuels need to stay in the ground and that, instead, we need to switch to renewable alternatives if we want to avoid dangerous climate change in the future,” said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK.
IPCC warns on Himalayan melting glaciers
The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, the head of the world’s leading authority on climate change has warned. “That’s something to be concerned about,” said Rachendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which this week starts releasing its first extensive report in six years on how the global climate is changing. This is the panel’s first big study since it was mired in controversy four years ago over a mistaken suggestion in its last assessment in 2007 that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear as early as 2035, a date it admitted was “poorly substantiated”.
Mr Pachauri faced calls to resign at the time but on the eve of the new report’s release, he said the error should not overshadow the looming risks posed by the retreating glaciers, which feed water into rivers supplying some of south Asia’s most densely populated regions. “Everything humanly possible has been brought to bear on this report to see that we don’t have any errors,” he told our man in an interview. “That [glacier] error of course was highlighted round the world, and we apologised for it,” he said. “It doesn’t detract from the fact that the glaciers are melting across the globe, including the Himalayas.
“The mistake we made was using that figure of 2035, but that doesn’t in any way reduce the implications of glacier melt across the entire Himalayan range and that’s something to be concerned about, as it was then.” While the glaciers may not vanish by 2035, he added, the pace at which they are melting is bound to affect vast numbers of people depending on them for water. “Even before 2035 it’s going to start showing up in terms of changes in water flows, which affect, as we had estimated, 500m people in south Asia and 250m people in China,” he said.
The IPCC’s new assessment is only the fifth it has done in its 25-year history and its first since 2007. Leaked drafts of its final summary, which will be approved by the nearly 200 governments who belong to the panel in Stockholm this week, show it strengthens past findings that global temperatures are rising and humans are the main cause. Mr Pachauri, who has chaired the panel since 2002, said the new report would differ from its predecessors in some ways, however. It includes a far more comprehensive examination of issues such as how sea levels are changing, for example, and will also address another issue that has roused mounting interest since its 2007 report: the slowing rate of global warming in the last 15 years.
“We will have something to say on that,” he said, adding he thought people should bear in mind a recent World Meteorological Organisation report showing the first decade of this century was the hottest in 160 years. One big difference in this year’s report, which will be released in stages over this year and next, is the number of scientists who wanted to compile it. Nearly 3,000 scientists were nominated to be authors of the latest report, up from 2,000 in the previous one, said Mr Pachauri. A total of 831 were selected as authors.
The scientists assess existing climate research, rather than carrying out original work. They mostly work for free, however, on what has become such a fast-growing field of research that it creates a demanding workload for those with busy day jobs. This has led to calls for the nearly 200 governments that make up the IPCC to think about allowing it to issue smaller more targeted reports more frequently, rather than the enormous assessments it publishes every five or six years. The governments are due to consider how the IPCC should do its work in future at a meeting later this year, but Mr Pachauri said he did not believe the existing system would need to change. “I would say, based on our own experience, I’ve found the scientific community totally equal to the task, even though the magnitude and the complexity of the task has certainly grown over time,” he said.
“The workload has certainly increased, because there’s a lot more materials to be assessed now than was the case maybe 10 years ago, but may I say that the scientists have been equal to the task. They’ve just had to work much harder, and frankly, that’s a very heartening observation.” He would also like to see governments study the IPCC’s work more carefully at the annual two-week UN climate change negotiations. This year’s meeting will take place in Warsaw in November. “Of the two weeks that are spent discussing what needs to be done about climate change, a minimum of three or four days should be spent focusing on the science,” he said. “Because I think it’s only when you realise the cost of inaction, and what it’s going to lead to in different parts of the world, that people would realise what it is to delay action.”
Arctic sea ice melting faster than expected, UN report finds
The Arctic’s summer sea ice is set to nearly vanish in less than 40 years, according to the final draft of a sweeping UN climate change report that sharply revises past estimates of how fast the icy north is melting.
“A nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely,” says the draft seen by our boffins of the first large-scale study in six years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The retreating ice is encouraging for Arctic nations such as Russia, which is trying to boost shipping traffic along its icy Northern Sea Route. But it is worrying for scientists because of what was described in a recent study as an “economic time bomb” that could explode if the melting Arctic permafrost releases vast plumes of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and drives significant climate change. In its last report in 2007 the IPCC said the ice, which melts a little each summer then refreezes as winter nears, was expected to disappear “almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century”. Both that projection and the revised one revealed yesterday depend on the rate of greenhouse gas emissions.
The new Arctic assessment is one of the more notable aspects of a report that more than 800 scientists from around the world have spent the last four years compiling on behalf of the nearly 200 governments that belong to the 25-year-old IPCC. The first section of the mammoth study, which will be released in stages this year and next, is to be finalised in Stockholm next week. It examines the science of global warming and, like the rest of the report, is not based on original research but is an assessment of the fast-growing field of climate science.
The latest report is only the fifth of its type and the first since the IPCC admitted its 2007 report had wrongly suggested Himalayan glaciers could melt as early as 2035. It is also the first to confront one of the more puzzling questions about climate change: why global temperature rises have slowed in the last 15 years even though atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the most important man-made greenhouse gas, have soared to record heights. Similar temperature slowdowns in the past, but the overall warming trend is clear, with global average combined land and ocean temperatures rising 0.89C from 1901 to 2012. However, there is also a revised estimate of how much warming is likely to arise once carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere double. The last IPCC report suggested the lowest number was likely to be 2C while the one before said 1.5C. The latest one reverts to a figure of 1.5C but unlike the previous assessments it does not include a best estimate.
A central finding of the report, however, is that scientists are more certain than ever that humans are causing global warming mainly by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and gas. “It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951-2010,” the draft says. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”
Some aspects of the draft may change during next week’s meeting in Stockholm, but the central findings are not expected to be altered. IPCC spokesman Jonathan Lynn said it could be misleading to draw conclusions from it at this stage. “It will be finalised next week – the culmination of four years’ work by hundreds of experts who have volunteered their time and expertise – and we look forward to discussing its contents after that,” he said.
A nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in September before mid-century is likely
The new report also contains new projections of how fast global sea levels will rise because scientists have gained a better understanding of how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are likely to influence such an increase. This addresses one of the most heavily criticised aspects of the 2007 IPCC report, which did not give a complete estimate of how much sea levels would rise this century because of uncertainties about how the ice sheets were contributing to sea levels. The question of when the Arctic’s summer sea ice will vanish has also been contentious. Last year the summer sea ice shrank to its lowest level on record. This summer, the ice has failed to decline at such a spectacular rate, which many sea ice experts had expected. Some scientists, such as Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge university, predict it will vanish as soon as 2015. Others say it is more likely to take decades rather than years.
What climate scientists talk about now
David Vaughan was sitting in his office in Cambridge when he first saw the grainy black-and-white picture of something he had never thought possible. It was a satellite image of a huge ice shelf on the edge of the South Pole in an area he had been studying with his colleagues at the British Antarctic Survey research centre. At least, it was supposed to be. This was 1995 and Vaughan, a glaciologist with the careful manner of the solicitor he once thought of becoming, looked at the spot where the shelf had been and thought, “The damned thing’s not where it’s supposed to be.” “It was like looking at a map of Britain and seeing half of Cornwall had disappeared,” he told me recently.
This was baffling, and disconcerting, because ice shelves act like giant doorstops that block the world’s last two ice sheets, in Antarctica and Greenland, from oozing faster towards the ocean. Those sheets are a frozen menace to civilisation – they would push up global sea levels by more than 60m if they ever slid into the sea. So a plane was dispatched to check on what Vaughan’s picture really showed. Its crew returned with startling news: the ice shelf had gone. “They came back with these fantastic photographs of a whole area of football pitch-sized icebergs that were just floating off,” said Vaughan. “That was the first time we’d ever seen anything like that virtually collapse overnight.”
It was not the last. Today, seven of the 12 ice shelves that once fringed that part of the Antarctic have either collapsed or shrunk, along with 81 per cent of its 300 glaciers. And while temperatures have not risen across the entire Antarctic continent, the area that Vaughan was studying has warmed by about 3C in the past 50 years, much faster than global temperatures have risen. Vaughan never thought about the natural world in the same way again. Today, he is a prominent author of a mammoth international report that will start to be published next month on one of the most fraught public policy issues of our age: climate change. This will be the first assessment report in six years from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN body created in 1988 to give governments an expert technical appraisal of how the climate is changing and why.
There have only been four such reports before – in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007. Many of the scientists writing them have had experiences like David Vaughan’s that have convinced them the climate is changing profoundly, a conclusion each of their reports has confirmed with growing confidence. A 1995 satellite photograph which revealed the disappearance of a huge ice shelf on the edge of the South Pole But this report will be unlike any other. For one thing, it is the first since the IPCC was plunged into two controversies four years ago, one over claims that hacked scientists’ emails showed some IPCC authors had tried to hide data undermining their findings on global warming; another about an error in the 2007 report suggesting Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. It is also the first since it became so clear that, despite a relentless rise in carbon dioxide emissions, global temperatures have not risen nearly as fast over the past 15 years as they did in previous decades. And it will be the last before world leaders meet in Paris in 2015 to finalise a legally binding agreement to tackle climate change, which will be guided by the IPCC’s latest findings.
This means the report will be one of the most carefully analysed documents on climate change this decade, probed and picked apart by the thousands of people around the world for whom the subject has become a driving passion. Yet interviews with some of the scientists who have drafted the new assessment reveal the IPCC is still a curiously misunderstood body, made up of people with widely differing views about how the climate is changing and even about the value of the IPCC itself. There is nothing else quite like the IPCC. No other branch of science appraises everything of note published in its field for several years on end and puts it together into one enormous study. Each assessment report is so big it is published in stages over the course of a year. The last one weighed in at 20lbs on my bathroom scales and ran to more than 3,000 pages. The one that will start to be published next month is set to be even bigger, in line with an explosive growth of climate science research. Glenn Beck, broadcaster and sceptic, who has suggested that IPCC scientists should commit ‘hara-kiri’
In the wake of the “Climategate” and “Glaciergate” controversies four years ago, a raft of inquiries eventually found no evidence of serious wrongdoing, let alone anything to raise doubts about the IPCC’s conclusions. But the scientists remain the target of a vigorous group of critics sceptical about their work. They have been branded “criminals” (Britain’s Lord Monckton) guilty of “massive international scientific fraud” (US congressman James Sensenbrenner) who should commit “hara-kiri” (US pundit Glenn Beck) for duping the world with “snake oil” (former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin).
This has had an impact on the people doing this latest IPCC assessment, according to several of the scientists interviewed for this article. “I see it in the tension in the author team,” as they check, recheck, then check again all their work, said David Vaughan. “I think there is a point at which that kind of stress can become difficult to manage,” he added, explaining it has made IPCC work “a very cumbersome, slow process”. These furores have also added confusion to what is still a widely misunderstood scientific endeavour. For one thing, the IPCC does not actually exist, at least not in the way many imagine it does, with a staff of comfortably remunerated researchers beavering away to produce its reports. Instead, it relies on hundreds of mostly government-nominated scientists working for free for large parts of the several years it takes to produce the assessments for the IPCC’s 195 member countries, all of which are ultimately supposed to approve the report summaries.
The report authors are divided into three working groups: one on the physical science; one on how to adapt to climate change; and one on how to curb it. The most closely watched is Working Group I, on the physical science of climate change, whose report is coming out next month. The largest share of authors comes from the US and then the UK, which has long been disproportionately represented in the IPCC. For more than half the panel’s life there has been a British scientist either chairing it or leading Working Group I, thanks to a drive to fund climate research dating back to former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
Perhaps the least understood aspect of the IPCC, however, is how it is run. Its work is supported by a secretariat based in the home of international secretariats, Geneva. But unlike the nearby World Trade Organization, which has 629 regular staff, or the World Health Organization up the road, which has more than 1,800 in its headquarters, the IPCC has just 12 full-time staff in a strip of offices on the eighth floor of the World Meteorological Organization. The day I visited in late June, I met Renate Christ, the Austrian scientist who has headed the IPCC secretariat since 2004, and asked what her annual budget was this year. “It goes between $7m and $10m,” she said, peering at her computer to check exactly what it was for 2013. It turns out that the amount of money the world has come up with to fund the headquarters of the body producing the last word on what Barack Obama recently called “the global threat of our time” is $9.3m this year, about the same as Cumbria spent fixing potholes last year.
If you sat down and read all the IPCC’s reports together, which few ordinary mortals ever do, you would read a story of growing scientific conviction that the Earth is warming and that it is probably because of the greenhouse gases humans have produced since they took to burning fossil fuels such as coal and gas in ever more prodigious quantities from the industrial revolution onwards. The last assessment, in 2007, said average global surface temperatures had gone up 0.76C since 1850, had accelerated in recent decades, and were rising nearly twice as fast in the Arctic. The oceans were warming; glaciers were suffering “widespread mass loss”; and sea levels were rising. Global warming was therefore “unequivocal”, the report said, and most of the temperature rises seen since the mid-20th century were “very likely” due to the increase in human-made greenhouse gases, the most important of which is carbon dioxide.
The Fenris glacier in the Sermilik fjord on the southeast coast of Greenland, photographed in 1932-1933 (left) and in 2012. The glacier has retreated by 5,000m, with the rate of retreat increasing rapidly in the past decade. Photos copyrighted by Klaus Thymann for Project-Pressure.org; The Natural History Museum of Denmark A leaked draft of the new fifth assessment done in October last year said this conclusion had only been strengthened by newer data and that heatwaves were also more likely in many parts of the world, as well as heavy rains.
But there is one thing the final version must include when it is published next month, according to Sir Bob Watson, the British scientist and climate action advocate who chaired the IPCC for nearly six years up to 2002. “I think the current Working Group I report must address in detail the slowing down in the last 10 years,” he said, adding that although the past three decades were probably the warmest in 1,000 years, “there is also no question that it would appear that the rate of change in the last decade or so is definitely slower than the previous two decades.” “The IPCC must address this because the climate deniers are linking on to this as a reason to say we’ve got all the science wrong. So I think one of the very most important issues is indeed for them to address this issue absolutely head on.”
The extent of this slowdown depends on how one measures it. Each of the past three decades has been warmer than the previous one and the long-term trend since the 1850s clearly shows a steady temperature rise. However, the average rate of warming was 0.17C per decade between 1970 and 1998 and just 0.04C per decade from 1998 to 2012, according to one of the main global temperature data sets. Slowing temperature rises have happened before, notably between the 1940s and 1970s. But the recent slowdown has come even though the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million earlier this year, the highest level in millions of years.
This issue is so new that it was barely considered when the IPCC first met in 2009 to decide what would be in its next assessment and there is still no agreed name for it. Many scientists have started to call it the “hiatus” or “pause” and though it will be addressed in the final report, there is still no consensus on what has caused it. Some think it is happening because the oceans are absorbing more heat than once thought, especially at very great depths. Others think aerosols, tiny airborne particles from volcanic eruptions or industrial pollution that reflect sunlight away from the Earth could be having more of a cooling impact.
The most contentious theory – and the one global warming sceptics are most interested in – is that the climate is not as sensitive to carbon dioxide emissions as previously thought. Even if this proves correct, all the climate models used by the IPCC for its latest assessment show that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at current rates, the world will still exceed this century the 2C warming from pre-industrial levels that some scientists believe could prompt dangerous forms of climate change. But in a sign of what a potent issue the slowdown is becoming, politicians in the US and the UK are already asking if it means they can ease back on contentious measures to curb global warming such as offshore wind farms or carbon pricing.
Thomas Stocker co-chair, IPCC Working Group
The man at the centre of the IPCC’s new assessment is a gruff Swiss environmental physicist named Thomas Stocker, co-chair of the Working Group I report. After a lifetime spent in the trenches of climate science he is a man of firm opinions. He likes the cerebral American jazz pianist, Keith Jarrett, and spotting orchids. He dislikes a lot of things, including people addicted to smartphones (his own ancient device does almost nothing but take calls), the falling rate of scientific literacy in western society, and poorly run meetings, which he says are “just terrible” and even “irresponsible”.
When I saw him in the airy office he has occupied at the University of Bern for the past 20 years, the walls were plastered with reproductions of some of his team’s best-known scientific publications, including a chart showing that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the past 200 years rose to levels more than 30 per cent higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years. “That’s the most impressive hockey stick,” he said proudly, a reference to the famously contentious graph first published in the late 1990s by the US scientist, Michael Mann, and colleagues. This showed temperatures stayed roughly flat for nearly 1,000 years, like the handle on a horizontal hockey stick, before rising sharply in the 20th century, like the blade, after fossil-fuel emissions began to soar. Climate sceptics have spent years attacking it and Mann because it was such a simple picture of the link between global warming and rising carbon dioxide emissions.
Stocker says, however, that it was his team’s research that was used in the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, for the part where Gore uses a forklift to illustrate the relative level of today’s emissions compared with those of the past. He is characteristically brusque about the idea that the recent slowdown in warming suggests politicians can ease up on measures to curb global warming because scientists were mistaken about climate sensitivity. Such questioning is based on “complete disinformation”, he said, pointing out that even the IPCC’s best estimates are always given together with a range of upper and lower projected temperatures. In any case, he said, 15 years of slower warming is simply too short a timeframe on which to base a judgment. “If we found that indeed for 30 years the temperature didn’t go up and CO2 went up with the rate that we observe today, then of course that would pose serious questions. It’s absolutely clear,” he said.
But is it possible that temperatures are not responding to carbon emissions as vigorously as scientists once thought or do we know if the oceans are absorbing more heat? “If we knew one, we could actually make a statement about the other,” Stocker said. “It’s really coupled. We’re not in a position to say either/or.”
It is a similar picture for aerosols. “I think generally there is a large uncertainty,” he said, adding that the current rate at which fossil fuels are being burnt means a considerable amount of warming is nonetheless certain. Stocker remains resolutely confident about the robustness of the IPCC’s projections overall. “There is no other science and there’s no other activity of humans that looks into the future that has done so well as the IPCC,” he said. “Ask how well do the GDP projections fare for the next month. Ask how well do the projections of crop yields for the next year. Ask how well projections of DAX [the blue-chip German stock index] and all these other indices fare.”
Stocker’s view is shared by many of the thousands of scientists who have contributed to the IPCC reports over the past 25 years but not all. Dr Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is one of several prominent US contrarians who have taken part in past reports but says she would not do so again. The process focuses too narrowly on human impact on the climate, she says, and requires a consensus about its conclusions that can lead to a tribal, group-thinking about the science. “This focus has essentially neglected natural climate variability, and has also neglected to assess potential benefits from a warmer climate,” she told us.
“Defending the consensus creates temptations to make illegitimate attacks on scientists whose views do not align with the consensus and to dismiss any disagreement as politically motivated ‘denialism’.” One doesn’t need to look far to find IPCC scientists who are – for different reasons – even less flattering about some of its work, including one helping to shape the latest assessment. Peter Wadhams, a leading expert on Arctic sea ice at Cambridge university, is a review editor on the new Working Group I report. He was pleased to be involved with this one because he was so upset about certain aspects of the last IPCC assessment in 2007.
“They made a couple of real clangers there,” he said gloomily, staring around his cluttered lair in the university’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. One was a contentious decision not to include a best estimate for future sea level rises because it was thought the potential impact of ice sheets was still too poorly understood. Wadhams, along with other critics, believes this led to a serious underestimate of how high sea levels will rise. “They just chickened out,” he fumes. “I mean, in a really systematically cowardly way. And it shows how naive these scientists are or how terrified of sticking their neck out.”
Thomas Stocker, who had a hand in drafting that earlier report, said uncertainties about how the ice sheets were changing made it impossible to include them in the way Wadhams thought they should have been. “Our purpose in AR4 [the earlier assessment] was not to report the highest numbers which would make headlines, but it was to report the numbers that we can defend,” he said. But Wadhams is even angrier about another line in that last IPCC report suggesting it could take until the latter part of this century before Arctic summer sea ice disappears almost entirely. The sea ice that covers much of the North Pole always melts a little in summer and then refreezes as winter sets in. Last summer, however, it shrank to its lowest point in more than 30 years, a much more dramatic decline than predicted. Wadhams thinks it more likely that its summer sea ice will vanish as soon as 2015.
“It could even be this year or next year but not later than 2015 there won’t be any ice in the Arctic in the summer,” he said, pulling out a battered laptop to show a diagram explaining his calculations, which he calls “the Arctic death spiral”. This prediction is frequently described as too extreme by other climate scientists writing for the IPCC. But Wadhams says this only underlines the “very conservative” views of the body, which has far too many government scientists who are “in the business of really generating complacency”. He even has doubts about how much value there is in today’s IPCC assessment reports, which he thinks have become too big to be widely useful. “I mean, those thick ones are kind of monuments to man’s arrogance or man’s beavering away. It’s to say, ‘Hey, look, aren’t we wonderful, there’s more of us doing climate research than ever before in the world, we’re all doing more and this is what we’ve done and aren’t we great.’
“But the trouble is a reader who’s not a scientist is going to say, ‘Well, so what?’, there’s 50lbs of book, what does it tell me?” Perhaps the greatest danger to the IPCC, however, is how cumbersome it has become to produce its assessments. The length of time between reports has always made some of its findings slightly outdated, but the process is also increasingly taxing for the volunteer scientists involved. Professor Jonathan Gregory, a leading expert on sea levels and an IPCC report veteran, had been working nonstop the day I saw him at Reading University. “It’s pretty near, I think, the limit of what one can do without it being a job,” he said. “It’s taken a colossal amount of my time this time.”
“I’ve been working on the IPCC Report in the last two months about 35 hours a week,” Gregory added, “but then I have to work another 25 hours to get all the other stuff done, or at least keeping it ticking over. So it is pretty difficult, really.”
Thomas Stocker, co-chair IPCC Working Group 1, in Jungfraujoch, Switzerland
Across the corridor, another IPCC author, Professor Rowan Sutton, was even blunter. “This has been a phenomenally protracted process,” he said. “I’m not sure I would do it again. I mean I don’t think I’ve got the time to do it again really. I do also think that the process needs to change to make it more manageable.”
This change could happen. Earlier this year, Renate Christ from the IPCC secretariat sent a letter to all the governments that commission the panel’s reports asking them to consider “the future of the IPCC” in time for a meeting to be held in October in the Georgian city of Batumi. Similar reviews have been done in the past but one question up for debate this time, according to an accompanying background document that was sent out, is “should the IPCC continue to give priority to comprehensive assessment reports”, with smaller special reports. Another was whether it should do more “focused thematic reports that would jointly constitute an assessment report”. This would be quite a change for a body that has played such a profound role in shaping the way we think about climate change. And it would make the latest IPCC assessment report even more distinct from its predecessors because, depending on what governments end up deciding, there is a chance that this one could be the last of its kind.
More US cities join push to sell off fossil fuel investments
A move to turn fossil fuels into the “new apartheid” has gathered pace as a further nine US cities join a push to sell any investments held in the coal, oil and gas industry blamed for climate change. San Francisco; Boulder, Colorado; and Madison, Wisconsin, are three of the nine cities following Seattle, whose $2bn city employee pension fund this year started looking at selling its fossil fuel holdings following a request from the city’s mayor, Mike McGinn.The move is the latest step in a campaign spearheaded by Bill McKibben, the US environmental activist, based on the 1980s disinvestment movement that pushed South Africa to end its apartheid system of racial segregation.
Four US colleges have already said they will sell out of fossil fuels since Mr McKibben and the 350.org international climate activist group he founded began campaigning last year against what he calls “outlaw” companies. They are now aiming to get cities and states to follow, with the help of a group called the Mayors Innovation Project, which promotes environmental sustainability. “Cities are taking the lead on the issue of climate change,” said Joel Rogers, director of the Mayors Innovation Project. “In the face of federal and state inaction, cities know they have to protect themselves.” The other cities whose leaders have agreed to try to sell out of fossil fuels are California’s Berkeley and nearby Richmond; Ithaca in New York; State College, Pennsylvania; Eugene, Oregon; and Bayfield in Wisconsin. The combined fossil fuel investments held by each city amount to a tiny fraction of the total value of the immense oil, gas and coal industries, and it is far from clear that the politicians backing divestment will succeed.
Pension fund trustees are typically bound by rules designed to ensure they work for the best financial returns of pension contributors, even if this involves investing in assets that some argue are ethically or environmentally suspect. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a non-binding resolution on Tuesday urging the city’s $16bn employee retirement system to sell out of some $583m of fossil fuel investments. But it not yet clear if it will succeed. Still, the emergence of the movement has galvanised many students and climate activists in the US, where campaigners have been heartened by the vows President Barack Obama has made to ensure climate change is a priority in his second term of office.
I am proud to join with other cities in this campaign, as we divest from an industry that is wreaking havoc A growing number of banks and financial institutions have also started assessing the potential risk of investing in fossil fuels should climate change laws start to become more pressing. Mr McKibben and 350.org are targeting the 200 companies that own most of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. These reserves already contain up to five times more carbon dioxide than scientists say should be emitted to keep global warming below the 2°C from pre-industrial levels, a limit scientists say it may be unsafe to breach, according to research by the London-based Carbon Tracker think-tank.
That makes the actions of cities necessary, said Gayle McLaughlin, mayor of Richmond, California, in a statement released by 350.org. “Richmond is home to the second-largest oil refinery and largest point source of greenhouse gas emissions in California,” she said. “I am proud to join with other cities in this divestment campaign, as we divest from an industry that is wreaking havoc on our community and planet, and reinvest in a clean energy economy with new jobs for our residents.” 350.org says it has divestment petitions running in 100 other cities and states across the country.
At florida-legal-recruitment.com our business is purely specialising in the recruitment of attorneys and partners who work for law firms throughout the United States of America. attorney jobs in Florida, attorney jobs in Miami, litigation jobs in Florida, legal jobs in Florida, law jobs in Florida, legal jobs in California, litigation jobs in California, law jobs in California, attorney jobs in Tampa, attorney jobs in Fort Lauderdale, attorney jobs in Chicago, attorney jobs in New York, attorney jobs in Las Vegas, attorney jobs in Washington DC, attorney jobs in Nevada, law jobs in New York, attorney jobs in Illinois, law jobs in Seattle, law jobs in Hollywood, attorney jobs in Beverley Hills, attorney jobs in Los Angeles, law jobs in Paolo Alto, attorney jobs in Silicon Valley, At Florida Legal Recruitment Inc. you can hire an attorney either by using our retained or registered recruitment contracts. Telephone 954 378 9414.