IPCC warns against climate panic

The threat of climate change is serious and must be addressed but we should avoid exaggerating the problem, according to a non-partisan gathering of international scientists.

The report issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last Friday held few surprises, but it did assert in a calm and collected way that mankind’s role in changing weather patterns and rising sea levels was not really up for debate and climate deniers were a shrinking minority in the respected scientific community.

The contents of the report had not changed dramatically since the IPCC’s last publication in 2001, though it did say that many of the changes observed six years ago were accelerating.

The report was distinctly lacking in fire and brimstone and even sounded some positive notes. The estimated rise in sea level by 2100 had fallen to 38.5cm, ten centimetres less than predicted in 2001 and well below the 67cm predicted by the IPCC in the 1990s.

In the 1980s the US Environmental Protection Agency believed global sea level would rise by several metres over the coming century.

The other silver lining of a predictably gloomy cloud was the dismissal of the theory that melting ice would switch off the Gulf Stream, a scenario considered in some depth by scientists and film makers alike in recent years.

The report suggested that such an event was extremely unlikely and wouldn’t be such a bad thing in any case as it would go some way to negating global temperature increases.

It also said that our best efforts would have little effect before 2030 due to the vast scale of the problem and we should, in the short term, look to adapting to inevitable changes and building resilience in the most vulnerable areas.

Warning against complacency, however, the report echoed Nick Stern’s review by saying we had a limited amount of time to act if we were to avoid the worst effects of climate change in the long term.

Commentary on the report came thick and fast, with the more militant NGOs calling for action, not words while others claimed the report, like so many before it, offered the final proof that man is responsible for climate change and that the debate is over.

In the UK, the Government response was to use the report as a clarion call for ‘urgent international political action’.

“The report confirms our concerns that the window of opportunity to avoid dangerous climate change is closing more quickly than previously thought. It is another nail in the coffin of the climate change deniers and represents the most authoritative picture to date, showing that the debate over the science of climate change is well and truly over,” said Environment Secretary David Miliband.

“What’s now urgently needed is the international political commitment to take action to avoid dangerous climate change. This has been absent so far. If we are to succeed, we will require the engagement not just of environmental ministers but heads of state, prime ministers and finance ministers.

“This first report by the IPCC, and others to follow later this year, can provide a strong evidence base needed to move the prospects of agreement closer.

“Man-made climate change poses an increasing risk to people and business across the globe. It will have disastrous consequences if we don’t act now. The economic evidence, following the Stern Review, is clear that tackling this challenge is both achievable and affordable.”

Sam Bond

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