The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s latest report tells us, in no uncertain terms, that climate change is happening because of mankind.
There is no question today that we need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions drastically and urgently. The earth had the capacity to absorb these emissions (from fuel emissions and land use changes). But now, we emit far beyond what the earth can clean. Average global temperatures have risen by almost a degree since the pre-industrial era. The limit agreed by most of the world under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a safety point is two degrees Celsius, beyond which global warming could cause irreversible damage to the planet. Currently, we are on track for a three to five degrees increase in global temperatures by the year 2100.
The first part of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC was released at the end of September. The report of Working Group I, which examines the physics of climate change, tells us that: “It is extremely likely (95 per cent confidence) that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951-2010.”
The report has also underlined the urgency of climate change by stating: “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented … The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.”
The IPCC does not conduct its own research — its global panel of scientists reviews the latest research and then puts it out in the form of reports that have proven to be very influential. The first assessment report was completed in 1990 and served as the basis of the UNFCCC that was signed at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It forecast the concentration of carbon dioxide doubling between 1990 and 2025. The IPCC’s second assessment report in 1997, which somewhat lowered the impacts of climate change, led to the signing of the Kyoto Protocol.
The third assessment report, which came out in 2001, acknowledged that the second report’s estimations were too low and the scientists revised their figures upwards but by then, the US had walked out of the Kyoto Protocol. The fourth assessment report came out in 2007 and won the Nobel Prize for warning the world of the impacts of climate change. The report led to the Bali Action Plan, which called for the signing of an ambitious climate deal by 2009 in Copenhagen.
Over the years, the IPCC reports have not made a dent on the fossil fuel industry, which is determined not to allow trillions of dollars of untapped coal, oil and gas reserves to remain underground. The IPCC states the scientific evidence but it does not recommend a course of action. For that, we all have to wait for the UN Climate Change Conference 2015, to be held in Paris, when the world will have to come to some sort of deal; we are already running out of time.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2013.
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