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September 28, 2013

Will Governments Act on the Basis of Scientific Consensus?
    by Robert Kropp

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change publishes the first section of its Fifth Assessment Report, which asserts with even greater emphasis that climate changed is caused by human activity.

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The first section of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5)—addressing the physical science basis of climate change—was released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) yesterday, and it findings confirm the conclusions of almost everyone outside the US House of Representatives. The atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are now at a level “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years,” the 36-page summary for policymakers states.

“The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has diminished, the global mean sea level has risen and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased,” said Qin Dahe, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

The report continues, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” And the effects of climate change are likely to increase throughout the 21st century, while governments continue to dither over the retooling of the global economy that is essential if the worst effects are to be mitigated.

“Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system,” Co-chair Thomas Stocker said. “Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, placed the responsibility for the inadequate global response squarely on governments. She is quoted in Guardian Sustainable Business as stating, “Companies and investors have no choice but to care about climate change because it impacts supply chains, disrupts commodity markets and exposes companies to political risk, costly regulatory changes and financial risks.”

“Companies can only be successful in addressing climate change if they are supported by their investors and by strong government policies,” Lubber continued. “This last area is where we're falling short.”

However, Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, is less inclined to let corporations off the hook for their responses to climate change. After all, the most recent CDP report states, “The biggest emitters, who have the largest impact on global emissions and so present the greatest opportunity for large-scale change, need to do more to reduce their emissions.”

While CDP goes on to state that “Policy makers could help to accelerate the necessary change by increasing incentives,” it also observes, “There is a disparity between companies’ strategies, targets and the emissions reductions which are required to limit global warming to 2C.”

The next global climate change conference is scheduled to be held in Warsaw in November. Will the conference produce agreements more meaningful that the largely disappointing results of the last few conferences?

The section of the IPCC report released yesterday will be followed by additional sections that will culminate in a synthesis scheduled to be published in October, 2014. Nick Robins, head of the HSBC Climate Change Center, stated, “Over the following year, we believe that - from the next reports - the IPCC will provide stronger foundations for climate action by governments, businesses and investors, culminating in the deadline for negotiations in December 2015.”

It has been reported that climate scientists are now prepared to respond to the misinformation circulated by climate science deniers, and at this point it seems that their preparations are necessary. The Heartland Institute, a so-called think tank largely bankrolled by the Koch brothers, has established a Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which purports to “offer an independent 'second opinion' of the evidence reviewed – or not reviewed – by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the issue of global warming.”

Its most recent report, entitled Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science, “paid special attention to contributions that were overlooked by the IPCC or that presented data, discussion, or implications, arguing against the IPCC’s claim that dangerous global warming is occurring, or will occur, from human-related greenhouse gas emissions.”

Against a view that flies in the face of overwhelming scientific consensus, one might offer the statement of Mark Way of the reinsurer Swiss Re.

“When a body like the IPCC concludes that with 95% certainty mankind is causing climate change we would be foolish not to listen,” Way stated. “And yet we are still not listening closely enough. The transition to a low carbon economy and a more climate resilient society cannot be thought of as options, they are necessities.”

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