“We have met the enemy and he is us.” When he put those words into the mouth of his cartoon character Pogo in the 60’s, the late Walt Kelly wasn’t thinking about global warming. But they aptly summarize the latest conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC – www.ipcc.ch).
The report, officially titled – “The Fourth Assessment Report – Climate Change 2007,” was issued Sunday, Nov. 17. It summarizes three studies issued earlier this year and adds new data. Its conclusions are stark. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” states the opening paragraph, “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.”
Most of the insurance industry has already gotten the message. But the summary report further highlights the increased threats from floods, droughts, storms and rising sea levels, which must be addressed by both the public and private sector.
In many areas the changes are happening at a far more rapid rate than that shown in earlier studies, notably the Third Assessment Report (TAR), issued in 2001. In addition the IPCC warns: “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.” It is also 90 percent certain that man’s activities – principally the release of increasing quantities of greenhouse gasses – are responsible.”
Upon handing the first copy of the report to UN Secretary general Ban Ki Moon, IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri explained, “this is a synthesis report compiled by 450 lead authors.” It entails the work of some 4500 scientists from more than 130 countries. The reports are based on scientific investigations and analysis that they have all “undergone peer group review,” he continued. It contains facts and the conclusions logically drawn from those facts. It does not recommend any specific policies.
Formulating those policies will be up to the delegates attending the UN conference in Bali, which starts December 4. Ban Ki Moon praised the report for its completeness and for the “message it contains.” Speaking at the press conference where it was presented he said: “The threat of [of climate change] is real, but there are ways to deal with it. The stage is now set for Bali in two weeks time.” That conference, he stressed, is “critical. We must reach an agreement for a comprehensive climate change deal that all countries can embrace. I call on political leaders to do their work.”
The mountains of hard data and analysis contained in the report are not new, but the manner in which they are presented gives the report a new sense of urgency. Readers will have less reason to criticize the IPCC for being too conservative in its analyses, as they have in the past (See IJ web site Nov. 15). It does categorize its conclusions as “very likely, likely,” and “more likely than not,” but when dealing with such a complex subject that is understandable.
The report presents in scientific terms just what has been learned about the effect of carbon emissions, and what can be expected to occur if they aren’t curtailed. Weather patterns will shift with less rainfall in tropical regions and more towards the poles. Sea levels will rise by an estimated .4 to 1.4 meters (1.4 to 5.4 feet) caused only by “thermal action” (water temperature increases). Melting ice, which now covers land masses, such as Greenland and Antarctica, or floats on top of the oceans, could double or triple that figure.
The IPCC has done its job in presenting the facts. Now, as Ban Ki Moon said, it is up to the politicians to do their job. Two governments in particular will be in the spotlight – the U.S. and China. Pachauri responded to a question from Elizabeth Rosenthal of the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times with the following statement: “Every country in the world has to be committed to a shared version and a set of common goals and actions that will help us all move towards a much lower level of emissions of carbon dioxide.” He cited 2015 as the critical year. If emissions aren’t being curtailed by then, there will be less and less chance to do anything about the world’s changing climate.
Source: International Panel of Climate Change
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