Tag Archives: IPCC

CLIMATE CHANGE : Lord Stern: ‘It would be absurd to underestimate risks’

The Guardian reports : 

It would be “absurd” to claim the risks of climate change are small, economic expert Lord Stern said before the publication of a key scientific report on global warming.

The latest international assessment of climate science makes it crystal clear the risks are “immense”, and it would be extraordinary and unscientific to ignore the evidence and argue for a delay in addressing the problem, he said.

The former World Bank chief economist and author of the key 2006 Stern review on the economics of climate change also warned that scientific projections and economic predictions were underestimating the risks of global warming.

While scientists recognised some potential impacts such as the melting of permafrost, which would release powerful greenhouse gas methane, could be very damaging, they were left out of models because they were hard to quantify.

Many economic models, meanwhile, “grossly underestimate the risks” because they assumed that growth will continue and the costs of climate change will be relatively small, he said.

“Both assumptions trivialise the problem and are untenable given the kind of change that could take place,” Lord Stern warned.

Temperature rises of 3C or 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 would put humans “way outside” the conditions in which civilisation developed, and could cause major disruptions that would damage growth.

Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived, causing conflict, there could be large-scale destruction of infrastructure and important services provided by nature could collapse, he warned.

His comments come as scientists and government officials meet in Sweden to finalise the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report assessing the evidence for climate change and its causes, to be published on Friday.

“The IPCC report makes crystal clear that the risks from climate change are immense,” Stern said.

The IPCC has come under fire from climate change sceptics since its last assessment in 2007 over mistakes discovered in that report.

Stern said any assessment of thousands of sources of information, such as the IPCC carries out, was likely to contain some errors, but the message from the scientific information was remarkably consistent.

The IPCC assessment showed a dangerous underlying trend, based on laws of physics known for 200 years, of the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and their impact on temperatures, with immense risks as a result.

Stern said: “It would be extraordinary and unscientific to argue on the basis of 200 years of evidence that you’re confident that the risks are small.

“Those who would have us delay have to argue they’re confident the risks are small. It would be an astonishing statement to make in light of all this evidence.

He added: “It would be absurd to say you are confident that the risks are small.”

There was a growing recognition from governments of the need to take action to address that risk, and he said he expected more countries to take the lead set by the UK and establish domestic laws to cut emissions.

Countries ranging from the biggest emitters, the US and China, through to Ethiopia and Mexico, were already taking action to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

Stern called on the European Union to set a target to cut the bloc’s emissions by half on 1990 levels by 2030 to show leadership on the issue.

He criticised moves within the UK government to rethink its five-year carbon target up to 2027 and its failure to set a goal to slash emissions from the power sector by 2030 as undermining the certainty needed to invest in a low-carbon economy.

“Vacillation, lack of clarity, suggesting we might backtrack – all these things are very damaging to investment clarity and credibility in the medium term and long term,” he warned.

He also said the full range of technologies, from nuclear and renewables to methods for capturing and storing carbon from power stations, would be needed to address the problem and that energy efficiency measures would play a significant role.

CLIMATE CHANGE : Big business funds effort to discredit science, warns UN official

heatwave

From the Guardian

Big companies are paying contrarians to undermine the work of climate scientists, according to a top UN official speaking before the release of a landmark review of climate science this weekby international researchers next Friday. Halldór Thorgeirsson, a director who reports to the head of the UN body that governs the on-going high level international climate negotiations, said that scientists would need to be prepared for a counter-blast from sceptics.

“Vested interests are paying for the discrediting of scientists all the time. We need to be ready for that,” he said. His outspoken views will set the tone for a fractious meeting of the world’s leading climate scientists, kicking off on Monday in Stockholm, that will set out the evidence that the world’s governments use when formulating policies to deal with global warming for decades to come. More than 800 scientists have contributed to the report, the final details of which will be hammered out in a gruelling four-day session next week.

According to a draft of the “Summary for Policy Makers” dated June , seen by the Guardian– the most important part of the document – the scientists will argue that the evidence points to 95% certainty that climate change is occurring and is caused mainly by greenhouse gases released by humans – up from 90% certainty in the previous 2007 report. The 53 page document, seen by the Guardian which includes a note saying “do not cite, quote or distribute” says that levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are now greater than at any time in the last 800,000 years, based on ice cores and other evidence, and the incidences of extreme rainfall are increasing, with rainfall likely to increase in the north but to decrease in the subtropics.

The draft outlines evidence of “large-scale warming resulting primarily from anthropogenic increases in greenhouse gas concentrations”. It says that if warming is to be limited to less than 2C in future, more than half of the carbon that can be emitted to hold to that goal has already been poured into the atmosphere.

The real impact of the report – the latest since 2007 and only the fifth such assessment since 1992 – will not be felt until governments meet this year in Poland to discuss a global response to warming, aiming to forge a treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was rejected by the US and which placed no obligations on big developing countries such as China, now the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The IPCC came in for severe criticism after a handful of flaws were found in its 2007 report, chiefly a mistake which suggested that most of the glaciers of the Himalayas could disappear by 2035. he error was seized by detractors, and led to the discovery of several other claims that were insufficiently backed by research.

The IPCC said it was unsurprising that a few mistakes had crept into what was than a thousand pages of dense scientific research. One of the crucial issues in the latest IPCC report is how sensitive the climate is to carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. Early leaked drafts of the summary suggest that the earth’s systems are extremely sensitive to greenhouse gases, and are likely to continue to rise as fossil fuels are burned at ever faster rates, but they also suggest that the lower end of estimates of future temperature rise will be reduced.

Formerly, the scientific consensus was that temperatures would rise by at least 2C, but in the new report this is likely to be reduced slightly to a 1.5C projected increase at the lowest end of the range. This slight reduction, which scientists stress does not reduce the known dangers of warming, such as more droughts and floods and fiercer storms, has been seized on by some climate sceptics, who see it as evidence that global warming will be less severe than thought.However, there are no certainties in the report as yet – though drafts have been seen by the Guardian.

The final assessment will be subject to the wranglings of climate scientists and government-appointed experts next week. Prof Nilay Shah, of Imperial College London, who compiled a recent report on how to reduce carbon emissions, compared the world’s lack of action on climate change to the complacency on safety procedures before the devastating fire at King’s Cross underground station in 1987, in which 31 people lost their lives. Before the fire, he pointed out, smoking was allowed on Underground stations, piles of flammable rubbish were allowed to accumulate, and many escalators were made of wood. After the dangers of these became apparent, the design of stations was improved to remove these hazards, but it took the disaster to stimulate change.Sceptics have been lining up to put forward their views that the IPCC’s fifth assessment report is flawed. Many of their arguments focus on the recent slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures, attributed by climate experts to the effects of the oceans in absorbing heat and the natural variability of the world’s climate systems.

However, scientists point out that ten of the warmest years in the temperature record have occurred in the past decade and a half. There have also been other strong indicators of climate change, including the shrinking of Arctic sea ice – which reached its lowest recorded extent last year and is also diminishing in volume – and the retreat of glaciers around the world. To those who are in disagreement with climate science, however – even though recent research has found that more than 90% of scientific studies support the finding that climate change is happening as a result of human actions – the remaining areas of uncertainty, such as the role of the oceans in absorbing heat and the role of clouds and human-made aerosols in deflecting the sun’s rays from the earth’s surface, are a cause to doubt more than a century of climate science.

Myron Ebell, director of the centre for energy and environment at the right-leaning US thinktank Competitive Enterprise Institute, and one of the US’s most prominent climate sceptics, told the Guardian: “The science contradicts the modellers’ dire predictions. The divergence between reality and model projections in the last two decades provides strong evidence that global warming, although it may become a problem some decades in the future, is not a crisis and is highly unlikely to become a crisis. We should be worried that the alarmist establishment continues using junk science to promote disastrous policies that will make the world much poorer and will consign poor people in poor countries to perpetual poverty.” The CEI has in the past received funding from Exxon Mobil, the oil company, and the American Petroleum Institute, Texaco, General Motors and the Koch Family Foundations, controlled by the Koch brothers who made their fortune from fossil fuels. Hot news

What is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?

Set up in 1988, the IPCC is a UN body that evaluates the state of climate science. It produces major assessments every five to seven years – the last was published in Paris in 2007 and said scientists were 90% certain humans were responsible for the warming the planet was experiencing. The panel was awarded the Nobel peace prize in the same year, to be shared jointly with former US vice-president Al Gore. What is being published next week? The summary of the first part of the so-called fifth assessment report (AR5), which focuses on the scientific evidence behind climate change and man’s role in it.

The IPCC will meet in Stockholm to discuss the final draft which will be presented to governments and the public on Friday. Later parts of AR5, due in 2014, will report on the impacts of climate change, such as more extreme weather, how we can adapt to a warmer world, such as building flood defences and adapting farming practices, and “mitigation” – how greenhouse gas emissions can be cut.

Do these reports still matter?

Yes. The IPCC’s major assessments are extremely influential and widely read. But many people, including some of the scientists who put together the reports without pay, say that more targeted and more frequent reports would be more useful.

By Adam Vaughan of the Guardian

Global warming is not due to the sun, confirms leaked IPCC report

Key Note presentation by Vicente Barros , Co-c...

Key Note presentation by Vicente Barros , Co-chair of Working Group II, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Photo credit: Citt)

Climate sceptics’ claims that UN climate science panel’s AR5 report show the sun is causing global warming don’t stack up. The Guardian reports

La Niña Conditions. Warm water is farther west...

La Niña Conditions. Warm water is farther west than usual. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alec Rawls, an occasional guest poster on the climate contrarian blog WattsUpWithThat who signed up to review the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (as anyone can), has “leaked” a draft version of the report and declared that it “contains game-changing admission of enhanced solar forcing.”  This assertion was then repeated by James Delingpole atThe Telegraph (with some added colorful language), and probably on many other climate contrarian blogs.

If the IPCC were to report that the sun is a significant player in the current rapid global warming, that would indeed be major news, becausethe body of peer-reviewed scientific literature and data clearly show that the sun has made little if any contribution to the observed global warming over the past 50+ years (Figure 1).

contributors 50

Figure 1: Percent contributions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), sulfur dioxide (SO2), the sun, volcanoes, and El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004(M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple)Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012(G12, orange), and Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green).

So why would the latest IPCC report contradict these studies when its purpose is to summarize the latest and greatest scientific research?  The answer is simple — it doesn’t.  Rawls has completely misrepresented the IPCC report.

The supposedly “game-changing admission” from the IPCC report is this:

“Many empirical relationships have been reported between GCR [galactic cosmic rays] or cosmogenic isotope archives and some aspects of the climate system…The forcing from changes in total solar irradiance alone does not seem to account for these observations, implying the existence of an amplifying mechanism such as the hypothesized GCR-cloud link.”

This statement refers to a hypothesis of Henrik Svensmark from theDanish National Space Institute, who has proposed that galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) could exert significant influence over global temperatures. The GCR hypothesis suggests that when they reach Earth, GCRs (high-energy charged particles originating from somewhere in our galaxy) are capable of “seeding” clouds; thus at times when a lot of GCRs are reaching the Earth’s surface, more clouds will form.  Clouds generally have a cooling effect on the Earth’s temperature, because they reflect sunlight.

So the hypothesis goes like this: high solar activity means a strong solar magnetic field, which deflects more GCRs away from Earth, which means less cloud formation, which means less sunlight is reflected away from Earth, which means more warming.  This GCR-caused warming would amplify the warming already being caused by increased solar activity.  Conversely, cooling from decreased solar activity would hypothetically be amplified by more GCRs on Earth, more clouds, more reflected sunlight, and thus more cooling.

It’s important to note that so far virtually all scientific research on GCRshas shown that they are not effective at seeding clouds and thus have very little influence over the Earth’s temperature.  In fact, as Zeke Hausfather has noted, the leaked IPCC report specifically states this:

“…there is medium evidence and high agreement that the cosmic ray-ionization mechanism is too weak to influence global concentrations of [cloud condensation nuclei] or their change over the last century or during a solar cycle in any climatically significant way.”

But more importantly in this context, even if GCRs did influence global temperature, they would currently be having a cooling effect.

Rawls also provides the following quote from the IPCC report (emphasis added):

“There is very high confidence that natural forcing is a small fraction of the anthropogenic forcing. In particular, over the past three decades (since 1980), robust evidence from satellite observations of the TSI [total solar irradiance] and volcanic aerosols demonstrate a near-zero (–0.04 W m–2) change in the natural forcing compared to the anthropogenic AF increase of ~1.0 ± 0.3 W m–2.”

The term “radiative forcing” refers to a global energy imbalance on Earth, which may be caused by various effects like changes in the greenhouse effect or solar activity.  A positive forcing will result in warming temperatures, while a negative forcing will result in cooling.

Here the IPCC is saying that since 1980, the sun and volcanoes have combined to cause a slightly negative global energy imbalance, which means they have had a slight cooling influence on global temperatures over the past three decades.  Indeed, solar activity has decreased a bit over that timeframe (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Global temperature (red, NASA GISS) and Total solar irradiance (blue, 1880 to 1978 from Solanki, 1979 to 2009 from PMOD), with 11-year running averages.

As we would expect, lower solar activity including a weaker solar magnetic field has translated into a slight increase in GCR flux on Earth (Figure 3).  Note that on the left-hand axis of Figure 3, GCR countsdecrease going up the axis in order to show the relationship with temperature, since fewer GCRs hypothetically means fewer clouds, less reflected sunlight, and higher temperatures.

cosmic rays vs temps

Figure 3: Global average surface temperature (red, NASA GISS) vs. GCR flux on Earth (blue, Krivova & Solanki 2003), with 11-year running averages.

So, if GCRs really do amplify the solar influence on global temperatures, since 1980 they are amplifying a cooling effect.  In fact, GCRs reaching Earth recently hit record high levels (Figure 4), yettemperatures are still way up.

Figure 4: Record cosmic ray flux observed in 2009 by the Advanced Composition Explorer (NASA)

Rawls has argued to the contrary by claiming that the climate is still responding to the increase in solar activity from the early 20th century, and that GCRs are amplifying that solar warming from over 60 years ago.  This argument is simply physically wrong.  As Figure 2 illustrates, when solar activity rises, temperatures follow suit very soon thereafter.  In fact, during the mid-20th century, solar activity and global surface temperatures both flattened out.  Are we to believe that the planet suddenly began responding to the pre-1950 solar activity increase in 1975—2012, after not warming 1940—1975?  The argument makes no physical sense.

On top of that, the hypothetical GCR process is a relatively rapid one.  Cloud formation from GCR seeding should occur within days, and clouds have very short lifetimes.  For GCRs to have a warming effect, solar activity must be increasing right now.  It is not, in fact solar activity has been essentially flat and slightly declining in recent decades.  Changes in solar activity from 60+ years ago have no bearing whatsoever on GCRs today.

To sum up,

 

  • The leaked IPCC report states that there may be some connection between GCRs and some aspects of the climate system.

 

  • However, the report is also consistent with the body of scientific literature in stating that research indicates GCRs are not effective at seeding clouds and have very little influence on global temperatures.

 

  • Solar activity has been nearly flat and slightly decreasing in recent decades, meaning that if GCRs do amplify solar influences on climate, they are amplifying a cooling effect.

 

The body of peer-reviewed scientific literature is very clear: human greenhouse gas emissionsnot solar activity or galactic cosmic rays, are causing global warming.  The leaked IPCC report is entirely consistent with this conclusion.  In fact, in attempting to argue to the contrary, Rawls has scored an own goal by showing that if anything, GCRs are currently amplifying a solar cooling effect.

Wildlife Update : Why protecting the world’s nature is good for our wallets

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Image via Wikipedia

A new world body on wildlife and ecosystems protection being set up by the UN must avoid blaming developing nations, where most of the world’s biodiversity loss is occurring, says a top British scientist.

 

Overconsumption by rich western nations is as big a driver of global environmental degradation as the rapidly growing populations of developing countries, says Professor Bob Watson, a leading figure in setting up the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The new body – modelled on the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – will assess how and why the natural world is being degraded, what it will cost society, and what can be done to halt the process.

But it must avoid rows between rich and poor countries, says Professor Watson, an ex-head of the IPCC, who is Chief Scientific Adviser to Britain’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “If they think this is just the white world, the developed world, telling them what to do, that’ll be the end of it … The climate debate has been, ‘you rich countries got rich by using cheap fossil fuels, and now you’re telling us not to use them.’ We must not get into that,” he said. Regional assessments of biodiversity problems must be “owned” by the regions concerned, he said. So if there is a regional biodiversity assessment of Latin America, scientists from Latin America will carry it out, not foreign scientists.

Professor Watson will play a key role at a Nairobi meeting today which will decide how the new body can be formed, probably next year. Hopes are high that the IPBES might help halt the loss of global wildlife and habitats.

The IPBES is based on the increasingly influential concept of ecosystem services, that forests rivers or peat bogs are not just parts of the natural world, but produce oxygen, provide food and store atmospheric carbon, vital in the fight against climate change.

The new body, which all the major global nations back, follows on the heels of two reports: the Millennium Ecosystems Assessment of 2005, which showed that most of the world’s ecosystems are in serious decline, and the report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity released last year, which estimated that nature and the services it provides are worth trillions of dollars annually to society.

The IPBES will aim to show the value of biodiversity both in ethical or social terms, and in economic terms.

Professor Watson is seen as the ideal person to oversee the UN’s biodiversity body, as he has led international environmental assessments of all major global concerns: ozone depletion, climate change, ecosystem change and agriculture and development.

In fact, the 63-year-old atmospheric chemist, from Romford, east London, who still speaks with an East End accent, is the world’s leading authority on policy responses to global change. Yet he is far from being a household name in Britain since he spent 34 years of his career in the US, where he held senior positions in NASA, the Clinton White House, and the World Bank. He chaired the IPCC from 1997 to 2002.

He says global ecosystems face a “headlong assault” from five drivers – land conversion (such as deforestation), over-exploitation (such as overfishing), the introduction of exotic species, pollution, and climate change.

And he does not think climate change can be stopped at a rise of two degrees Celsius, which is the goal of most world climate policy. “We had better be prepared to adapt to four degrees,” the professor commented.

What the ecosystem is worth

Ask yourself what human society gets from a forest and the obvious answer is wood. Another obvious answer might be wildlife. Or perhaps, a pleasurable stroll. But that doesn’t begin to list the benefits provided to us by a great aggregation of trees.

Forests such as the Amazon are ecosystems which provide the world with tremendous services that are essential to the continuance of human life. These include vast amounts of oxygen, and fresh water, and a beneficial climate, as well as the storing of billions of tonnes of the carbon dioxide which human industry is pumping into the atmosphere and which is causing the world to heat up, with potentially disastrous consequences. And at last, the real value of these ecosystem services is being realised.

Last year the UN released a ground-breaking report on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity which put monetary value on the benefits the natural world provides us with. It runs into trillions of dollars annually, the report said.

For example, it suggested that the value of human welfare benefits provided by coral reefs was up to £109bn annually. The destruction of coral reefs is not only damaging to marine life but also poses risks to communities, the report said. Some 30 million people around the world rely on reef-based resources for food production, and for their livelihoods.

In another example, the report said that the economic value of insect pollinators, such as honey bees, in global crop production was £134bn a year.

Damage to natural capital including forests, wetlands and grasslands was valued at between $2trn and $4.5trn annually. But these figures are not included in economic data such as GDP, or in corporate accounts.

Now the hope is that with the IPBES, they will be taken into account, and a true picture of how much biodiversity loss is costing the world will emerge.

Original article - http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/why-protecting-the-worlds-wildlife-is-good-for-our-wallets-2364701.html

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