Listening to Dr. RK Pachauri deliver the first Robert Goodland Memorial Lecture at the World Bank last month, I could not help thinking of Dumbledore – the very wise headmaster of Hogwarts, the school where the drama in Harry Potter’s life unfolds. If only Pachy, as his friends call him, had Dumbledore’s magical powers, climate change would not be a problem. Alas, he is only human. But a very wise and accomplished one who heads the IPCC that just issued its fifth assessment report on climate change, and that is what he focused his lecture on.
Two things stuck in my mind as I listened to him.
Above, watch the trailer for "Years of Living Dangerously" and the panel discussion with Thomas Friedman during the 2014 Spring Meetings. Below, watch the premiere episode.
Fueled by warmer temperatures and added moisture in the air, a storm system coils like a snake ready to strike. Rising seas stand poised to obliterate shoreline developments and cityscapes. The brown, dry soil of once-verdant farmland threatens food security for millions, all while the number of mouths to feed grows. Wildfires rage and burning peat lands belch black carbon and greenhouse gases into our thin shell of an atmosphere.
And that’s how climate change is affecting real people, right now, all over the globe. “Years of Living Dangerously” on SHOWTIME® features an exceptional cast of world-class journalists and celebrity reporters documenting the impact of climate change worldwide. Over nine episodes, we show that climate change is 100% a people story.
World leaders just affirmed the latest in a series of reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Prize-winning authority on climate science. These reports are uncompromising in their assessment that climate change is real, it’s us, it's now, it's getting worse, and we’re not prepared. The latest report makes clear we have the clean energy technologies to start slashing carbon pollution at very low cost, much lower than the cost of inaction – but the window to act is closing fast.
When it comes to climate change, there has been a lot of talk the past few days about percentages (scientists who point to human causes), pauses (has warming slowed), and what it all means for policy and politics.
But, let’s be clear.
The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides conclusive new scientific evidence that human activities are causing unprecedented changes in the Earth’s climate.
It buries the hatchet on “is it real” – the scientists say that it is extremely likely (95% probability) that most of the warming since 1950 has been due to human influence.
It pushes back on the skeptics’ claims that global warming stopped in 1998, and, most of important of all, it confirms that human activity, left unchecked, will further warm the Earth, with dramatic effects on weather, sea-levels and the Arctic.
This major international assessment of climate change, adopted Friday by the world’s governments, paints a blunt, clear picture of the scale of the problem before us.
A few weeks ago I attended an IPCC1 Fifth Assessment Working Group expert review meeting for the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (WG III – Mitigation: the ‘first order draft’ is now being reviewed with the final report to be published in 2014). This meeting was a typical collection of about 100 climate researchers from around the world, this time, conveniently in Washington, DC. The overall Assessment Report process involves about 30 to 40 such meetings around the world per year. Part of their function is for the Assessment Reports to feed into the UNFCCC negotiation process.
Despite its challenges, complexities and occasional politicization, the IPCC is a wonderful idea. Credible researchers, no-matter where they live or work, are asked to contribute to a body of science larger than any one country, company or agency. Any city should feel proud to have an employee participating in an IPCC review.
In just one day, the sun delivers about as much energy as has been consumed by all human beings over the past 35 years. So why haven’t we exploited more than a tiny fraction of this potential? There are many reasons: cost, storage, transmission, distribution, entrenched subsidies and technological challenges are but a few of them.
But the reasons not to take advantage of renewable energy are falling away. A report published this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that close to 80% of the world’s energy demand could be met by tapping renewable sources by 2050, if backed by the right enabling public policies. I served as a Coordinating Lead Author for the Policy and Deployment chapter of the report, as well as member of the Summary for Policy Maker’s team, and I can attest to how much rigorous analysis and effort comparing data and sources went into this process and document.
The same Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation found that the technical potential of renewable energy technologies “exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.”
These encouraging findings were released Monday, May 9, after being studied carefully, examined, and then approved by member countries of the IPCC in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
|Photo © Himalayan Trails/flickr|
But, as we now know, the negotiations only produced an aspirational target—to limit the global mean surface temperature to no more than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels—and an accord that does not bind any country to reduce their emissions.
Since then, the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report has been criticized for errors or imprecise wording.
- For example, the statements that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 or earlier (IPCC admitted that this was an error and not evidence-based);
- that agricultural production in some North African countries would decrease by up to 50% by 2020 (the synthesis report did not contain the nuances and more detailed discussion in the underlying chapter);
- and that over half of the Netherlands was below sea level rather than a quarter (this was largely a definitional issue – the Netherlands Dutch Ministry of transport uses the figure 60% - below high water level during storms).
These inaccuracies, coupled with the controversy surrounding illegally hacked e-mails and temperature data from the University of East Anglia (UEA), have provided climate skeptics and some media with ammunition to undermine public confidence in the conclusions of the IPCC and climate science in general.
Yesterday’s New York Times op-ed piece by Al Gore is well worth a read. It’s one of those pieces where I found myself nodding along to the computer screen. Gore helpfully cuts through to the heart of the supposed controversies about the climate science and within the climate science community.
|Photo © iStockphoto.com|
His arguments echo what I heard at a recent seminar here at the Bank on the role and functioning of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the overblown reaction to mistakes that are real but which in no way alter the overwhelming majority of existing scientific findings about climate change.
During that seminar Kristie Ebi, Executive Director of the IPCC Technical Support Unit for Working Group ll (which authors the volume addressing physical and social impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation) for the next round of assessments coming out in 2013, carefully explained the extensive review process applied by the IPCC.