No surprise in the latest climate change report
07 April 2014
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should provide pause for thought on future decision making.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should provide pause for thought on future decision making, University of Canterbury geography postgraduate Dr Simon Allen says.
The report largely reinforces what scientists have already been warning for decades. In fact the first report of the IPCC in 1990 painted a gloomy outlook of widespread increases in temperature, sea level, and related impacts on land, energy, food, and water resources.
Dr Allen worked for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Switzerland and partly authored some of the report’s content. He is still based in Bern.
"This is the fifth time the IPCC has undertaken such a massive scientific and logistical undertaking. Just as before, this report is generating huge initial interest and the usual we must act now rhetoric, but for several reasons, this report should sit longer on the policy-makers’ desk.
"The dominant role of humans in causing recent climate change is beyond any reasonable doubt so the time for that discussion has passed. The latest findings confirm that these changes are having widespread impacts across the globe.
"Sure we are in a relatively comfortable position in New Zealand where the buffering effect of the oceans keep our projected future warming below global average rates, but we won’t be spared from the expected increase in frequency and severity of extreme events such as droughts, floods, and coastal inundations.
"The problems won’t be limited to our lowland areas, with rising snowlines and melting glaciers set to pose significant challenges for resources, tourism, and infrastructure associated with our high mountain regions.
"Secondly, we know that the greenhouse gases we have already emitted, and continue to emit, are committing us to impacts of climate change that will persist for many centuries. There is no quick-fix or U-turn, and the longer we wait to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the larger the maximum warming and related impacts will be.
"Thirdly, and most importantly, Working Group II of the IPCC this week confirmed that the overall risks of climate change impacts can be reduced by limiting the rate and magnitude of climate change.
"It is this increased focus on the concept of risk that really sets this latest report apart from earlier predecessors. By framing the climate change problem as a challenge of managing and responding to risk, I believe the IPCC will now have more success communicating to the policy-makers and wider public.
"Whether anybody is listening, and how much dust this latest report has since been collecting on the policy-makers bookshelf will become clear enough later this year in Peru. The international parties are next scheduled to meet within the United Nations framework to try and nail down a binding and legal agreement on reducing future greenhouse gas emissions.
"My studies at the University of Canterbury opened up the unique opportunity to walk directly into high level employment at the interface of science and policy.
"As a UC graduate I was not alone in the IPCC environment, with Dr David Wratt, NIWA chief scientist and graduate in atmospheric physics at UC, holding one of the highest elected positions in the organisation as a working group vice-chair,’’ Dr Allen says.
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