February 2nd, 2005

Review of last week: It's happening faster than we think

Climate change is happening faster than we think and the deadline before serious irreversible damage is only around the corner is the resounding message from last week's press. This is a big post, but do take the time to read it, it covers many different and important stories.

The major event was the release of a new report last Tuesday. "Meeting the Climate Challenge" is a high-level report published by the International Climate Change Taskforce - Centre for American Progress, the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, and The Australia Institute. It's different from many other reports in that it was put together by all sectors - senior politicians, academics and businessmen. This needs to be emphasised - the former transport secretary Stephen Byers (staunch Blairite, hardly a left-winger) co-chaired the task force that produced the report along with US Republican Senator Olympia Snowe (complemented by other Republicans and Democrats). "There is an ecological timebomb ticking away," said Stephen Byers.

The report indicates that in as as little as 10 years, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached. It breaks new ground by putting a figure on the point at which the world will be irreversibly exposed to disastrous climatic changes such as widespread agricultural failure, water shortages and major droughts, increased disease, and dangerous sea-level rise. It also assesses the possibility of abrupt catastrophic events such as "runaway" global warming, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, or the switching-off of the Gulf Stream.

This is a class of document that normally is the precursor to a policy making stage. The has been covered conclusively in most of the press, but the Independent broke the story and was the first to get a look in their front page article entitled "Countdown to Catastrophe":

"The global warming danger threshold for the world is clearly marked for the first time in an international report to be published tomorrow - and the bad news is, the world has nearly reached it already. The countdown to climate-change catastrophe is spelt out by a task force of senior politicians, business leaders and academics from around the world - and it is remarkably brief. In as little as 10 years, or even less, their report indicates, the point of no return with global warming may have been reached."

"The report, Meeting The Climate Challenge, is aimed at policymakers in every country, from national leaders down. It has been timed to coincide with Tony Blair's promised efforts to advance climate change policy in 2005 as chairman of both the G8 group of rich countries and the European Union. "

The full report can be downloaded here.

climateprediction.net: First results state 2C-11C net for this century

The other major report was published in Nature and is from the climateprediction.net distributed model project - the largest ever climate change experiment, producing the first hard data that climate change is happening at a much faster rate than we thought was likely before. The project is a collaboration of experts at Oxford and Reading universities, The Open University, London School of Economics, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

It widened the net considerably on the levels of possible temperature within this century, levelling it as between 2 and 11C. This is twice the maximum set by the IPCC in 2001 - and remember that the EU believe that 2C is the level that dangerous and catastrophic change will begin to occur.

"When we started out we didn't expect anything like this," said Oxford University's David Stainforth, chief scientist for climateprediction.net. "An 11C-warmed world would be a dramatically different world... There would be large areas at higher latitudes that could be up to 20C warmer than today. The UK would be at the high end of these changes. It is possible that even present levels of greenhouse gases maintained for long periods may lead to dangerous climate change... When you start to look at these temperatures, I get very worried indeed."

Professor Bob Spicer, of the Open University, said average global temperature rises of 11C are unprecedented in the long geological record of the Earth. "If we go back to the Cretaceous, which is 100 million years ago, the best estimates of the global mean temperature was about 6C higher than present," Professor Spicer said. "So 11C is quite substantial and if this is right we would be going into a realm that we really don't have much evidence for even in the rock [geological] record."

95,000 people from 150 countries currently donate their time to the climateprediction.net project - you can too by downloading the screen saver.

The amount of press coverage this received was tremendous, and a few outside the regular loop: [BBC] [Belfast Telegraph] [The Australian] as well as having a noticeable page filling "11 degrees" headline across the UK national free daily "Metro".

Scientists feeling agitated by future

The mood amongst scientists is becoming increasingly depressive in general - or "terrified" may be a better description. John Lawton, head of the Natural Environment Research Council stated in the Observer* last Sunday:
"My youngest grandson, Jonah, was born two years ago," he said the week before, "He is a real delight but his future, in a world heading towards massive climatic change, I have become extremely worried about. In fact, I am terrified."

Polar bears possibly extinct from 2026

..according to a new WWF report. It also ties the 2 degree point being hit anywhere between 2026 and 2060. As stated in December, the Hadley Centre (one of the most respected groups for climate prediction) states that by 2060 a 3.5C rise in temperature is the most likely scenario.

First day of UK-based International Conference on Climate Change

The British government today (Tuesday) opened a three-day international conference on climate change - "insisting that countries can cut carbon emissions without affecting economic growth." [Associated Press] [Guardian] More on this in forthcoming days.

Last week the climate change-deniers held a counter-conference, because of course climate change is "an anti-capitalist agenda, a Machiavellian political plot and a convenient rumour started by bungling Japanese pineapple farmers" apparently. It took place at the Royal Institution in London, and was organised by a British group, the Scientific Alliance, which has links to US oil company ExxonMobil through a collaboration with a US institute. It was probably attended by lots of...

Oil firms fund climate change deniers

...these people.

Bob May, president of the Royal Society, says that "a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change" is turning its attention to Britain because of its high profile in the debate.

Last month the Scientific Alliance published a joint report with the George C Marshall Institute in Washington that claimed to "undermine" climate change claims. The Marshall institute received £51,000 from ExxonMobil for its "global climate change programme" in 2003 and an undisclosed sum this month.

Prescott builds poor housing and risks wrecking climate change targets

The mid-century CO2 targets may well be unreachable due to inefficient poor housing developments being actioned by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. Which is in addition to...

Developers to build on flood plains in UK

We know, the Environmental Protection Agency knows, the insurance companies know (and are saying it's likely they'll refuse to insure them), but they just won't be told...

UK to tax 4x4s (SUVs) and use the money to provide grants to cleaner cars

From the Independent...

"The plan is being floated at a senior level in the Government as part of discussions over introducing tougher measures to cut carbon dioxide emissions and pollution from the UK's growing number of cars, vans and lorries.

It would involve setting a dividing line for the payment of duties and rebates, perhaps at about 185 grams per kilometre. Cars with emissions above 185g per km would be charged a levy based on a sliding scale. The higher the CO2 emissions, the higher the charge.

Cars under 185g per km would attract grants, again based on a sliding scale, which would give higher subsidies for the lowest emissions."

A shame the US isn't making a similar move where's SUVs are an epidemic, however...

Ford u-turn on recall of electric pick-up truck in US

But is still however the worst polluter of "US big six" car companies.

"Ford Motors has announced this week it is to make a dramatic u-turn on its widely unpopular decision to repossess and destroy all the last of its zero emissions Ranger electric vehicles (EVs)." [more]

US: Head of NASA's Goddard Institute speaks out

James E. Hansen who heads NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York has hit out in the Washington Post at the control the current Bush administration has over science which has been used to silence climatologists who try to speak out about the threats posed by climate change.

"In my more than three decades in government, I have never seen anything approaching the degree to which information flow from scientists to the public has been screened and controlled as it has now," Hansen said.

"As the evidence gathers, you would hope they would be flexible," Hansen said in the slow, measured tones he has retained from his years growing up on an Iowa farm. "We have to deal with this. You can't ignore it."

The reporter adds: "After the barrage of criticism, John H. Marburger III, Bush's top science adviser, told Science magazine that if the researchers continue their protests, they might alienate influential lawmakers who set federal science budgets."

RealClimate, by Real Scientists

A blog-like web site has been set up by several climatologists who were rather miffed by the mis-understandings in the media around several issues. It has received acclaim from Nature amongst other sources, and from reading is an absolutely a must-read for anybody who likes to get into the real nitty gritty of the science. It adopts the traditional science mantra of ignoring the politics around climate change (which is, for example, what I focus upon) and concentrates on simply providing the facts and clearing the myths.



* (note that the Observer article has a mistake, when it states that a 3-4C rise by 2010 is more likely, it obviously means by 2060, by 2010 is impossible)