Scientists to report on climate change – our top four predictions

Mike Childs

18 September 2013

We can all see the climate changing around us – and the economic and environmental benefits from energy efficiency and developing renewable energy - but what is the latest scientific understanding of climate change?

Every five years or so, the world’s scientists produce a series of mammoth reports assessing the latest knowledge on climate change. These reports let us know whether we should be very worried or just plain worried. The first of the latest series of reports – the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Working Group 1 report - is due on 27 September 2013, and in this blog I predict what they will say.

A more detailed Q&A briefing on the report is available here.

Here are my top four predictions:

1. Extreme weather

The scientists will say they have much greater certainty than before that manmade climate change is already contributing to extreme weather around the globe. They will say that more extreme weather will happen in the future, especially extreme rainfall and heat-waves.

This chimes with research just published that said in 2012 climate change had made the US heat-waves, Superstorm Sandy, shrinking Arctic sea ice, drought in Europe's Iberian peninsula and extreme rainfall in Australia and New Zealand more likely.

This is, of course, devastating news for people across the world, including in the UK. More extreme rainfall in the UK will lead to more flooding. It took over two years to repair all homes following the 2007 UK floods. It is generally the world’s poorest who get hit hardest by extreme weather, and have less capacity to rebound, but we are all affected.

A short briefing on extreme weather is available here.

2. Avoiding dangerous climate change

Christina Figueres – the head of the UN climate negotiations – has said that a 1.5 degree centigrade rise in temperatures is the threshold to dangerous climate change. Friends of the Earth and most developing countries agree. This report, however, will not identify a threshold.

The report will make estimates on how sensitive the climate is to carbon pollution. It will also point out we are emitting it faster than ever and there is no scope for slack. It will maintain that we can still avoid two degrees of warming (the target favoured by rich countries) but this will take a very rapid cut in carbon pollution, far in excess of that currently promised by nations.

3. Fossil fuels

The report will identify that the 40% increase in carbon pollution in the atmosphere is virtually all due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. It will provide a figure on the amount of carbon pollution that can be released from now to avoid two degrees of warming. This will be far lower than the amount of carbon that would be released were we to burn known resources of fossil fuels. In other words, the vast majority of proven fossil fuels – probably 80 per cent or more - needs to stay in the ground. It is sheer folly to develop new sources such as shale gas through fracking.

4. Carbon sinks

The report will also make clear that understanding about how the oceans and soil will react to a warmer planet has progressed but uncertainties are still very large. If these so-called carbon sinks release large amounts of carbon as the world warms – which is entirely plausible – then warming could be much greater. This uncertainty points to a need to keep temperatures as low as possible.

Action needed

The IPCC report will heighten concerns – and hopefully sting politicians into meaningful action. Climate sceptics will likely cherry pick from it and try to spin than we need to worry less – indeed, some already have.

Regardless of what is said, it’s clear the world is well on the path to dangerous climate change this century. And that alone should be enough to focus thoughts on what we are going to do about it – the report will show there is still time to avoid the worst, if we act fast.

Stopping exploiting new sources of fossil fuels would be a good start – so please take action here to stop fracking. 


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