A new report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
reveals new evidence that man-made pollution has "contributed substantially" to
global warming and that the planet is likely to get hotter than previously predicted, the Associated Press reports. The findings are expected to carry
great weight in the climate debate over the next decade.
The report's summary is being distributed to government officials worldwide this
week and was obtained by AP. It is the first full-scale review and update of the
state of climate science since 1995, when the IPCC concluded there is "a discernible human influence" on the Earth's climate because of the "greenhouse" effect caused by pollutants in the atmosphere.
This latest assessment by the IPCC reports "there is stronger evidence" of
human impacts on the environment and that it is likely that greenhouse gases "have
contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years."
If emissions of these greenhouse gases are not curbed, the average surface
temperature of the planet is expected to increase between 2.7 and almost 11
degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century, significantly more than estimated five years ago (H. Josef Hebert, AP/Washington Post, 26 Oct).
"What this report is clearly saying is that global warming is a real problem, and it is with us and we are going to have to take this into account in our future planning," said Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Tom Wigley, a climate scientist at the center said that the report reinforces the
1995 assessment, but also proves that previous estimates were "conservative."
Wigley was a key author of the 1995 report's section on human impacts on climate.
Michael Oppenheimer, an atmospheric physicist at Environmental Defense, said the report "reinforces the mainstream scientific consensus" about global warming, and its new estimates on increasing temperatures signal "a risk of devastating consequences within this century."
Other scientists agree the greenhouse effect exists, but say the situation isn't quite that grim. Earlier this year, US National Aeronautics and Space Administration
scientist James Hansen and a team of other scientists suggested that reductions in
gases other than carbon dioxide could help reduce the risks associated with global
warming (MSNBC.com, 25 Oct).
Another climate expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Richard
Lindzen, says although it has been established that human activity to some degree
influences Earth's climate, he remains skeptical about the importance of human
contributions to global warming. He described the report's summary as "waffle
words designed for one thing, to ensure that the issue remains important enough that
it not be put on a back burner." He said that in general, there is little solid evidence that any climate change would have harmful effects (Andrew Revkin, New York
Times, 26 Oct).
Report's Role In Global Debate
The report from the IPCC -- a high-level panel composed hundreds of
scientists from all over the world -- is likely to lend more urgency to the debate on climate change during the next decade.
The report is scheduled to obtain final approval at a UN conference early next
year. Several scientists said yesterday that while some wording may be changed by
policymakers, the central conclusions will not be altered.
Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are gearing up for a major climate change summit to be held at The Hague 13 - 24 November to discuss implementation of the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction targets. So far, no major industrial nations have ratified the Kyoto agreement.
In preparation for the summit, international negotiators met last month in Lyon,
France, but failed to work out ways to reach their reduction targets under the
protocol. "The urgency of global warming is not being reflected in the pace of the
talks," said Michael Zammit Cutajar, head of the UNFCCC, adding that he is not
optimistic about next month's summit.
"Key countries must start demonstrating real political leadership if we are to
ensure that strong and effective action is launched to control greenhouse gas
emissions," he said. "The longer we wait to make the transition to low-emissions
economies, the greater the damage from climate change will be" (MSNBC.com).
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