'Debate on Science is Over, Time to Act Is Now': World Reacts to IPCC Report

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Common Dreams

'Debate on Science is Over, Time to Act Is Now': World Reacts to IPCC Report

Report only confirms what steady stream of science for decades has been saying; Time for action is now, declare climate leaders

by
Jon Queally, staff writer

Following the release of the IPCC's first installment of its fifth assessment report (AR5) on climate change in Stockholm on Friday, environmental groups, experts, and activists from around the world were reacting to the findings contained in the report and commenting on the implications it will or should have as the planet faces the "unprecedented" rate of global warming and the irrefutable consensus by the world's scientific community.

For most, the report's findings represent only a more precise and updated affirmation of what has been known to most experts for decades. What they say now is that whatever forces or misinformation have inhibited solving the problem of planetary global warming must now be pushed aside and world leaders must change course to create a new energy paradigm if the worst scenarios offered in the report are to be avoided.

What follows is a sampling of those reactions and perspective from those on the frontline of the climate issue.

"We've won the scientific argument for fifteen years—we know beyond any doubt that carbon is warming the atmosphere. But we also know beyond any doubt that fossil fuel money is polluting the politics of climate. That's why we keep building movements." –Bill McKibben, 350.org

Climate campaign movement leader 350.org:

The report, which is the most authoritative, comprehensive assessment of scientific knowledge on climate change, finds with near certainty that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and that climate impacts are accelerating--including greater sea ice melt; sea level rise; and dangerous ocean and surface level warming. Scientists have upped the certainty that humans are responsible for warming, increasing their confidence to 95%

Of importance to note that the IPCC’s carbon budget assessment recognises the amount of emissions to keep within 2°C is finite serving as a timely reminder of the systemic risk sitting on the books of extractives companies. Currently, the fossil fuel industry has roughly 2795 gigatons of CO2 in their reserves.To keep emissions under that threshold, major polluting nations would need to commit to policies to keep nearly 80% of those fossil fuel reserves underground.

"We've won the scientific argument for fifteen years--we know beyond any doubt that carbon is warming the atmosphere,” said 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, a well known American writer and environmentalist. “But we also know beyond any doubt that fossil fuel money is polluting the politics of climate. That's why we keep building movements."

Canada's David Suzuki Foundation:

"If you were 95 per cent certain your house was at risk of catching fire, and if there was something you could do to prevent it, you would do it," Bruce said.

The latest IPCC scenarios show temperatures could rise from 0.3 Celsius to almost five degrees this century, with the outcome largely dependent on how much action is taken to reduce emissions. The current rising global emission trajectory, mainly from overuse of fossil fuels, is dangerous as this is more likely to cause more dramatic temperature increases (at the upper temperature range) and extreme weather events in the future. The global average temperature has already risen almost one degree Celsius since the start of the 20th century (since 1901).

"This may not seem like much, but it is," said David Suzuki Foundation science and policy manager Ian Bruce. "Keep in mind that there is only a five degree difference between the Ice Age and our current climate, which can be likened to Goldilocks conditions — just right for human habitation, not too hot and not too cold."

"Our parents' generation didn't know about the risk of global warming and climate change, but we do," Bruce said. "It's unfair to leave this problem to our children and grandchildren to deal with the dire consequences."

"We must accept that most fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground and that chasing to the ends of the earth to suck out the last few remaining drops of oil is an expensive and dangerous waste of time." –Stephanie Tunmore, Greenpeace

Stephanie Tunmore, a climate campaigner at Greenpeace International, offered this response:

The IPCC didn’t just deliver the bad news. They also looked at potential pathways for the future. The future they describe if we stay on our current path and continue with business as usual looks bleak and hostile. But remember, these are projections, not prophecies. They also set out a way forward that will limit the amount of warming to well below 2°C and lower the scale of sea-level rise, ice melting, ocean acidification and extreme weather events as well as lower the risks of triggering abrupt changes with unknown consequences.

There is better future than the one we are currently facing and it is ours if we want it.

We must accept that most fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground and that chasing to the ends of the earth to suck out the last few remaining drops of oil is an expensive and dangerous waste of time. This will come as no surprise to the fossil fuel industry. Coal, oil and gas companies along with heavy energy using industries like car manufacturers have spent decades trying to muddy the waters around the science of climate change rather than address the serious threat it poses. They have funded advertising campaigns, disinformation campaigns and climate science 'deniers' with the intention of creating uncertainty amongst the public and blocking any efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.

We must embrace and accelerate the clean energy transition that is already underway. Renewable energy is currently the fastest growing power source. Globally, renewable generation is estimated to rise to 25% of gross power generation in 2018. But the biggest barrier to even greater expansion is uncertainty around renewable energy policies. This is an area where governments could create strong signals to investors about the future.

"Needed is a plan for slashing fossil fuel consumption (and hence overall economic throughput) in a way that supports the current mass of humanity, while reducing fertility levels to achieve a population size that can be supported long-term without compromising ecological systems." —Richard Heinberg, Post-Carbon Institute

The Post-Carbon Institute's Richard Heinberg said this in an email to Common Dreams:

The new report makes headway in clarifying human causation of climate change and in more carefully modeling an incredibly complex system in flux. The need for broad-scale, coordinated action is clearer than ever. What's still missing is the public recognition—not just by IPCC, but by the world's leaders—that continued economic and population growth is incompatible with planetary survival. Also needed is a plan for slashing fossil fuel consumption (and hence overall economic throughput) in a way that supports the current mass of humanity, while reducing fertility levels to achieve a population size that can be supported long-term without compromising ecological systems.

Achim Steiner, head of the UN's Environment Program (UNEP), spoke to reporters during the IPCC's press conference in Stockholm:

It is always a tribute to the IPCC that is has found a means of expressing what is certainty and what is uncertainty.

The report is... once again a very dramatic reminder of the significance, the pace, and increasingly our ability to understand what is happening to the planet.

For humanity to take decisions, perfect knowledge can never be the condition.

I hope the world will take from the IPCC's report in this cycle, AR5, a very clear message: you may never know everything but you will know enough to act.

"The future reads like a medical diagnosis for an overweight smoker with a heart condition: unless the patient makes major lifestyle changes, the illness will grow far worse, with severe debilitation or death distinct possibilities. We can and we must make the huge effort to turn things around." –Dr. Jeff Masters

Noted meterologist and founder of the Weather Underground blog, Dr. Jeff Masters wrote read the report's findings and offered this response:

The natural systems that civilization depends upon to thrive have been profoundly disturbed, and the forecast for the future reads like a medical diagnosis for an overweight smoker with a heart condition: unless the patient makes major lifestyle changes, the illness will grow far worse, with severe debilitation or death distinct possibilities. We can and we must make the huge effort to turn things around. Oil and natural gas are the energy technologies of the 20th century. Coal is the energy technology of the 19th century. We have countless innovative and dedicated people ready to move us to the energy technology of the 21st century; I heard three of them speak last night at the Climate Week event I am at, and they really gave me some needed hope that we can turn things around. We must elect new leaders and pressure our existing leaders to take the strong actions needed to advance us into a new, 21st century energy economy.

Oil Change International tackles the inevitable response to the IPCC report by the fossil fuel industry-funded cabal of climate science denialists:

The sceptical response is nothing new and fits into a well-trodden pattern of denial that now stretches back decades. The scientists Dana Nuccitelli and John Abraham have pointed out that there are five stages of climate denial: deny the problem exists, deny we are the cause, deny it’s a problem, deny we can solve it and claim it’s too late to do anything.

The problem with the denial is that it opens up political space for the oil industry to carry on doing what it does best. Drill for oil and gas.

A parallel universe exists – the climate scientists argue that we have to stop burning fossil fuels – and the industry carries on regardless.

Many organisations and people have argued for a whole that we have to think the unthinkable and leave a large amount of fossil fuels in the ground – somewhere between 50 to 75 per cent of reserves.

Reacting to the report released today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Tim Gore, Oxfam’s Grow Campaign Head of Policy said;

"The latest climate science affirms what small scale farmers around the world are telling us, seasons are changing, weather is increasingly extreme and unpredictable making it tougher to feed their families. 

“This report also tells us it is possible to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change and the goal of ensuring everyone has enough to eat is still attainable. Governments should learn from the mistakes of the global financial crisis where warning signs were ignored and listen to the experts before it is too late.

“They must take actions immediately to slash emissions as well as investing in building the resilience of people in poverty so we can move from the current path facing disaster to higher safer ground.”

- See more at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/pressroom/reactions/oxfam-reaction-2013-int...

Tim Gore, head of policy for Oxfam International’s Grow Campaign, released this statement:

"The latest climate science affirms what small scale farmers around the world are telling us, seasons are changing, weather is increasingly extreme and unpredictable making it tougher to feed their families.

“This report also tells us it is possible to avoid the very worst impacts of climate change and the goal of ensuring everyone has enough to eat is still attainable. Governments should learn from the mistakes of the global financial crisis where warning signs were ignored and listen to the experts before it is too late.

“They must take actions immediately to slash emissions as well as investing in building the resilience of people in poverty so we can move from the current path facing disaster to higher safer ground.”

The Guardian newspaper's environment editor John Vidal reports on what consequences the IPCC report spells out for developing countries:

Low-income countries will remain on the frontline of human-induced climate change over the next century, experiencing gradual sea-level rises, stronger cyclones, warmer days and nights, more unpredictable rains, and larger and longer heatwaves, according to the most thorough assessment of the issue yet.

The last major UN assessment, in 2007, predicted runaway temperature rises of 6C or more by the end of the century. That is now thought unlikely by scientists, but average land and sea temperatures are expected to continue rising throughout this century, possibly reaching 4C above present levels – enough to devastate crops and make life in many cities unbearably hot.

"The IPCC report’s findings make clear that with each passing year of continued high emissions, the prospect of keeping temperatures from rising less than 2°C through emissions reductions alone will become ever more vanishingly small." –Peter Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists

Peter Frumhoff, the Union of Concerned Scientists science and policy director and a former IPCC lead author, writes of the latest report:

Beneath its cautious prose, the IPCC report firmly highlights the urgency of our challenge. The science itself does not prescribe specific actions. And the IPCC steers clear of assessing the relative likelihood that political will and policy choices will lead us to follow more closely along one concentration pathway or another. And yet – the IPCC report’s findings make clear that with each passing year of continued high emissions, the prospect of keeping temperatures from rising less than 2°C through emissions reductions alone will become ever more vanishingly small. They challenge us to both redouble efforts to aggressively reduce emissions and to begin the hard work of preparing now to manage the risks of a world that may warm well in excess of 2°C within this century.

Look for more insights from the IPCC Working Group II report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) due out next March and the Working Group III report (Mitigation) slated for release in April.

“The good news is that there are solutions available. The science gives us more than enough information to tackle the problem with urgency." –PJ Partington, Pembina Institute

P.J. Partington, climate policy analyst at the Pembina Institute:

“Today’s report builds on decades of research to give us a crystal clear message: climate change is happening, we’re causing it and it carries huge risks.

“The world’s scientific community has established beyond a shadow of a doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is changing our world in unprecedented ways. As the report makes clear, the extreme weather events we have seen recently are just a preview of the far larger risks we face. Failing to get our emissions under control is a one-way ticket to a hotter and less stable world.

“As a northern nation with one of the world’s largest carbon footprints, Canada is on the front lines of climate change. Each year of delay commits Canadians to more warming, greater risks and higher costs.

“The good news is that there are solutions available. The science gives us more than enough information to tackle the problem with urgency. Now it’s up to Canada to act.”

Statement by Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice:

“The report tells us that our oceans are warming and acidifying and glacial ice in Antarctica and Greenland is melting faster than predicted, causing sea levels to rise globally. The projected sea-level rise of 5–6 feet by 2100 would be devastating to coastal communities, especially on the East Coast of the United States and on islands and low-lying coastal areas around the world. The window for taking action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is closing quickly.

“We are finally seeing some progress in the U.S. Under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, new coal-burning power plants will be required to capture carbon pollution if they want to compete for customers in the future. Next June, the administration will issue rules to reduce carbon pollution from existing coal plants, the source of 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions. These are important steps forward.

“But this is not enough. The U.S. must end our pursuit of extreme energy, like drilling in the Arctic, leveling mountains in Appalachia for dirty coal, and importing carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada. We must also reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon that speed the melting of Arctic ice.

“The times also demand bold action from states and communities across the country. Across the country, citizen groups have successfully fought for the retirement of aging coal-fired power plants that are our biggest carbon polluters, and a majority of states have taken action to promote clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have adopted standards that require the use of renewable energy, and 24 states have fully-funded energy efficiency policies in place that are making a big dent in our energy consumption. In the Northeast, nine states have banded together to create a carbon trading program that caps regional carbon emissions and spurs investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy. In Hawai’i, regulators and utilities have introduced path-breaking plans to enable a massive expansion of rooftop solar systems connected to the grid. We need this kind of climate action in every state and community across the nation.”

Andrew Freedman, correspondent and expert for Climate Central, writes in part:

In arriving at its conclusions, the group combed through 9,200 scientific publications, two-thirds of which were published after 2007, and considered the input from nearly 55,000 comments drawn from 1,089 reviewers from 52 countries. A majority of the scientists involved in the latest report were new to the IPCC process.

The report solidifies many of the findings from past IPCC assessments and will help inform policymakers as they try to craft a new global climate treaty in 2015, to enter into force in 2020.

However, many experts within and outside the IPCC think the organization should focus more on short-term, highly focused assessments, rather than the arduous, massive reports that the organization has traditionally produced, and for which it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said the policy impacts of the report will depend in part on how well the organization publicizes its findings. “The IPCC has to do a lot more in terms of outreach and we’re attempting to do that," he said.

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