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New Study: Scientists' Early Climate Predictions Prove Accurate

As politicians continue to neglect challenge, scientific work on global warming increasingly vindicated

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Meltwater creates a 60-foot deep (18.2 meter) canyon in the polar ice sheet. (Photo: Ian Joughin)Leaders of the world's nations keep getting it wrong even as study after study and analysis after analysis show that climate scientists have been long getting it right on climate change.

The latest scientific report, which comes on the immediate heals on what campaigners called a "sham" of a climate summit in Doha, shows that the climate study released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990 has proved remarkably prescient more than twenty years after its initial release.

The research contained in the report, which appeared Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, compared those early IPCC predictions with real-world data gathered since. Despite the enormous room for error and unknowable variables, what researchers found was a high level of accuracy and many reasons to celebrate what is now considered a seminal study for the international climate science community.

"What we've found is that these early predictions seem pretty good," said co-author of the study Professor David Frame, Director of the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University.

Considering the use of relatively simple computer models and that a number of important external forces could not have been predicted, the researchers said the quality and accuracy of the IPCC should be given special note.

As Wynne Parry writes at LiveScience:

The accuracy of the 1990 predictions is notable because scientists, 22 years ago, relied on much more simplistic computer models than those now used to simulate the future, said one of the researchers behind the current analysis, Dáithí Stone, now a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. He worked on the analysis while at the University of Cape Town and University of Oxford.

What's more, two decades ago, scientists could not have anticipated a number of potentially climate-altering events. These included the volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, which spewed sunlight-blocking particles into the atmosphere, as well as the collapse of industry in the Soviet Union or the economic growth of China.

Despite the accuracy of early IPCC studies and the mountains of scientific evidence that have followed, it is startling to see that politicians around the world are unable to craft treaties and confirm commitments that acknowledge the seriousness of the problem.

As Oxfam International Director of Campaigns and Advocacy Celine Charveriat said of the Doha agreement: "Once again governments have done far too little to drive down dangerous greenhouse gas emissions any time soon. The planet is on fire, but our governments are trying to extinguish the flames with watering cans."

Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International climate justice coordinator, echoed Charveriat, saying if world leaders would not heed the warnings of climate scientists, then grassroots action by the world's people offered the only solution.

"As the talks in Doha show," said Bhatnagar, "people around the world cannot wait for our governments to see sense and deliver the solutions. Working together in our communities, people are already resisting fossil fuels and dirty energy, building clean energy cooperatives, transforming our food systems, and protecting our forests, land and water from multinational corporations. Only people-and-planet-centered solutions will solve the climate crisis and create a better future for us all. We must make our governments listen and demand climate justice now."

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