Climate Change: The Scientific View

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II climate report was released earlier this week, receiving extensive media coverage. Climate scientists, environmental scientists, and social scientists presented a clear and open analysis of how climate change is affecting the world’s ecosystems and economies and the impact these are having on human populations.

Within the report is an assessment of the risks being posed by climate change and how to manage them, the currently observed impacts and future risks, the ways in which we should most effectively adapt to increasing environmental, climatic and social instability and how we can build resilience.

Natural systems such as coral reefs and forests ecosystems have suffered and will continue to suffer as a result of increasing temperatures and it is expected that agricultural environments will also be negatively impacted, particularly maize and wheat production. This is and will continue to increasingly impact humans and human lifestyles as we are dependent upon natural and agricultural systems. In response to the report, various media outlets referred to human impacts and impacts on nature as though they were separate – though they are directly connected. If we are to effectively communicate the need to change our behaviour as a global society, it is integral that this inter-connectedness between nature and humans – and human reliance on global ecosystems – is reinforced.

Furthermore Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC Chairman, states, “nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” As stated in the report, these impacts will include (with very high confidence) increased flooding in some regions and increased drought in others as well as having negative consequences for food security and areas vulnerable to conflict. Of particular concern is increasing ocean acidification (resulting from increased CO2 rather than warming) as it is detrimental to the base of the food chain. This, in addition to changing temperatures and reduced oxygen within the ocean, is damaging to many marine ecosystems, particularly in the tropics. This may subsequently damage the marine industry – which provides 16% of the world’s animal protein and was estimated as being worth £63 billion in 2008.

Since the last report of its kind, in 2007, evidence of climate change impacts has doubled. The certainty that anthropogenic behaviours are the dominant cause of this rate of climatic alteration is stronger than ever – due to scientific, peer-reviewed evidence. The report ensures that this is clear and provides the facts to support it. Although accused by a minority of being “alarmist”, the report gave as detailed and accurate an account of the situation we are facing as possible.

The report intends to inform in the most extensive manner yet and to jump start the initiation of effective action by policy makers. This is supported by the UN science panel chairman who stated that it “should jolt people into action”. Of the 436 authors who wrote the report, one was unhappy with the tone of the document and has had his name removed from the summary, although, it is still present in the main report.

Whilst it is essential to discuss all the evidence-backed opinions on this matter, it is key that individuals comments only on the areas in which they are qualified to do so. This will ensure and encourage clarity of communication within a highly complex and urgent issue which will in turn lead to effective action.

With 12,000 scientific studies backing the report, 436 authors and over 300 editors, this report is the most detailed and well backed scientific report of its kind. We now wait for the September summit on Climate Change in New York and hope that political leaders, globally, start to accept reality and react properly in order to protect their people and environments.