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Friday, 27 September 2013

Climate Science, Climate Scepticism And The IPCC

Today saw the launch of the first part of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rounding up the state of climate science.  Two further sections on climate change impacts and mitigation respectively will be released early next year.

Set up by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Association (WMO) in 1988, the IPCC was formed to conduct comprehensive assessments of climate change risk to inform policymakers and is widely considered to be the world’s leading authority on climate change.

At a press conference earlier today, WMO Secretary-General Michael Jarraud affirmed that a substantial amount of new scientific knowledge informs AR5.  A total of 600 authors from 32 countries reviewed a mammoth 9,200 papers on climate science.

Climate scientists are now 95% certain that human activity is causing global warming since 1950 – up from 90% cited in the IPCC’s previous report in 2007.  As Associated Press put it, scientists are now as certain that climate change is man-made as they are that tobacco causes cancer.

For the first time, 110 governments have also agreed on 18 headline statements regarding climate science, including that 1983-2012 was the warmest 30-year period of the last 1,400 years on Earth.

Nevertheless, despite the “unequivocal” warming confirmed by the IPCC, climate scepticism is still present and somewhat influential.  Greenpeace recently released an update to Dealing in Doubt, an extensive report charting attacks on the IPCC and climate science in general.  A number of climate sceptic lobby groups have clubbed together once again to discredit the IPCC through a targeted campaign.  

This has led some to question how influential the latest IPCC report can truly be.  The New Scientist warns that if we do not use the report to start a conversation about the politics and values behind people’s climate change beliefs, a lack of interest and denial relating to global warming will continue. 

In the case of climate change, debates around the science are often conflated with suggested policy solutions.  Ultimately, human beings are not rational and it is dangerous to presume that facts will always speak for themselves.  It is imperative that these influences on public perception are taken into consideration by communicators.

Blog by Bárbara Mendes-Jorge

Disclosure: The author contributed to research informing one of the sources behind the New Scientist article

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