Copenhagen Diagnosis' offers a grim update to the IPCC's climate scienceNov 25, 2009 - Guardian.co.uk
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change received a kick in the pants today from members who say the climate situation is much worse than the IPCC has so far reported. From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the world's foremost body for weighing and assessing climate science—received a kick in the pants today from members who say the climate situation is much worse than the IPCC has so far reported.
Twenty-six climatologists—including 14 IPCC members—have released a startling update to the panel's work, reporting that sea levels could rise and methane-laden arctic permafrost could melt much sooner than the panel had anticipated.
"The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science" is not an official IPCC report; it's a summary of the hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers that have been published since the IPCC's last assessment. It was released now to fill the long gap in between official IPCC reports—the last was released in 2007, but the drafting text is more than three years old, and the next isn't scheduled until 2013. It was also timed to the Copenhagen climate talks, of course.
The essence of the new report is that things are grimmer than the IPCC has reported. And it's not like the panel has been painting a rosy picture—its 2007 report concluded that the warming-induced melting of the Greenland ice sheet could create significant sea-level rise in this century. IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said at the time, "If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment."
The new diagnosis finds that arctic sea ice is melting 40 percent faster than the panel estimated just a few years ago. Another startling finding: Satellites have found that the global average for rising sea levels was 3.4 millimeters per year from 1993-2008. The IPCC estimated it would be 1.9 mm for that period—short by 80 percent.
The report's authors (who include the preeminent Stephen Schneider) write that "if global warming is to be limited to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial values, global emissions need to peak between 2015 and 2020 and then decline rapidly." If you're keeping score, 2015 is just over five years away—somewhat less comforting than the distant "2050" you used to hear so much about.
In a time when the correspondence of scientists is hacked and stolen and as a matter of political strategy, some will no doubt dismiss the group's research entirely. And even IPCC fans may question whether its decision-making process is swift enough to remain relevant. It certainly seems that events are outpacing the political system's ability to deal with them.
Below are the key findings from the report:
The world faces record-breaking temperatures as the sun's activity increases, leading the planet to heat up significantly faster than scientists had predicted for the next five years, according to a study.
The hottest year on record was 1998, and the relatively cool years since have led to some global warming sceptics claiming that temperatures have levelled off or started to decline. But new research firmly rejects that argument.
The research, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, was carried out by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
The work is the first to assess the combined impact on global temperature of four factors: human influences such as CO2 and aerosol emissions; heating from the sun; volcanic activity and the El Niņo southern oscillation, the phenomenon by which the Pacific Ocean flips between warmer and cooler states every few years.
The analysis shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niņo events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
As solar activity picks up again in the coming years, the research suggests, temperatures will shoot up at 150% of the rate predicted by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Lean and Rind's research also sheds light on the extreme average temperature in 1998. The paper confirms that the temperature spike that year was caused primarily by a very strong El Niņo episode. A future episode could be expected to create a spike of equivalent magnitude on top of an even higher baseline, thus shattering the 1998 record.
The study comes within days of announcements from climatologists that the world is entering a new El Niņo warm spell. This suggests that temperature rises in the next year could be even more marked than Lean and Rind's paper suggests. A particularly hot autumn and winter could add to the pressure on policy makers to reach a meaningful deal at December's climate-change negotiations in Copenhagen.
Bob Henson, of the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, said: "To claim that global temperatures have cooled since 1998 and therefore that man-made climate change isn't happening is a bit like saying spring has gone away when you have a mild week after a scorching Easter." Temperature highs and lows
Hottest year of the millennium
Caused by a major El Niņo event. The climate phenomenon results from warming of the tropical Pacific and causes heatwaves, droughts and flooding around the world. The 1998 event caused 16% of the world's coral reefs to die.
Most sunspots in a year since 1778
The sun's activity waxes and wanes on an 11-year cycle. The late 1950s saw a peak in activity and were relatively warm years for the period.
Coldest year of the millennium
Ash from the huge eruption the previous year of a Peruvian volcano called Huaynaputina blocked out the sun. The volcanic winter caused Russia's worst famine, with a third of the population dying, and disrupted agriculture from China to France.