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What has the IPCC ever done for you?

Posted by Oisín Coghlan on September 25, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

On Friday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish the first part of it's new assessment report on climate science. The last one, in 2007, won it the Nobel Peace Prize. 

You can join me and Prof John Sweeney for a "first look" at the report and what it means at a Stop Climate Chaos event in the Science Gallery at lunchtime on Friday.

Here's a quick overview of why I think it matters. Come along on Friday for a fuller picture, disucssion and a chance to power the whole event uisng Gavin Harte's bicycle generator.

The key scientific findings are stark

The scientists have begun presenting their findings to government officials at a meeting in Stokcholm, which will sign-off on the all important "Summary for Policymakers". Media reports (e.g. the Observer and Reuters) suggest the message is a stark one:

  • Climate change is very much still happening: global temperatures have risen by 0.89C since 1901.
  • Scientists are now 95% certain that human activity is the cause, up from 90% in 2007, and 66% in 2001.
  • We are faced with a range of global temperature rises from 1.8C to 5.8C. For human civilization as we know it this is a range from “risky” at the lower end to “catastrophic” at the higher end.
  • The IPCC’s best guess is that, without radical action, the temperature rise will top 2C this century – the politically agreed ceiling to prevent runaway climate change.
  • Sea levels could rise by almost a metre by 2100.
  • Arctic sea ice, which helps keep the Earth liveable by reflecting the Sun’s rays back into space, is continuing its rapid decline.
  • Climate change makes extreme weather events more frequent, longer and more intense.

Why does this matter for Ireland?

  • We’re already seeing more intense rainfall and more frequent flooding. Unchecked climate change would see this pattern accelerate in coming years.
  • Moreover, more frequent droughts are also likely and more frequent long cold spells like 2010 a distinct possibility (the latter due to the disruption of the Jet Stream by the melting Arctic).
  • “The Irish economy is small and highly open. The value of internationally traded goods and services in 2012 was equivalent to 191 per cent of GDP”, according to the ESRI. Unchecked climate change will cause huge disruption of world trade and the global economy (the loss of 5to 20% of global GDP every year, according to the Stern Review) that our export-led economy depends on for jobs. The small island states of the south Pacific will be literally underwater, but so will the economic prospects of this small island state of the north Atlantic.
  • As an island with a temperate climate Ireland is likely to be an attractive destination for climate refugees – something of a “climate ark”. As Lord Stern puts it: “What we have learned from history is that if people are faced with increased dangers of floods, droughts and other extreme weather, they will try to escape, resulting in population movements of perhaps hundreds of millions, leading to widespread and continued conflict” –  Observer, 21 September 2013.
  • Until the economic crash Ireland was the sixth most climate-polluting country per person in the rich world. If everyone polluted like the Irish we would need three planets to absorb it. We have a responsibility therefore to do our fair share to contain climate change.

What does it mean for policy?

  • Staying at the lower end of the range of possible global temperature rises (1.8C to 5.8C) means reducing global emissions to zero by 2070.
  • Staying below 2C – the politically agreed ceiling to avoid dangerous climate change – means leaving about 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves in the ground.
  • At a minimum, Ireland will need to achieve the “working definition of low carbon” that Minister Hogan presented to the Oireachtas Committee in July: “an ambition to have near-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 in the case of energy, buildings and transport, as well as carbon neutrality in the case of agriculture.”
  • More likely Ireland will need to simply cut its total emissions by 90 – 100% by 2050.


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