Steve Connor: Global warming is not some conspiratorial hoax

Share

The three reports that make up the fourth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will be published in full this year and the process begins this Friday in Paris with the publication of the first, which concentrates on the science of climate change. The importance of this and the remaining two reports should not be underestimated.

For the past six years, some 2,000 of the world's leading climatologists, glaciologists, meteorologists, oceanographers and specialists from dozens of other disciplines have trawled through all that has been published in the scientific literature on climate change and related matters. It has been a mammoth undertaking and the fruits of that work will be there for all to see in the final version of the IPCC's first report of its fourth assessment: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis.

Reading through the technical summary of this draft report, it is clear that no one could go away with the impression that climate change is some conspiratorial hoax by the science establishment, as some would have us believe. Far from it. It is clear from the draft version of the report that there is now overwhelming evidence to link man-made emissions of greenhouse gases over the past 250 years to dramatic changes in the Earth's climate.

With the climate science community, the IPCC has a reputation of being conservative and erring on the side of caution. It is perhaps the inevitable outcome of decision-making by committee, especially one that has come under huge pressure from various governments trying to downplay the scale of global warming. But what is interesting about the IPCC's fourth assessment is just how far the panel has come in terms of recognising one of the great unspoken fears of climate change - that it may be far worse than anyone can predict.

We are due to see temperature rises of about 3C this century, but the IPCC also says that it cannot rule out a rise of 6C or more. This would be cataclysmic given that the difference between global average temperatures now and during the last ice age 12,000 years ago is about the same.

The IPCC recognises that there are many "positive feedbacks" in the climate system - more apparently than the negative feedbacks that tend to modulate climate change - which could make matters worse as levels of carbon dioxide and global temperatures continue to rise. Some of these feedbacks are pretty well understood, but many are not. And there may even be some that we don't even know about. This is one of the reasons why there are still many levels of uncertainty when it comes to the future. The IPCC recognises this in the terminology of probability - "virtually certain" for instance means 99 per cent probability, while "likely" means 66 per cent probability.

But whatever the uncertainties, one thing is clear. We are changing the face of the planet and we have a limited period of time in which to do something about it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas