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

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game