No excuse for climate complacency

Slowing or not, the trajectory of global temperatures remains unremittingly upwards and our output of carbon dioxide only increases

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Evidence from the Met Office that the rise in global temperatures has flattened out in recent years is grist to the mill of those who would deny the existence of climate change.

Warming does appear to have “paused” – where the average rate of increase over the 30 years from 1970 was 0.17 C per decade, since then it has dropped to 0.04 C. Yet, with a leap of logic that defies good sense, sceptics conclude that all computer modelling is therefore flawed and the dangers of a steadily warming planet overblown.

If only it were true; but it is not. Slowing or not, the trajectory remains unremittingly upwards and our output of carbon dioxide only increases. In May, the concentration in the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million for the first time in several million years.

There are any number of explanations for the current hiatus in warming, not least that the deep oceans are acting as a heat store. That climate change was a phantom which has now vanished in the sunlight is not one of them.

By an unfortunate coincidence of timing, the plateau in warming comes just as the environmental agenda is losing some of its political oomph. Not only is government austerity across the rich world taking its toll on expensive green policies and public support for them. Concerns about energy security, combined with the technological developments liberating shale gas, have also given a new lease of life to fossil fuels. Is it any wonder that December’s global climate conference in Doha was largely overlooked?

Yet climate change remains the defining challenge of our times. To allow a short-term twitch in the figures to distract attention from it would be an unforgivable complacency. The science predicting so complex a phenomenon could only ever be a work in progress. And although the last decade turned out better than expected, it is the most reckless of wishful thinking to assume that the danger is past.