No Room for Doubt: IPCC Releases New Climate Change Report

By Camila Bustos

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In a study recently released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s top climate scientists once again stressed the urgency of global action to fight climate change. Using the strongest language of any report to date, the report called global warming “unequivocal”, indicating with 95 percent certainty that human influence has been responsible for the observed increase in average surface temperatures since the mid-twentieth century.

The observed changes in the climate are “unprecedented over the decades to millennia,” the report said. “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentration of greenhouse gases have increased.”

For the first time in its history, the panel argued in favor of a carbon budget that would limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from both industrial production and deforestation. Christina Figueres, Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, identified the development of low carbon intensive infrastructure as the main challenge of developing nations, and further highlighted the need for the developed world to provide financial and technological assistance in order to help developing nations meet their carbon reduction goals.

Predicted temperature increases under two scenarios. Rise in average surface temperature by 2081-2100. (Source: IPCC)

Data from IPCC. (Source: BBC)

Thomas F. Stocket, co-chairman of the IPCC, called the climate change “the greatest challenge of our time,” and Secretary Figueres added that this challenge “is much more important and urgent than we what we originally thought.”  Despite such strong statements, skeptics immediately attempted to undermine the panel’s results.

With the next round of international climate talks set to begin in Warsaw next month, many wonder if the publication of the IPCC report will have an impact on course of negotiations.

Brown University Professor Timmons Roberts, a specialist on climate change politics and climate finance, indicated in an interview to the BHRR that this latest report can have a significant impact.

“I believe that this new report could be important in bringing some new momentum to the needed global effort to address climate change’s vast dangers,” said Roberts. “The report makes clear just how strong the scientific evidence is that we are destabilizing the Earth’s climate, placing very clear levels of certainty on its conclusions.”

Towards a Comprehensive Climate Treaty?

Yet the path towards comprehensive climate legislation continues to be uncertain. During last year’s conference in Doha negotiators once again postponed the deadline for the creation of an international agreement to 2015, continuing a legacy of negotiations that fail to produce a substantial agreement.

Some would argue that the main impediment in past and future negotiations has been the United States’ failure to ratify any of the key agreements that impose binding targets for carbon dioxide emissions. Professor Roberts points out that the United States’ legislative structure remains a main obstacle in negotiations.

“For 15 years now the United States has been a roadblock to international agreement on how to address climate change.  The difficulty of our constitution, which requires 67 votes in the U.S. Senate to ratify a treaty, means that the Administration has very little ability to make a strong agreement.” Professor Roberts also alluded to the impact of the multi-million dollar lobby by the fossil fuel industry and other campaign contributors as an obstacle to any international or domestic climate legislation.

In addition to the unwillingness of the United States to commit to a binding agreement, tensions between developed and developing nations over their respective commitments to mitigate emissions continue to hinder progress. Countries like China and India are likely oppose any binding agreement that could potentially threaten their right to development, while small-island states focus their attention on climate aid to finance adaptation and relocation.

The future of climate negotiations remains unclear. Even though the urgency to act upon the scientific evidence provided by the IPCC is greater than ever, legislative obstacles, economic interests, and the inherently complex dynamics of international negotiations continue to threaten a global agreement. The world will have to wait until next month in Warsaw to assess the potential of an all-encompassing treaty.

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