United Nations Issues Urgent CIimate Change Report

United Nations

The United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change has just today issued the synthesis portion of the Fifth Assessment Report, or AR5, along with an urgent warning about the necessity of curtailing carbon emissions. The information came at a press conference held in Copenhagen, where a climate change summit had been taking place. Among the developments mentioned were how AR5 had provided a series of updates on recent advancements in fields such as climate modelling. Based on the new information, Thomas Stocker, a Co-Chair of Working Group I, made the statement to the press that atmospheric carbon dioxide was at saturation levels not seen for 800,000 years.

Another of the many developments mentioned in AR5 was the fifth stage of a project to bring together “Coupled Model Intercomparison.” CMIP5, as it is known in the report, is a program through which climate experiments across the global community are building a network to share their findings for the purpose of building a global simulation through the United Nations. By combining their data, they have been able to build models with a higher degree of confidence and improved reliability.

The United Nations report also made a series of predictions based off of updated climate models. The first was that the oceans will continue to warm and begin to disrupt current circulation, and next was that it is likely there will be a 1.5 degree Celsius overall increase in global temperature by the end of the century. Another was that the acidification of the oceans would continue, and finally, that once a certain level of carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere it will continue to raise the temperatures regardless of cutting off carbon dioxide emissions completely. There were others of the urgent issues mentioned that were among those that the United Nations created the climate change report for, although they heralded a more optimistic tone.

According to the panel, renewable energy is becoming increasingly more competitive economically against older petrochemical sources, making it imperative to re-focus national power infrastructures. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invoked a cliché of American politics, warning against continuing “business as usual” attitudes that could cause the opportunity of acting within the next decade to slip away. Secretary of State John Kerry commented on events at the United Nations conference through a release from the State Department, in which he characterized the content of AR5 as “another canary in a coal mine.” Though brief, his remarks challenged domestic political opposition to climate change initiatives to think of their “kids and grandkids.”

The United Nations’ climate change panel, however, has not been entirely free of controversial issues, and some urgent action toward defending the credibility of IPCC and its reports may be required. Some of the criticism has been about the reliability of information, although that can mostly be attributed to poor choices in the phrasing of information and other minutiae. However, a policy which allows for “grey literature” authored by advocacy groups to be used as source material has been controversial, even under the condition that it be subjected to peer review prior to official inclusion in reports. That policy in particular has sometimes lead to politically aligned criticisms of the accuracy of the information. In perhaps the most high-profile example of this, Dr. Chris Landsea resigned from participation in the fourth assessment report due to a disagreement with the IPCC leadership. At issue was whether Dr. Kevin Trenberth was speaking with the authority of the IPCC when he made a statement at a press conference linking global warming to hurricane activity, a position which the IPCC did not hold. The IPCC informed Dr. Landsea of its opinion that Dr. Trenberth was stating an individual opinion, rather than misrepresenting the commission.

By Brian Whittemore




University of Colorado at Boulder

Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva / Eric Bridiers – flickr License

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