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Time to "up our game" on climate change

Time to "up our game" on climate change, leading scientist warns
By WMN_PGoodwin | Posted: May 17, 2014

Avoiding catastrophic climate change is still “perfectly feasible” if action is taken now to ditch fossil fuels and move to a low-carbon economy, a world-leading Westcountry scientist has said.

Professor Catherine Mitchell, a lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said reducing “greenhouse gases” to keep the global temperature rise to within 2C rise by 2100 remains a realistic target.

But to have any chance of averting a global crisis, the Government must “up its game” and stop looking after the big companies who profit from polluting fuels, she warned.

The professor of energy policy at Exeter University was one of more than 250 scientists to work on the fifth IPCC report - the latest instalment of an analysis of global warming and its causes which began in 1988.

It warned last month that averting disastrous increases in temperature required the tripling of renewable power and, crucially, that such a move would only cost a fraction of GDP and need not mean sacrificing living standards.

Prof Mitchell spoke to the Western Morning News during a unique gathering of the some of the world’s leading climate scientists at Exeter’s newly-built, £48million Forum building this week.

The landmark Transformational Climate Science conference assembled the key academics who led the report’s three working groups for the first time in the UK and the only time outside the confines of the United Nations.

She said: “Personally, I think the IPCC report shows how much mitigation we have to undertake if we are to meet the 2C target - in Britain we are nowhere near and we have to up our game.

“The report shows that by 2030 globally we should be getting about 25% of our energy – for electricity, heat and transport - from low carbon sources but we have had a process in place since 1990 and we have only managed 3 to 4% so we are way off target.

“The Government really has to start explaining, not in a scary way, what climate change means to people’s daily lives and manage that change.

“There will be winners and losers - I would argue the Government spends too much time looking after the losers – the fossil fuel companies – rather than innovative new businesses.”

Experts from across the spectrum met to critically reflect on the IPCC report, which was published in stages over the past year or so.

The report was boiled down from 1.1million words to 14,000 for the Summary for Policymakers (SFP), which was negotiated by governments over four days last September, sometimes taking up to an hour to agree a paragraph.

A 24-page synthesis report will be presented to the UN climate conference next year in Paris, the annual Conference of Parties, which tends to grab global headlines when a deal on emissions is attempted, as in Kyoto and Copenhagen.

Swiss climate change modeller Professor Thomas Stocker, co-chairman of working group one, summarised the findings in the first keynote speech made during the first of five sessions held over two days in Exeter.

He said the panel had reduced the text further into a set of 19 headline statements, providing a “coherent narrative presented on less than two pages”.

“There is no excuse for policy makers not to understand or read what we have found,” he told the audience.

“Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and widespread.

“All these scientific findings have led us to the simplest of the headline statements – that human influence on the climate system is clear.

“It is short and concise and all the governments of the world have approved this statement.”

Professor Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office, said the panel’s findings represent “compelling evidence that climate change is taking the earth into uncharted territory” which could lead to “unprecedented extremes” of weather.

She said understanding the science behind the changes was “vital” and over the two-day event colleagues discussed the impacts and what the next research steps should be.

“The relationship between carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and global temperature is well established – research has moved on to ask what the regional implications of a given global temperature rise will be,” Prof Slingo added.

“The scale of the challenge we face is unprecedented but not insurmountable – by using cutting edge science to answer complex questions we can work to limit the risks that climate change presents.”

The IPCC has been researching human-induced climate change, its effect and options for adaptation and mitigation since it was formed in 1988.

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