The Project The Role of IPCC in Setting Climate Change Policy This essay will critically evaluate the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in setting climate change policy. In order to do this, its latest assessment report (IPCC 2007) will be highlighted. The physical science basis of climate change that IPCC relies on in influencing policy on climate change will be reviewed.
IPCC’s view of climate change will be shown to be the main stream view of climate change. The essay will also review alternative argument on climate change by other scientists such as Svenmark and Calder (2006). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an organization that was established in 1988 by two organizations namely the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) UPI)(IPCC 2008).
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Its mandate included the assessment of scientific information related to climate change, evaluation of the environmental and socio-economic consequences of climate change and the formulation of realistic response strategies (IPCC, 2007). Based on its mandate, it can be seen that IPCC was to act as the scientific powerhouse to generate evidence based information on climate change that United Nations and other countries and regional bodies will rely on to formulate their climate change policies.
Since its formation, IPCC has produced assessment reports (AR) of the scientific evidence related to climate change and formulated response strategies on actions the international community need to take in order to minimize the impact of climate change. It produced the first assessment report (AR 1) in 1990, AR 2 in 1995, AR 3 in 2001 and the latest one AR 4 in 2007. The 2007 report (AR 4) was the most comprehensive of its reports. It was produced in four different volumes and each volume was launched separately at different times throughout 2007 at different locations under the banner ‘Climate Change 2007. AR 4 confirms most of the conclusions in its earlier documents including : climate change is due mainly to greenhouse gases notable carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere by human activities and responsible for global warming; addressed issues of concern to policy makers in national , regional and multinational agencies; the impact of global warming is real and will continue into the foreseeable future; there is the need for societies to adapt to reduce vulnerability and an analysis of the costs, policies and technology required to minimize the impact of climate change.
It claimed that its AR 4 report was produced by 500 lead authors and reviewed by 2000 expert reviewers. There is no doubt that IPCC in its publications since 1990 has profoundly affected climate change policies at all the different levels of government. Smith and Stern (2010) have argued that IPCC provide the science of climate change and the causes and in the process highlights the risks of the phenomenon. It is the information about the risks that enables national governments to formulate policies to manage the risks either unilaterally or multilaterally.
There is an international consensus that the challenges posed by climate change is best handled through multilateral agreement because climate change will affect all the countries of the world irrespective of whether or not they contributed to the problem. Hence the United Nation has played a pivotal role in bringing the nations of the world together for discussions on appropriate strategies based on reports by the IPCC. The Kyoto Protocol and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC can all be traced to the version of the science of climate change by IPCC.
In fact the contributions of IPCC have been recognised as highly significant by the Nobel Prize Committee which named it as joint recipient of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. It was a seal of approval for its vital role in influencing the world climate change agenda. One of main highlights of The Kyoto protocol is the requirement for industrialised nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emission as way to mitigate the impact of climate change. This requirement can be traced to IPCC because mitigation strategy is a major strategy advocated by its Working Group 111 (mitigation of climate change).
Although many of the nations of the world have signed the protocol, some industrialised nations notably the United States under President George Bush Jnr refused to sign the protocol on the grounds that the protocol did not commit significant polluters such as China and India to compulsory emission limits (Singer 2007). Both China and India have rejected any attempt to limit their emission of greenhouse gases. Singer (2007) has suggested three reasons why both countries are adamant to any mandatory limits.
First, these emissions of greenhouse gases were caused by the industrialised nations in the first place during the industrial revolution and hence it is their responsibility to sort it out. Secondly even if the pas t history is discounted, at the present rate of greenhouse gas emissions, the industrialised nations still produce these gases per citizen than the rest of the world. For example, the average US resident produces six times more greenhouse gas than the average Chinese resident and about 18 times than the average India resident.
Thirdly, the industrialised nations are much richer and hence better placed to bear the cost of adjusting their lifestyle to climate change without serious impact on their citizens. Perhaps in addition to these reasons there is the underlying perceptions in developing countries that limiting their CO2 emissions will slow down their rate of economic development which can impact on their other social and political policies especially with respect to poverty reduction and employment. The industrialised countries are equally apprehensive of the impact of mitigation policy of climate change on their economic growth.
The three main areas of human activities identified by IPCC as responsible for greenhouse gas emissions are energy use in industrial production and transportation where fossils fuels are burnt, agriculture and deforestation. As Stern (2006) argued any mitigation policy will require some forms of action on all these three areas. For example, energy reduction programmes will require the design of a package of mixed economic activities geared towards energy efficiency. He argued that better technology will be required such as energy saving technology and fossil fuel alternatives for cars and vehicles to reduce their carbon input.
Innovations will be imperative from the governments and private sectors in the development and deployment of relevant technologies to move economic activities towards low carbon economies. For developing countries to be involved in mitigation policies, they will need external financial assistance for the development of new technologies (Stern 2006). Closely aligned with IPCC strategy on mitigation of climate change is the strategy of adaptation to climate change. This is within the remit of IPCC Working Group 11 (climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability).
IPCC is of the view that although the bulk of greenhouse gases are produced in the industrialised countries, the impact of climate change is and will in the future be felt more in the developing countries (IPCC 2007). Due to their greater vulnerability, developing countries will need to adapt their technology and production processes towards better and cleaner environment. Adaptation policies will also involve diversification of opportunities especially in the areas of agriculture and deforestation.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at its meeting in Cancun (UNFCCC 2010) agreed to provide developing countries financial assistance to enable them address the problems of adapting their technology and increasing capacities and opportunities so that they can cope with the impact of climate change. The Convention agreed to strengthen the Kyoto’s protocol on clean Development mechanisms to drive major investments and technology into environmentally sound and sustainable emissions reduction projects in developing countries.
Towards this end, the Convention agreed to provide $30 billion from industrialised countries developing countries to support climate change actions up to 2012 and the objective to increase this to $100 billion by 2020 (UNFCCC 2010). IPCC has continued to be at the forefront in defining the scientific basis of climate change that informs climate change policies all over the world. In AR 4, IPCC stated that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level (IPCC ???SPM 2007 : 2).
It went further to declare that ‘ most of the observed increase in global average temperature since the mid ??? 20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations'(IPCC – SPM 2007 : 5). This would suggest that it has resolved the dilemma over the cause of global warming because its earlier assessment report in 1990 had expressed that the cause could be anthropogenic (human activity) or due to natural variability of the earth’s temperature. This shift from human activity as the cause of global warming rather than natural variability has dominated the discourse on climate change in the last decade.
It seems to be the mainstream view and the scientific basis of much of the strategies it has proposed to tackle the impact of climate change. Stern (2006) has alluded to this mainstream view when he stated that ‘ there is now an overwhelming body of scientific evidence that human activity is causing global warming, with the main sources of greenhouse gases, in order of importance being electricity generation, land use changes (particularly deforestation), agriculture and transportation; the fastest growing sources are transport and electricity’ Stern 2006:1).
Another influential source that has supported this mainstream view is the UK based Royal Society. The society has more than 1400 outstanding members from all areas of science, mathematics, engineering and medicine organised in a global scientific network of the highest calibre (The Royal Society 2010). The society’s position seems to endorse the IPCC’s position when it stated that ‘there is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last half century'( RS 2010 :13).
Despite these endorsements of IPCC views on global warming and climate change, there are some criticisms about the organization. The latest assessment report, AR 4 in 2007 was alleged to contain some errors. One of such errors was highlighted by Foley (2010) writing in The Independent newspaper where it was reported that IPCC latest report stated that the Himalayan glaciers would be melted by global warming by 2035 instead of the correct figure 2350. That is a large difference of about 300 years. The IPCC relies on the reports it gets from affiliated research centres such as the Climate Research Unit (CRU) based in East Anglia.
The anonymous hacking into the dataset and email of CRU in 2009 in what has been described in the mass media as ‘climategate’ has highlighted some form of manipulation of data by the unit in order to support a particular viewpoint. For example, the raw data used by the CRU in projecting Russian temperature was found to have omitted some data sent to it by some Russian Meteorological stations. Page ( 2009) pointed out that there is an argument by some Russian climate sceptics that if those missing data were included it would have significantly reduce the estimate of Russian temperature.
This is a serious error especially when Russia accounts for 12. 5 % of the world’s total landmass and against the backdrop that CRU has always resisted demand for the raw data it uses for its climate change computer modelling (Page 2009). It is doubtful if they had not done the same to other countries in order to strengthen their arguments and position on climate change. There were some other damaging revelations that surfaced in the hacked email released. These have been summarised by Watts ((2009).
Firstly, there was the revelation that scientists at the CRU consistently colluded to thwart any Freedom of information requests that would have obliged them to release their raw data and hiding source codes from requests. Secondly, they admitted privately not to use journals that published opposing views and refused to publish such articles in journals that they controlled. Thirdly, it was apparent from their email exchanges that they were privately concerned that there had been no increase in global average temperatures in the last decade and yet they could not explain it because it is contrary to their projections.
Data that suggested decrease in temperature were manipulated to hide the decline. Ways were devised to discount warming trends that did not occur in the past when greenhouse gases were increasing. What these revelations suggest is that some of the collaborative institutions that IPCC relies on for scientific evidence for its decisions may actually be feeding it with selective and manipulated data in order to pursue a pre-determined agenda without any regard for opposing views no matter how compelling the arguments.
As observed by Calder (2007), there is a tendency for events such as heat waves that supported global warming to make headlines while opposing events like prolonged snow and frost during winter not given the same coverage because it is contrary to the mindset of mainstream views on climate change. Calder (2007) also noted that global air temperatures from America satellites suggest a wobbling or fluctuations between hot and cold with no overall change in temperature since 1999. This levelling pattern he argued is the exact pattern that the rival hypothesis ??? natural variation of atmospheric temperature by the sun would predict.
This antithesis to the greenhouse thesis suggests that the sun is a major driver of climate change than greenhouse gases and that when active it can drive atmospheric temperature up and when lazy down. Hence the earth passes through cycles of hot and cold periods. It would appear that proponents of the climate change due to greenhouse gases produced by human activity are not very enthusiastic about this because the mechanism of how the sun changes the earth’s temperature is not well understood and have categorised sceptics as climate change deniers.
Svensmark and Calder (2007) both sceptics have demonstrated experimentally how this can happen. The main postulate of natural variation of weather by the sun is that the degree of cloudiness in the air depends on the number of atomic particles arriving at the solar system from exploding stars. The more they are, the more cloudiness. If the sun’s magnetic field is able to deflect much of the cosmic rays, there will be less cloud in the atmosphere and this will result in global warming. The converse holds. Many journals refused to publish his findings presumably because they were not politically orrect. The Royal Society (2010) while agreeing in broad terms with the position of IPCC, however argued that there are not enough data to understand the mechanisms of cloud formation and its impact on climate change. To complicate this, projections of climate change are sensitive to the way the impact of clouds is represented in computer models of climate change. The society noted that currently ‘individual clouds are represented by more approximate methods. Since there are various ways to make these approximations, the representations can vary in climate models developed at different institutes.
The use of these different approximations leads to a range of estimates of climate sensitivity, especially because of differences between models in the response of clouds to climate change’ (Royal Society 2010:14). This would suggest the need for more extensive research on the contributions of natural variations to climate change than is hitherto the case (Coren 2006). Blackman (2009) has noted that in his interview with Hulme, an eminent climatologist and a sceptic of IPCC, did question the almost infallible status given to IPCC in the face of other compelling evidence in favour of alternative theories of the causes of global warming.
In the interview, Hulme advocated for a more robust debate on all the possible causes of climate change. It is difficult to understand why a scientific body like IPCC could have made itself so vulnerable to criticisms. Perhaps the clue to the controversies surrounding IPCC may be due to the structural problems within the organization. For a start, IPCC has only a core staff of 10 people. It has thousands of volunteer scientists who contribute to the work of IPCC. They are not paid by IPCC (IPCC 2011).
Authors, contributors, reviewers and other experts are selected by IPCC from a list of nominations received from governments and participating organizations. The three Working Groups of IPCC are hosted and financially supported by the Government of the developed country co ??? chair of the working Group. The plenary session that approves reports and budgets is made up of government representatives from all member countries, agencies and research institutions that probably have some links with governments. This sort of structure makes IPCC to be heavily politicised at the expense of good science.
Governments’ vested interest in climate change debate can be interpreted as self serving because IPCC findings give them the perfect excuse to tax individuals for their carbon footprint. Motorists may find themselves targeted by all manner of taxes on the excuse of climate change. So it is in the best interest of the politicians to exert pressure on IPCC even when such pressure has the potential to lead to bad science. There are indications that some of the scientific evidence they rely on are published in carefully selected journals and commissioned reports by some pressure groups without any form of peer review.
It is not surprising therefore that they have been criticised for being economical with the truth by making vague and imprecise statements they know will be difficult to refute but nonetheless accord them with ‘high confidence’ status That was the allegation made by the Inter-Academy Council that was set up to investigate errors in the IPCC assessment report 4 (Foley 2010). IPCC as a scientific organization has no laboratory of its own but has to rely on specially designated centres such as the CRU involved in ‘climategate’. In conclusion, the role of IPCC in setting policy on climate change is commendable.
It has advocated policies of mitigation and adaptation as strategies to avert the anticipated effects of global warming. It was highlighted that it structure is too tied to national governments and agencies and this is politicising its scientific evidence base. There is the need to have on board sceptics and promote robust debate instead of labelling them as deniers. References Blackman S (2009) Top British Boffin : Time to ditch the climate consensus. Online : www. theregister. co. uk. Accessed on 5/4/2011. Calder N (2007) An experiment that hints we were wrong on climate change.
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