Climate change's link to disasters
Not all extreme weather events can be attributed to climate change, but many now can, and researchers say the risk of some disasters is growing.PT3M56S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2ujfa 620 349 September 27, 2013
- Australia has 'much to lose', warns scientist
- Read the IPCC climate change report
- Comment: Debunking a persistent myth
- Clouds' role in warming more certain, report shows
So what now? Like its previous assessment six years ago, and those before it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned the planet is warming dangerously and humans are the dominant cause.
In their more reflective moments, mainstream climate scientists will tell you they wish they were wrong and that the Andrew Bolts of the world were right. That global warming was not occurring. That it was not that dangerous. That it was all due to natural variation. That it was one big global conspiracy.
After all, who would want to be right about the planet facing an enormous, transformative threat at the hands of its most powerful custodians?
Those working on climate science, of course, do not believe they have erred. The latest IPCC report has lifted the confidence that scientists and the world's governments have had that humans have caused warming to an almost complete certainty.
Yes, warming has slowed in the past 15 years to rates below the long-term average. And no, scientists do not have a lot of confidence in explaining exactly why (it is probably a mix of ocean heat shifts, volcanos, aerosols and solar variations).
But nor has it become any cooler - each of the past three decades were warmer than any preceding decade since records began. It is not uncommon for warming to slow down and speed up in short bursts. It would need to stop for many more decades before we can relax.
This is a cautious, and largely technical report. Yet the IPCC still sets out evidence across all elements of the climate system. The oceans, the ice sheets, extreme events of weather events are all changing at an accelerated rate. These are warning signs of what is to come.
There are only so many times this message can be delivered to world governments before the reluctance to act in a meaningful way conjures the words ''wilful ignorance''.
The last legally binding treaty on climate change to be drawn up was the Kyoto Protocol way back in 1997, covering developed countries. Since then the world has tried and failed to hammer out a stronger, more encompassing treaty. The 2009 Copenhagen talks ended in disaster, stuck in a mire of self-interest and mistrust.
But self-interest will only go so far. That nagging science does not seem to be going away.
There have been encouraging signs in recent years, particularly out of the US and China who are making tentative steps to get their mammoth emissions under control. The world will have another go at signing a full climate treaty at negotiations in Paris in 2015.
But we are cutting it fine to get our act together and begin making the changes needed - the reduction and end to conventional fossil fuel use and a halt to widespread clearing of forests.
Unless you are going to declare the science bunkum, ultimately, at some point, humanity will have to respond in a meaningful way.
Otherwise we chose to engage in an act of self-harm.