Andreas Späth

The latest climate report in a nutshell

2013-09-30 13:11

Andreas Wilson-Späth

So you’ve heard that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its latest report, but you don’t feel like wading through hundreds of pages of scientific verbiage? Here’s a summary of the main outcomes.

What is it?

The report provides a comprehensive assessment of the scientific basis of climate change. In essence, it represents the sum total of the global scientific community’s current understanding of climate change.

It was written by hundreds of lead and contributing authors from dozens of countries, vetted by 50 review editors, and cites thousands of scientific publications.

A summary of the report was released online [] on Friday, followed by the unedited final draft on Monday.

The results

1. Climate change is still happening

- “Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850”.

- It’s virtually certain* (see note at the end of this article) that the upper parts of the world’s oceans have warmed since 1971.

- The ice sheets covering Greenland and Antarctica have been losing mass, Arctic sea ice and northern hemisphere spring snow cover have been shrinking, and glaciers have been retreating almost worldwide over the last twenty years.

- Between 1901 and 2010, global mean sea level rose by between 0.17 and 0.21 metres.

- The concentration of the main greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere are higher now than they have ever been in at least the last 800 000 years.

2. We’re still largely responsible

- “It is extremely likely* that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”.

- Human activities have been shown to have contributed to increased atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, rising sea level, higher ocean and atmospheric temperatures and reductions in ice and snow.

3. Climate change will continue, even if we stop CO2 emissions today

- Global surface temperatures are more likely than not* to exceed 2oC compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100, and “most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped.

- The oceans will continue to warm, and Arctic sea ice cover and northern hemisphere spring snow cover are very likely* to continue to shrink during the 21st century.

- For the rest of the century, sea level rise is very likely* to exceed that observed between 1971 and 2010.

4. We can still make a difference

- While “continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system,” humans can still reduce the impact, but “limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”.

So the song remains the same. As they have done for many years, the vast majority of the globe’s climate scientists are telling us that we’re headed for disaster. We know what’s happening, we know what’s causing it and we know how to reduce the impact on future generations.

The crucial question remains the same, too: are we, our industries and our governments actually going to do something about it?

*In IPCC speak:

? virtually certain means a 99-100% probability;

? extremely likely means a 95-100% probability;

? very likely means a 90-100% probability; and

? more likely than not means a 50-100% probability.

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
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