23. 04. 2014

Reflections on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - Part 1: Let’s hear it for the IPPC!

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I spent some time over Easter digging down into the latest reports released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – as part of its 5th Assessment Report. And I found myself getting increasingly angry that the dominant responses to this extraordinary body of work have been:

1. Tokenistically acknowledge its existence, before reverting as soon as possible to business-as-usual;

2. Deny the full implications of what it tells us, if not the basic science itself (which is now pretty much in the incontrovertible category);

3. Cavil at minute details in the Reports, in order to avoid substantive debate;

4. Ignore altogether.

How can this be? The IPCC represents an unprecedented marshalling of international, inter-disciplinary scientific expertise. The sheer number of individual contributors, let alone the quality of their contributions, is remarkable. The care taken to build consensus is even more remarkable.

These final reports represent the studious, diligent application of thousands of scientists going back over six years – brought together (in case politicians have given you a different impression!) by governments to provide them with the “best available knowledge” on the science of climate change, on the potential impacts of climate change on human society, now and in the future, and with authoritative reflections on the policy choices available to them.

When the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (together with Al Gore) back in 2007, there were many who thought this was inappropriate or even (in the eyes of the legion of denialists who were still able to command extensive media attention six years ago) “a betrayal of everything that Alfred Nobel stood for”. But what an inspiring decision that has turned out to be.

Since then, the IPCC has been constantly attacked not just by the usual “head-in-the-sand brigade”, but by a host of Greenies and so-called neutral commentators (particularly in the BBC) intent on proving just how “balanced” and “objective” they are. It’s unique process has been traduced more often than it’s been held up for approbation. And its Reports have rarely been celebrated, in the round, as one of the great works of science of the modern era.

So that’s what I’m doing right now.
 

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