World is cold to Global Warming

Amid financial crisis and public fatigue,world leaders turn their back on issue,IPCC loses clout

Written by Reuters | Published: October 6, 2013 5:59 am

Compared to the heady days in 2007 when US climate campaigner Al Gore and the UN’s panel of climate scientists shared the Nobel Peace Prize,the risks of global warming may be greater but the stars preaching the message have faded.

With many governments focused on tackling short-term economic growth,the shift reinforces what former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has sometimes called a “shocking lack of leadership” in confronting long-term global warming.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with ex-vice-president Gore,issued a report last week in Stockholm about mounting risks of global warming,from heat waves to rising sea levels.

“We need new voices,” said Jennifer Morgan,of the World Resources Institute think-tank in Washington. “Hopefully the IPCC will inspire leadership,from the mom to the business leader,to the mayor to the head of state.”

It is a sign of the times that some of the world’s most powerful figures such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel—a former environment minister—US President Barack Obama or Chinese Premier Li Keqiang appear to have put the issue on the backburner to focus on domestic economic issues.

Even former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed,who made global headlines in 2009 with the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the threat of rising sea levels to his small islands,was forced from power in domestic turmoil. He is now seeking a comeback.

Much of the ‘glamour’ has gone since Rajendra Pachauri,the Indian chair of the IPCC,and Gore proudly showed off the Nobel gold medals in 2007,a time when firm global action on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases seemed feasible.

The problem proved intractable in the financial crisis. A UN summit in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to work out a deal,and many voters may simply have tired of hearing of global warming. Governments have now agreed to work out a UN accord in 2015.

“The IPCC has become more cautious… it’s a pity,” said Yvo de Boer,former head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat who now works at auditors KPMG and was among those most outspoken about the need for action during his 2006-2010 term. “You might ignore it (climate change) but it’s not going to ignore you,” he said,adding that US Secretary of State John Kerry could be the strongest up and coming leader on the issue.

Both Gore,the IPCC and Pachauri,now 73,won a series of international awards for their work in 2007. Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth won an Oscar and standing applause at UN negotiating sessions when it was shown.

But Gore has also been worn down by criticisms,especially by US Republicans who say his climate campaigns are alarmist and question the science behind them.

His later ventures have been less high profile. He sold his struggling cable channel,Current TV,to Al Jazeera in January. However,Gore’s latest book,The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change,has won good reviews.

IPCC leaders including Pachauri have been less outspoken in recent months than before the 2007 report by the IPCC when he said,for instance,that he hoped it would “shock” the world into action.

A 2010 review by scientists in the InterAcademy Council (IAC),partly spurred by an error in the IPCC report that exaggerated a thaw in the Himalayas,said that IPCC leaders should stick to science and not recommend policies.

“Straying into advocacy can only hurt IPCC’s credibility,” it said. The IAC found no reason to question the IPCC’s main conclusions despite the Himalayan mistake.

It is unclear who will succeed Pachauri when he retires in 2015. Jan Pascal van Ypersele,a Belgian physicist,is sometimes tipped.

Leadership is an elusive quality on climate change. “In the run-up to Copenhagen I was struck by the number of people talking about a lack of leaders who were meant to be leaders,” de Boer said.

Alister Doyle

Bad,but not alarming

The IPCC summary report released last week is compiled from the work of hundreds of scientists and is meant to guide governments towards greener energies. Its moderate projections have been welcomed as contradicting more alarmist ones. The takeaways from the report:

A hiatus in warming this century,when temperatures have risen more slowly,is a natural variation that will not last.

Earth is set for more heatwaves,floods,droughts and rising sea levels.

Humanity has emitted about 530 billion tonnes of carbon,more than half the 1 trillion tonne budget it estimated as a maximum to keep warming to manageable limits. Annual emissions are almost 10 billion tonnes and rising.

Climate is less sensitive than estimated to warming from carbon dioxide.

Temperatures are likely to rise between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius by the late 21st century. The low end of the range would only be achieved if governments sharply cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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