Whatever doubts may have existed among members of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world's changing temperatures are related to human activity have virtually disappeared, according to a final draft report released Sept. 30 by an IPCC working group.
The draft report, on the physical science basis of climate change, was the full version of a summary for policy makers released three days earlier, and will form part of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report, to be released in October 2014. The IPCC also will not release the second and third sections of the assessment report-which will cover impacts, adaptation, vulnerability, and mitigation -until next year.
But this first section on scientific assessment is the most awaited by policy makers and its conclusions were clear: it said the link between changing temperatures and human activity is "extremely likely," which the IPCC defines as a certainty of 95 percent to 100 percent. Six years ago, when the Fourth Assessment Report was released, the link was seen as "very likely"- IPCC lingo for 66 to 90 percent certain.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution in 1850, the IPCC said global temperatures have risen 0.85 degrees Celsius, compared to a 0.74 percent rise reflected in the previous assessment report, in 2007. And going forward? The IPCC predicted a worldwide rise in temperatures ranging from 2 to 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century and a sea level rise ranging from 26 to 81 centimeters.
Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general who was in Stockholm for the release of the report, called the information it contained an "unequivocal" message to policy makers to take stronger action against climate change. It remains to be seen if policy makers will interpret the IPCC report the way Ban did, but they'll have a chance to illustrate their commitment in six weeks time in Poland, when they'll gather for the Nov. 11-22 Warsaw Climate Change Conference, the biggest multilateral negotiations this year.
Delegates in Stockholm said another set of meetings, a head of state summit Ban called for UN headquarters in New York next year, seems poised to play an increased role in the process as well. But officials on hand said time was running out if the world wanted to agree to terms for a comprehensive global agreement on climate change by the end of 2015 as agreed to in the UN process two years ago.
"To steer humanity out of the high danger zone, governments must step up," Christiana Figueres, the UN's top climate change official said in Sweden.
Environmental lobby groups agreed with Ban and Figueres, but complained there was too little indication the warnings were being heeded.
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