by David Holmes
Well, it’s here, the long awaited IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. It is led by the Summary for Policy Makers as the document that is most quoted by news outlets and has more influence over public understanding of climate science than any other single text. It represents a distillation of the work of thousands of climate scientists around the world, summarising 9,200 scientific publications on the physical science, impacts, vulnerabilities, adaptation and mitigation options, with 7000 of these being published since Assessment Report 4 (AR4).
With 259 authors and over 54000 comments spanning 39 countries, the fact of this report achieving more than 97 per cent consensus is itself remarkable.
That this consensus has held its ground in the midst of the competing pseudo-science and tabloid hostility toward climate change science is even more impressive. The summary points out that the certainty of AR5 has bettered that of AR4 because the climate models have improved, and have reproduced observed surface temperature patterns.
But will AR5 make any difference to public understanding and, more importantly, action on climate change? Well, let’s go first to the certainty. The really big item that quality press outlets will be reporting in the morning is the 95 per cent (that’s 95 per cent) confidence that most global warming is caused by humans. That much certainly is astonishing for a report like this, from a body that is renowned for its restraint.
Whilst the 2013 report is far less uncommittal than the 2007 report, some climate science communicators have already suggested it does not go far enough. For example, Abraham and Nutticelli, point to evidence that natural external factors had no net influence on global temperatures in the last 60 years, and that therefore the summary should spell out that the 95 cper cent confidence relates to humans causing 100 per cent of global warming.
But part of the reason for the restraint here may be the masking effect of human-made aerosols which the full report on the physical science should explain on Monday. That is, humans may be causing 100 per cent of the warming, but human activity also offsets this warming with sulphur aerosols that reduce the rate of warming by up to 30 per cent.
Another resolute but sobering item that the IPCC summary communicates is that “climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped”. In otherwords, what climate scientists call “committed warming” is now being talked about not just as fixed global average temperature that we would be committed to, but a commitment to temperature rise that will continue to increase even if mitigation of C02 dropped to zero. This is because the residence time of current CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere is potentially hundreds of years.
Overall, other trends identified in AR4 will continue, sea ice retreat, glacial melt, ocean warming, warming of surface air temperature. And these trends have now been tied to the observation that the last three decades were the warmest in the past 1400 years. These observable trends fly in the face of so many attempts by tabloid news outlets, both print and their echo-media in radio and television bulletins, to spike uncertainty and misinformation ahead of the release of the report. The standout here was the great “global cooling” swindle inaugurated by the Daily Mail, and scandalously parroted by press outlets that have deemed themselves unaccountable to journalistic codes.
Whilst the summary does not communicate the science in terms of regions of the globe, it forecasts that heat waves are projected to occur more frequently and last longer, which is likely to be bad news for Australia, in particular. There seems to be a lot more certainty about more of those “angry summers” than there is of the severity of floods and storms.
As an exercise in public communication, the summary is much more confident, resolute and useful for policy makers, as its “likelihood terminology” has been ramped up by the improvement in the modelling. How the tabloid assisted denier industry is going to respond to it, or whether is will be effective in dismantling the manufactured “debate” remains to be seen. But with this much certainty and this much consensus, the consequences of not taking any action to stop dangerous climate change are far too great to entertain a debate.
This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Find out more:
- Dr David Holmes
- Communicatiosn and Media Studies
- School of English, Communications and Performance Studies
UniPollWatch launches data projects for election
Australia’s biggest-ever university journalism project, has today launched two special features designed to assist voters.
- Brexit or Bremain? Monash academics in ABC broadcast on referendem eve
Mental health issues tackled with new online resource
The first research-based online resource in Australia to present the lived experiences of people diagnosed … Continue reading Mental health issues tackled with new online resource
Monash Historians recognised by Australian Historical Association
It’s been a great week for Monash Historians, as the Australian Historical Association shortlisted three … Continue reading Monash Historians recognised by Australian Historical Association
On Happiness panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival
What is happiness, and how does the pursuit of happiness shape our lives? Monash’s Associate Professor Tony … Continue reading On Happiness panel at the Williamstown Literary Festival
Monash Chinese Studies students win first and second places in language competition
Two of Chinese Studies’ students, Sean Hyatt and Tristan McCarthy, recently won the first and second places respectively at the 15th “Chinese Bridge” Chinese Language Proficiency Competition for Foreign University Students.
Students named finalists in the Young Walkleys
Two Monash student journalists are finalists in the Walkley Young Journalist of the Year Awards … Continue reading Students named finalists in the Young Walkleys
Australian drama comes to Clayton
A powerful Australian play about urban sprawl and social change will be performed at Monash … Continue reading Australian drama comes to Clayton
NCAS historian launches new book on the Vietnam War
Monash Historian, Associate Professor Nathalie Nguyen, celebrated the launch of her book, South Vietnamese Soldiers: … Continue reading NCAS historian launches new book on the Vietnam War
Music’s Professor Margaret Kartomi receives international ethnomusicology award
Monash academic and ethnomusicologist, Professor Margaret Kartomi, recently won the Koizumi Fumio Prize, an international award … Continue reading Music’s Professor Margaret Kartomi receives international ethnomusicology award
Top minds meet through Monash Asia Institute Research Day
Earlier this month, Monash Asia Institute (MAI) undertook an innovative research initiative, organising a Research … Continue reading Top minds meet through Monash Asia Institute Research Day
Graduate Study Expo 2016
Take the next big step in your career
Register for our Graduate Expo