Why do I find myself unmoved by the release of the fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? Because despite the epic scale of the report, on my quick perusal of the summary, I see nothing ‘new’.
And the BBC seems to concur. Although it made the lead story on the BBC web site for a couple of hours, it was down to fourth position by the evening and made only the third story on the television news. At least it was ahead of the inane story about why ballet dancers don’t get dizzy. [Aside: since when was that considered ‘News’?].
One aspect of the news did make me smile. Because of the ‘pause’ in rise of the average air temperature above the land surfaces of the Earth, sceptics are now saying that our understanding of climate change must be fundamentally flawed. This made me smile because while the ‘temperature curve’ was rising the sceptics were arguing that the data could not be relied upon. Now that it has slowed down, the data is all of a sudden more trustworthy!
But levity aside the report is grim. It reads like a list of battle casualties where new intelligence reveals that those previously listed as ‘missing in action’ are now confirmed as ‘fatalities’ or ‘injured’. The report list each casualty detailing our state of knowledge of the extent of their injury. I have included a couple of snippets below.
So the report is as clear as it can be, but it leaves one basic question unasked, and of course unanswered:
What are we going to do about all this?
The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions.
The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification
Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence)
Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m