‘Wait and see’ climate policies risk damage and suffering

National science academies of USA and UK say warming is ‘unequivocal’ and recommend urgent action

Some estimate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy cost the USA $100 billion (Pic: Hartford Guy/Flickr)

Some estimate damage caused by Hurricane Sandy cost the USA $100 billion (Pic: Hartford Guy/Flickr)

By Ed King

Governments that adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude to climate change are risking “losses, damage and suffering,” a new study by two of the world’s leading science academies warns.

The US National Academy of Sciences and UK’s Royal Society said further changes to the world’s climate are now inevitable, but conclude greater efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions are essential to avoid substantial impacts on ecosystems and human life.

“Citizens and governments…can wait for changes to occur and accept the losses, damage and suffering that arise”, the publication, Climate Change Evidence and Causes, said.

It added: “(Or) they can adapt to actual and expected changes as much as possible; or they can seek as yet unproven ‘geo-engineering’ solutions to counteract some of the climate changes that would otherwise occur.”

The scientific panel also dismissed suggestions that a slowdown of surface temperatures is a sign global warming isn’t happening.

Echoing the UN’s IPCC climate science study, which was published in September 2013, the academies say they are now “very confident” warming of 2.6 to 4.8C in excess of what has occurred already will take place by 2100.

That level of warming would likely mean increased droughts and flooding, loss of food crops, mass migration and the potential for crippling economic costs later in the century, the World Bank has warned, a view echoed by influential climate economist Nicholas Stern last month.

Climate sceptics have seized on an apparent pause in global warming as evidence that  the link between rising carbon dioxide levels and climate change is over-stated.

But the academies said a short term lull in temperature rises did not debunk the research into global warming and climate change, adding that more than 90% of the heat added to Earth has been absorbed by the oceans.

“Despite the slower rate of warming the 2000s were warmer than the 1990s. A short-term slowdown in the warming of Earth’s surface does not invalidate our understanding of long-term changes in global temperature arising from human-induced changes in greenhouse gases,” they said.

In the past year a series of studies into the ‘cooling’ have come up with various theories, including a lull in solar activity, dust from a series of small volcanic eruptions and an increase in aerosols in the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels.

Explaining why this study was released, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone: “As two of the world’s leading scientific bodies, we feel a responsibility to evaluate and explain what is known about climate change, at least the physical side of it, to concerned citizens, educators, decision makers and leaders, and to advance public dialogue about how to respond to the threats of climate change.”

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