Earlier in April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its fourth -- and most urgent -- report on the dangers posed by climate change. The IPCC was created in 1988 by the United Nations, and its reports present the best thinking of hundreds of practicing climate change scientists. They are now unequivocal in saying that carbon emissions are trapped in the atmosphere and warming the planet. And if we do not reduce our fossil fuel consumption by way of our cars and coal-fired power plants, the results may be catastrophic, scientists say.
According to the IPCC, we are in big trouble if the global average temperature rises by more than two degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level. An article in the New York Times says, "Scientists fear that exceeding that level could produce drastic effects, such as the collapse of ice sheets, a rapid rise in sea levels, difficulty growing enough food, huge die-offs of forests, and mass extinctions of plant and animal species."
Holding a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius means reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent over the next 35 years. But the April IPCC report found that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are rising more rapidly than they were prior to the turn of the century.
Of course, the Canadian government says it is committed to cutting emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020, even though an Environment Canada report indicates that we won't even come close. And Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq recently claimed that Canada is a "world leader when it comes to addressing climate change." That's a strange claim from someone whose government was the only one to withdraw from the Kyoto accord, which we signed in 1998.
Meanwhile, there are organizations, such as the Fraser Institute, that host conferences and edit books discrediting climate change science. Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate scientist, was a member of the IPCC prior to becoming a Green party MLA in British Columbia. He says that he watched as instant experts and hastily created groups came into existence, attempting to derail public action on climate change. It has been documented, for example, that ExxonMobil has funded numerous think-tanks, including the Fraser Institute, which later issued reports criticizing the IPCC's scientific consensus. Weaver says that the first question that should be asked of such people is whether or not they are actually climate scientists. The follow-up question: whether they are taking money from industry.
Still, there is some progress. The IPCC scientists say that after 25 years and four reports, an increasing number of people are beginning to understand climate change as a life and death issue. What's more, some governments -- including that of China -- have started to make progress on renewable energy, along with the technology that supports it.
This article appeared as a blog with the United Church Observer on April 24, 2014.