An update on climate change, from the UN

As an update to the latest IPCC report from the UN, they’ve released the Climate Change Science Compendium 2009. It “is a review of some 400 major scientific contributions to our understanding of Earth Systems and climate that have been released through peer-reviewed literature or from research institutions over the last three years”.

A lot has changed in the last three years. The picture is becoming clearer and clearer, and it’s not pretty. has an excellent summary, and here are a few tidbits

Scientists believe that our greenhouse gas emissions to date have already committed the world to average warming of 2.4 degrees celsius – surpassing the two degrees previously identified as a dangerous risk.

The IPCC’s worst-case emissions scenarios have been exceeded. Man-made emissions have risen 38 percent above 1990 levels. They rose on average 3.5 percent per year for the period 2000-2007, an almost four-fold increase on the previous decade’s average of 0.9 percent per year.

The Arctic could be ice free in summer within 20 years, not the waning years of this century as had previously been thought.

A plausible range for global average sea level rise of 0.5 to 2.0 metres by 2100 is suggested, due to thermal expansion and ice melt – much more than the upper limit of 59 centimetres previously predicted by the IPCC.

Modelling shows that a 50 centimetre rise would produce tidal events every day that now occur once a year, and events expected once during the whole of the 20th century will occur several times every year by 2100.

This is pretty stark. Although it’s not surprising that the official IPCC reports have turned out to be very conservative, when every single line has to be agreed upon by so many people. Naturally, only the most common-denominator science is allowed through.

What do you reckon it take for Nick Smith to get real about this issue? If not this, what will?

32 Comments Posted

  1. Hi All,

    You have to drill down into “Ecoworld” to find the facts – the headline is an op-ed saying the Right thing about “alarmists”. gives a more balanced view, though the review dates from March 2007. It also states the range in the estimates and covers factors that affect the accuracy of measurements and the assumptions made (something you don’t get from people banging their particular drums – they just use “facts” that suit their opinions).

  2. So call me what you like but while you are standing on your lofty hill top I will be in the valley planting trees, I am acting regardless of where the truth on this issue lies.

    I’ll call you a denier then, but I’m not standing on a lofty hilltop; I’m just getting very concerned at what world my kids will inhabit. You might be doing something yourself but why? And why advocate that governments wait for certainty before addressing what most climate scientists think is a very serious situation? If there is ever going to be time for action, it is now.

    There is an abundance of evidence, mostly pointing to very serious problems if we go on as we are, and suggesting that we need to plan for adaptation too, because the climate will worsen whatever we do. The ETS is not going to address the problem and neither are targets on reductions that are woefully inadequate.

  3. Shunda

    There is NO way to address it without political risk…or financial risk. Neither the politicians nor the financiers have any comprehension of the ACTUAL risk, so both regard it as just another issue to profit from.

    This is unfortunate, but addressing it remains necessary. If we delay until the effects become undeniable and the population as a whole finds that it is actually interfering with the Footy, it won’t matter whether financiers have profited or political hacks have ridden it into power.

    It will at that point be too late.

    Simply stated, I accept that there are people who will ride this issue. That does not make the science less accurate or the issue go away. We’ve dropped a CO2 bomb and the explosion is only just beginning to be felt. People make the mistake of thinking that problems will come on as fast as the CO2 was released. THAT cannot happen… the oceans mitigate the changes… but they also reduce our ability to quickly correct the problem.

    As for the glaciers….

    Tamino had an excellent take on this:

    Just saying… 🙂


  4. >>wipe them with the stroke of a pen.

    That Mighty Pen rears its head again :). Yay it’s even mightier than the spade!

  5. Shunda – in my opinion…an individual (you or I for example) needs to be involved with ‘saving the planet’ on a number of levels, tempting as it may be to busy ourselves with the straightfoward task of growing and planting trees. If you’ve got the smarts to do that (re-tree the land), then you must contribute to the political arm as well. Just because it’s more complicated doesn’t mean you should abdicate your responsibility. If every good tree-planter kept their head down and didn’t fight the broader fight, those who don’t see the value in that act (planting), will overwhelm in their field – politics. Tree planters can put in forests, but politicians can wipe them with the stroke of a pen.

  6. I really can’t imagine what I have said to make you think I have so much faith in human nature. My expectations of Copenhagen are as pessimistic as anyone’s I think. The point is that you are actively arguing that governments shouldn’t be part of the solution despite the need for urgent action, and worse that they and the scientists are involved in conspiracy to defraud us at best anyway. You’ve argued neither convincingly and when that’s pointed out, you shift to even mushier arguments, all it seems in an attempt to deny the magnitude of the problem so you don’t have to think about another solution.

  7. “Governments must be part of the solution. That may suck, but we’re going down unless they act”

    Valis I just think you are putting far too much faith in human nature.
    I can accept that in regarding the environment the likes of yourself and others in the green movement really do want to help, but you will be out numbered, you will not be able to steer the political forces that develop.
    The dual agendas that could come out of Copenhagen will be just too irresistible to resist and they are being given them on a platter.
    I guess the more extreme left wing environmentalists will be happy with this but I am sure people that have a more genuine concern for the environment will eventually deeply regret the way this could ultimately develop.
    I just think the chances of the environment benefiting out of this process will be slim.
    There must be another way to address the environmental issues we have with out the political risk.

  8. But you are putting all your eggs in one basket, the one that’s labeled “This problem can be solved entirely by individual action alone”. What you’re doing is great, but it is not enough and does not absolve you from responsibility, as an environmentalist, to think about the global context and the time frame within which we have to succeed. Governments must be part of the solution. That may suck, but we’re going down unless they act.

  9. Speak for yourself sofistek, while certain elements of the green movement are running around promoting ideas that have more to do with Karl Marx than the environment, I have been growing and planting trees.
    For all the pontificating and scaremongering of the AGW crowd, what have they achieved for the environment? absolutely squat.
    The only thing so far is a negative effect as far as getting rid of carbon goes ie the forestry industry ground to a halt.
    So call me what you like but while you are standing on your lofty hill top I will be in the valley planting trees, I am acting regardless of where the truth on this issue lies.

  10. The science keeps piling up in favour of doing something significant, and soon, to have any hope of leaving a half habitable planet to our kids and still we get the denialists who clutch at the odd uncertainty to support doing nothing (equivalent to what National is planning). It’s just incredible how many people are quite prepared to let our only habitat crumble before our eyes, in the hope that someone got it wrong.

    Aside from this compendium, the Hadley Centre issued another report, which is also gloomy reading.

  11. Shunda,

    You are clutching at straws. Observations show that the sea level is rising, so if precipitation over Antarctica is increasing, it still isn’t enough to counter all the other mechanisms currently at work which lead to a rising sea level.

    All you have done is describe one mechanism which reduces sea level, but you have failed to quantify how important it is compared to all other mechanisms that affect sea level.

  12. Tom are you including east coast glaciers? if so your argument does nothing to dispel what I have said. And while western Antarctica has lost ice, satellite measurements show the interior has GAINED ice overall due to more precipitation from the same ocean currents that warmed the peninsula.
    I am not clutching at straws Valis, more like not putting all my eggs in one basket. Cause unlike you guys I want to know what is really happening to our planet, I am not interested in politically correct environmentalism.

  13. Hi Shunda,

    According to the latest report on NIWA’s website the total volume of the glaciers was 44.9 cubic km in 2007/8 which is the lowest since their records started in 1972. While noisy the overall trend in volume is down. Globally it’s the same (see ).

    Also, overall from satellite measurements the Antarctic is losing ice mass and the glaciers both there and in Greenland are showing thinning which is evident for 100+km inland from the ice margin (laser altimetry from ICESat which has almost pole to pole coverage).

  14. You are grabbing at straws, Shunda. You offer two arguments here. First that a large degree of uncertainty (as no one is arguing it is zero) is somehow illustrated by your example. I don’t know if that is true, but would observer that as Antarctica is the driest continent, it isn’t obvious that 2.4 degrees will change the level of precipitation at all, let alone enough to have an ameliorating effect on sea level rise.

    Second, and worse, that Bush’s scaremongering re terrorism is at all comparable to a scientific community coming to the view that warming is man made and likely to be catastrophic. This is absurd, particularly given that only the most tame and un-alarming assessments are allowed out of a committee of over a hundred nations, which included the Bush administration and every other climate denying nation (if not this latest report, then the previous several upon which it builds). Far from being overly alarmist, IPCC reports must be seen almost certainly underestimating the concern the scientists have based on the evidence.

    You have never made a credible argument that AGW is just a conspiracy being perpetrated by the world’s scientists.

  15. “Shunda, did you know that they are two of the very few glaciers in the world to be doing so and that it is due to very heavy snow falls in the recent past? So what’s your point?”

    The South Westland glaciers (not just the 2 famous ones, all of them) could be a demonstration of the mechanism that could avert the worst sea level rise predictions.
    The advance is directly related to an increase in snow and ice due to westerly precipitation. As the planet warms it is entirely possible that additional precipitation (snow) will eventuate over Antarctica due to warmer ocean currents enabling more evaporation in these latitudes.
    In an environment of -30 degrees a 2.4 degree increase is not going to case a lot of melting!!
    As I understand it their is already evidence of this happening on Antarctica.
    We just don’t know enough about planetary climate systems to be making claims like the IPCC are doing, remember that video about fear that Blip linked to Valis? it goes both ways.

  16. Shunda,

    The global average sea level has risen by about 200 mm during the last century. The sea level has risen more at some sites, and less at others (even decreasing at some places). There are all sorts of factors which affect the sea level at a site, but averaged over the whole globe there has been a very clear sea level rise.

  17. Shunda – I believe the two mayors are genuinely compromised. I know both of them personally and have worked alongside of them establishing community gardens, planting fruit trees in their towns etc. We were on a Transition Town ‘panel of experts’ last night. There was a Labour MP there. No Nats in sight.

  18. Shunda, did you know that they are two of the very few glaciers in the world to be doing so and that it is due to very heavy snow falls in the recent past? So what’s your point?

  19. Frog, did you know that the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers are advancing? And considering the sea has not started rising yet there will be a bit of a mad rush at the end of the century I guess.

  20. $100 per tonne! I’m gonna get me some!

    Fascinating public meeting in the South last night – Transition Towns groups discussing the Solid Energy coal mine coming to the heart of Southland – see the Mayors squirm!

  21. Do we have any predictions of the likely price on CO2 on the world market?

    How many of our local councils will be considering a possible 2 metre rise in sea level when looking at building consents for low lying and coastal areas?


  22. orright….’Arise St Nick’….hang on – we’ve got one o’ them already aye?
    Looks like he’s been boiling in a pot – or Vat
    Just about done you’d reckon
    (Sorry the real Pope was busy)

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