Report aims to combat climate 'misinformation'
By environment reporter Sarah Clarke
Posted Mon Aug 16, 2010 10:02pm AEST
The statement says global emissions must peak within a decade and decline rapidly if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. (Reuters: Ilya Naymushin)
Some of the nation's top scientists have united in a new climate statement which issues fresh warnings about the dangers of global warming.
The statement released by the Australian Academy of Science is a first for the organisation and details the key evidence identified globally by climate scientists.
It says carbon emissions need to be cut by more than half by 2050 if there is to be a good chance of keeping temperature rises to less than two degrees.
It also says global emissions must peak within a decade and decline rapidly if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.
Kurt Lambeck from the Australian National University says current misinformation is confusing the public debate and the warnings need to be identified.
"It's because we've been concerned about the nature of the climate change debate in recent times," he said.
"We see the quality of the science improving with time but the debate seems to be degenerating in some ways."
Professor Lambeck says one of the reasons behind the degeneration is that the science is very complex.
"Climate science is really at the sort of intersection of a whole lot of basic science areas," he said.
"Now a lot of people understand elements of those basic sciences but they don't understand the complexities that occur when you try to put it all together.
"People get confused over those minor, what are essentially secondary issues and in that process the whole level of the debate degenerates."
Professor Lambeck says the complexity of the issue may be one reason both sides of politics seem to have shelved the issue of climate change.
"I suspect both sides find it hard to understand what they should be doing," he said.
"Some time ago the major parties both recognised that climate change was a real threat and that, you know, action needed to be taken.
"But we've lost that consensus between the two parties."
Professor Lambeck says the statement looks at global temperatures, which he says have increased by "about a degree" over the last century.
"A degree doesn't sound like very much but it appears that its impact on regional climate can be quite severe," he said.
"Now when I say one degree, that is the global average surface temperatures.
"There are parts of the globe that have been subjected to much larger changes in more recent times.
"Whether that's part of a long term trend or whether that's part of some of the natural variability or whether these are oscillations, that's something that we don't know yet because our records are too short."
The statement makes the point that no scientific conclusion can ever be absolutely certain.
But Professor Lambeck does not think that leaves the conclusions open to sceptics and critics.
"The underpinning parts - the fact that CO2 is increasing, the fact that CO2 increases results in global temperature rises, the fact the CO2 has a long residence time in the atmosphere - these are facts that are extremely unlikely will ever be overturned by new information," he said.
"Where the scientific questions arise is in the feedbacks that occur between the various components.
"We're not totally clear on that and we may not have the right way to put that into our forecast.
"But these are factors that will affect the rate at which things will change.
"They're extremely unlikely to affect the change in direction of what we are observing."
The Greens say the report shows the major parties need to do more to deal with the threat.
Greens Senator Christine Milne says the big parties are acting as if climate change is not real.
"Both parties are trying to ignore climate change and this is big turnaround from 2007 when the Labor Party told Australians that it was a great moral imperative and they would act on it," she said.
"Part of the reason for that is the sceptics campaign that has been aided and abetted by Tony Abbott and the Coalition."
Tags: environment, climate-change, government-and-politics, federal-government, australia