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It's our fault - World's climate scientists more certain than ever

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The highest land and sea surface temperatures for centuries; greenhouse gas concentrations at unprecedented levels for at least the last 800,000 years; decreased Spring snow cover; glaciers retreating; polar ice sheets losing mass; rising deep ocean temperatures; sea level rise accelerating; ocean acidification continuing - multiple lines of evidence show that our planet is warming and scientists are more certain than ever that man-made greenhouse gas emissions and emissions from changes in land use have been the dominant cause since the mid twentieth century. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which has received much attention by the world’s media in recent weeks, looks at the physical science basis for climate change and states that it is ‘extremely likely’ that we are responsible for what is happening.

At previous climate change negotiations the international community has agreed that average temperature increases need to be limited to 2oC to avoid ‘dangerous levels of climate change’. This latest report adds an extra dimension by stating that it is ‘likely’ we will limit warming to this threshold if we limit cumulative emissions of greenhouse gasses to 800 Giga tonnes since the year 1870. Given the length of time emissions such as Carbon Dioxide remain in the atmosphere, this effectively suggests a cap on the total amount of emissions which can be released by mankind. The likelihood of limiting warming to 2oC falls to ‘unlikely’ if emissions are allowed to reach 880 Giga tonnes leaving little room for manoeuvre. By 2011 man-made emissions are estimated to have totalled over 530 Giga tonnes meaning we have effectively spent two thirds of our allowance already. To put in perspective the scale of the challenge this leaves ahead of us, if we were to hold rates of greenhouse gas emissions at today’s rate we would have 30 years before we would have to cut them to zero, forever.

In May Tynwald unanimously agreed a target of reducing the Island’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 based on 1990 levels thereby aligning our policy with many neighbouring jurisdictions. The transition to a low Carbon society will require significant changes to the way we live our lives today. In light of the lack of alternative fuels for the aviation industry there will need to be complete shift away from fossil fuel use for surface transport and for heating our homes and businesses. Electricity demand, despite improvements in efficiency, will go up as a result and we will need to find low carbon alternatives for power generation such as renewables, nuclear and fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage.

Minister Gawne said

'Mitigating further climate change is in our own interest and it also provides opportunities. We could profit by letting our sea bed for renewable energy generation and locally grown biomass provides us with a sustainable source of renewable energy and importantly, the money we spend on it stays in our economy, rather than being lost off the Island. Developing the technology required to shift to a low Carbon society is not something we can do on our own, but fortunately much of this work is already being carried out elsewhere and we will benefit directly from that, for example through increasingly efficient vehicles. Of utmost importance though, is adapting to the effects of climate change which are already inevitable due to historic emissions of greenhouse gasses. We must consider the impacts of climate change on our existing and planned infrastructure, businesses and communities and ensure we make adaptation easier for future generations, through the actions we take now.'

Two further reports by the IPCC will follow in March and April next year. The first will address the impacts of, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change, and the second will look at mitigation.

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