“… a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”

October 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

I was privileged to hear Piers Forster give a talk in Leeds last week – he is one of the lead authors on the recently-published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/#.Ul0ZkNJwq3s.

This two-size Summary for Policy Makers makes for easy reading: http://www.ipcc.ch/news_and_events/docs/ar5/ar5_wg1_headlines.pdf

From Dr Forster’s presentation, I took away the awareness that the carbon emissions to date are such that there will be little difference, regardless of the short-term steps we take, in warming in the next 30 to 40 years.

On that basis, adaptation (responding to the immediate effects of climate change on people and communities) need to be as equal a priority in the short term, as our efforts to mitigate future change.

Beyond those 30-40 years, however, the predictions change wildly based on whether we continue with business as usual or whether we can move successfully towards an economy and lifestyle low in carbon (and also low in methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two other atmospheric significant drivers).

So the more we strengthen now our capacity to mitigate future emissions, the more manageable the future will be.

The quotation in the title of this post refers to carbon emissions. The Summary for Policy Makers states:

“Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond (see Figure SPM.10). Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.”

In short, as regards carbon emissions, the legacy of the future is already set for years to come.

But I’m also struck by the phrase “a substantial multi-century climate change commitment”.

What if that phrase was used to describe our collective response: substantial enough and relevant enough to meet the scientific and social evidence, with a two-hundred year timescale in mind, and the commitment, energy and resources to match?

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