Fodder for the sceptics

The climate change debate and the unreassuringly resolutions emanating from Copenhagen were dealt a further blow over the past few days. It seems clear that much more work has to be done for any meaningful implementation of measures combating climate change as many doubts are starting to emerge as to the reliability of some of the data being used in this research.

Only a few days ago, Robert Watson, a prominent and respected British scientist who chaired the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for six years, gave a stern warning.

Unless the IPCC tackled its blunders, it seriously risked losing its credibility. The science behind the climate change research has been put to task. Dr Watson was speaking after it was revealed that more potential inaccuracies had emerged from the IPCC benchmark report on global warming.

Among the inaccuracies highlighted were claims that global warming would affect North African crop yield by up to 50 per cent by 2020. Chris Field, now the leading author for the IPCC, confirmed these doubts.

This follows another recent retraction by the IPCC regarding the Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035.

To add insult to injury, these projections had been quoted by none other than Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman, and even by the United Nation's secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon.

Another gaffe emerged regarding IPCC's sea level reports concerning Holland. While the panel suggested that the Netherlands were 55 per cent below sea level, Dutch ministers were quick to point out the error.

It appears that the IPCC were off mark by half when it was stated that, in reality, Holland's land mass is actually only 27 per cent below sea level.

This all points to a serious and dangerous precedent. Unless the IPCC gets its act together, the consequences could be enormous.

I fully acknowledge that it is a fact that climate has warmed up in recent decades and that human activities are impacting adversely on global climate.

All this has been endorsed by all the meaningful science academies of all the major industrialised countries. There seems to be no significant scientific institution which rejects these findings. All this has led to a concerted effort by governments to commit themselves to legally-binding accords to reduce as much as possible industrial emissions threatening the stability of our planet. Since 1880, the volume of carbon dioxide in the world's atmosphere has almost doubled (from 278 parts per million by volume to 380 ppm in 2005). The continued burning of fossil fuels will continue to increase emissions and rising CO2 levels worldwide. All this is scientific fact!

Rebutting all this is a significantly powerful lobby that, for various interests, economic and otherwise, resist this proof. The sceptics and doubters continuously attempt to delegitimise the climate change debate. The sceptics insist that this talk of global warming is purely "unfounded fear", myth and forced overregulation. The "denial machine" consistently undermines the science and this, in turn, affects public opinion. By and large, governments tend to implement policies that address their electorates' aspirations and preoccupations. Awareness of issues is not enough. Stupid blunders as those lately committed by members of the IPCC do little to bolster efforts to strengthen public opinion and governmental resolve.

A good example, which demonstrates the sceptics' resolve, can be found in the incident that arose prior to Copenhagen. Dubbed ClimateGate, an attempt was made to discredit not only research data but also hard-working scientists studying the phenomenon of global warming. Hackers actually broke into the University of East Anglia (a seat of the Climatic Research Unit) with the specific intention of black-balling the behaviour of its leading scientists. Not only did the hackers attempt to discredit the scientists but they also hoped to undermine the actual research data suggesting manipulation and fabrication. All the latter has not been proven. Yet, it goes to show the extent of the sceptics' resolve in their attempt to discredit climate change and global warming.

In a sense, the latest events can also be viewed in a positive manner. Maybe it is time to ponder for a moment as to the actual mechanics that propel the climate change debate. Although the consensus view regarding climate change remains strong, there might be room for improvement. One feels that global warming has been cheaply sensationalised. Many extreme and pejorative terms have been used, sometimes diluting the very serious nature of the debate. It could be the reason why the IPCC gets caught up in drumming finalistic scenarios, committing itself to specific dates that might prove untenable in the long run. This environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric will only serve as fodder for the sceptics.

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