Four months after the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it seems a good time to ask: what impact has the IPCC assessment had in climate policy circles?
The IPCC report assessed the state-of-the-art in climate science, involving hundreds of experts and citing more than 9,000 scientific studies. It contains information on issues as diverse as Antarctic ice, ancient El Niños and the carbon cycle.
The overall message from the report is unambiguous: human activity is the main cause of the warming seen since 1950 and further fossil fuel emissions will bring major, irreversible changes. These conclusions are not particularly new – they merely rest on more evidence now than they did in 1990 at the time of the first IPCC report, and the IPCC is more confident in them now.
This cause for concern has been recognised by Government. For example, DECC Secretary of State Edward Davey reacted to the report by concluding “This strengthens the case for international leaders to work for an ambitious, legally binding global agreement in 2015 to cut carbon emissions.”
The IPCC has also been mentioned directly in subsequent Parliamentary discussions around the Energy Bill and the Review of the Fourth Carbon Budget. Various members of both Houses highlighted the impetus for action provided by the IPCC.
In the House of Lords debate on the Energy Bill, CCC Chairman Lord Deben put it as: “We have to accept… that most of those skilled in this matter are warning us that climate change is a real danger.” However, alternative interpretations were also offered and presented as reasons to do less now to reduce emissions. During the same House of Lords debate Viscount Ridley put forward nine examples in which the IPCC report appeared less alarming and less certain than before. Unfortunately most of these examples do not hold up to scrutiny, as set out in the accompanying policy note.
This emphasises the importance of taking a thorough and impartial view of all the available evidence. At the CCC we will continue to draw out the implications for UK action on this basis.
In the coming months the IPCC will also publish its latest assessments of the impacts of climate change and the options for mitigating emissions. The role of these in shaping national and international policy will continue over the coming months and years. But for now, on the latest scientific and economic evidence, the UK’s current emissions targets remain appropriate as a minimum level of action.
For more information read our policy note.