THE world's leading
atmospheric scientists publish today the most comprehensive report
on the state of the planet's climate, and it makes for grim
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), set up in 1988 by the UN to study
the world's climate, has released its fifth Assessment Report; its
first in six years. The document, which runs to thousands of pages,
and has received contributions from more than 800 scientists in 85
countries, is the clearest warning yet of the risk humans face from
self-inflicted climate change.
Such is the scale of the
undertaking that keeping the report's findings a secret has been
impossible. Leaks have flowed like melt-water from Arctic sea ice.
The primary finding is that scientists are now 95 per cent certain
that climate change is being driven by human activity, up from 90
per cent in 2007, and 66 per cent in 2001. This is now at the level
of confidence usually accepted as the criterion for scientific
Today's report, the first
of three parts to be released over the next six months, is expected
to reveal that global surface temperatures, which have risen by
nearly one degree in the last century, could rise by up to
4.8°C by 2100, if we do not take urgent action
Snow and ice cover has
decreased, and sea levels, which rose by 19cm in the 20th century,
could rise by an extra 26 to 81cm by the end of this century, which
would threaten coastal regions. The report will also say that
weather patterns are becoming more extreme and unpredictable, while
the acidification of the oceans is wrecking coral reefs.
IN THE Copenhagen Accord
in 2009, governments promised to prevent the rise of global
temperature by 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the
level beyond which "dangerous climate change" is predicted, the
Accord says. But, as the temperature rise already stands at
0.8°C, significant carbon-emission cuts are needed, if
such a scenario is to be avoided.
The new report also
tackles the apparent slowdown in warming since 1998, something that
climate-change deniers have seized on as proof that there is
nothing to worry about. Satellite measurements of the solar
radiation entering the atmosphere have shown that the planet
continues to get warmer, however, and the IPCC report is expected
to point to the oceans as absorbing more of this heat. This has
also coincided with the El Niña weather system, a cooling effect
that, when combined with the other factors, accounts for much of
this apparent slowdown.
can fudge the science, and try to convince the world that the risk
of doing nothing is worth taking, but already international
development agencies deal daily with people whose lives are
blighted by climate change. Perversely, these tend to be the
poorest and most vulnerable communities, who have done the least to
create the misery now confronting them.
THE story is the same in
many parts of the world. In Malawi, weather patterns have become
more erratic over the past 30 years, as flash-flooding and drought
are making farming increasingly difficult. In Bolivia, increased
temperatures have led to new pest invasions, which require
expensive crop-spraying, while water shortages have led to
conflicts and migration.
Bangladesh has been on
the receiving end of both more extreme and unpredictable weather
and sea-level rise. Mofazzal Kagzi, aged 69 and a fisherman from
Jhalokati, says: "Farming used to be a good living. People had
goats, cows, rice, and fruit trees to feed their families. Now,
because of climate change, this is not possible. The weather is
worse than before, when we used to have six seasons. Everything was
going well. But now there are changes. Too much rain, then drought,
Helping people on the
front line in Bangladesh is the Christian Commission for
Development in Bangladesh (a Christian Aid partner organisation).
Its director, Joyanta Adhikari, says: "It's not only governments,
not only civil society; it's the Church which needs to come
together and raise its voice. Politicians nowadays think only of
their tenure - just four or five years. They don't look beyond
that. Although the pinch of the problem has not been felt in the
Western world, the day will come when everybody will be
"We have enough in this
world to meet our need, but we don't have enough to meet our
A GROWING number of
Christians around the world are waking up to their duty to speak up
for the poor and vulnerable - for our generation, the "widows and
orphans" of James 1.27 - suffering from a climate changed by our
indulgent, industrialised excess.
But there is more that
could be done. The Church has a powerful voice, in terms of both a
public platform, and a motivated body of believers. Christians can
write to their MPs, join campaigns, and support organisations
striving to tackle climate change. Pressure can also be brought to
bear on companies that continue to pollute, in which individual
Christians and churches have invested money.
Ultimately, we need our
self-proclaimed "greenest government ever" to ensure that its own
energy policy is in order, so that it can put pressure on others to
make significant emissions cuts.
This means halting the
shale-gas industry in its tracks, and starting to invest instead in
a sustainable-energy future. Britain has huge renewable-energy
resources, and a recent survey by Cardiff University suggested that
public support for solar (85 per cent) and wind power (75 per cent)
remains strong, despite negative press.
Today's IPCC report makes
the science clear. We now must seize the opportunity to speak with
a prophetic voice, and accept the moral duty to act, to secure the
planet for future generations.
Joe Ware is a church and campaigns journalist at Christian