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IPCC chief calls for ‘sane voices’ in local climate debate

The world’s most influential climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri speaks to Crikey on the need for sanity and fair reporting in media coverage of climate change — and explains why Australia should care.

Rajendra Pachauri

As The Australian claims sea level rise is not linked to global warming, the world’s most influential climate scientist has called on “sane and rational voices” to speak out and correct the record.

More than 250 scientists have gathered in Hobart today for a summit of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN’s climate science body. The Oz marked the summit’s opening with a front-page “exclusive” story which claimed there was “no link” between sea level rises and global warming.

In a telephone interview, Crikey asked the long-term chair of the IPCC Dr Rajendra Pachauri, in Tasmania for the summit, about the story.

What is particularly important is that sane and rational voices must respond to these questions and this scepticism, and I think that should get adequate currency,” said Pachauri, who in 2007 accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC. “Then people can make up their minds on their own.”

He called on the media to take responsibility for the stories they run. “Unfortunately in several parts of the world, the media gives disproportionate coverage to those who take a contrarian view, even if they represent a very very small percentage of either the scientific consensus or public opinion. They get almost equal billing, and to my mind that seems a little unfair,” he said.

Pachauri said climate change was particularly serious for Australia: ”From the looks of it, Australia is very very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, you have droughts, you have heat waves. Sea level rise could be a serious problem in some parts of the country. So Australia undoubtedly is very vulnerable, perhaps more so than several other places in the world.”

The Australian has long run a sceptical line on climate change, particularly in its opinion pages. Today’s story, written by environment editor Graham Lloyd, relied on a paper co-authored by Australian scientist Dr John Church. The paper apparently “said it could not link climate change and the rate of sea level rises in the 20th century”.

But Church, a sea level expert with the CSIRO, told a media conference today that was not an accurate description of the paper.

So sea level clearly is linked to climate change, it is clearly linked to increases in greenhouse gases, and that’s actually in the paper which was quoted by The Australian. So the quote is, I’m sorry, inaccurate,” said Church, a co-ordinating lead author with the IPCC.

While The Australian claimed the paper had found no increase in the rate of sea level rise, Church said the paper showed the rate of sea level rise had increased between the 18th and 19th centuries, and research showed a further acceleration of the rate during the 20th century.

Despite the persistence of scepticism, Pachauri was upbeat about global acceptance of the science of human-induced climate change. He thought some prominent sceptics were changing their minds: “I hope that will be the case once they see all the compelling scientific evidence, in this country and in other parts of the world.”

The public tended to respond slowly to difficult realities, he says, so time was needed to change attitudes “Business-as-usual has a very strong force behind it, and therefore to move away from business-as-usual takes time, takes effort, and I imagine you’ll see signs of change in the near future,” he said.

The IPCC chief was confident the world was getting the message on climate change: “I think the extent of awareness is growing very rapidly … I feel quite optimistic about the way things are going”.

Pachauri praised Australia’s carbon price, saying the IPCC had found a price on carbon was one of the most effective ways of encouraging low-carbon technology. “I think what Australia has done has to be commended and I hope other parts of the world will also see something similar being done,” he said. He also called on governments to remove subsidies on fossil fuels because they acted as a deterrent to alternative sources of energy.

The IPCC issues major reports on climate change every five or six years; the last was in 2007, and this next report (which is the fifth) is due for release in September this year. Writing the report is a laborious process involving hundreds of scientists, multiple drafts and tens of thousands of comments from experts on each draft. The final report then has to be OK-ed by every member state of the UN’s climate body. A draft of the fifth report was leaked by a climate sceptic late last year.

Thomas Stocker, co-chair of that part of the IPCC which is meeting in Hobart (it’s one of a number of working groups on the fifth report), says 255 scientists from 39 countries are at the Hobart summit considering more than 30,000 comments received on the previous draft of the report. “We want to get this right,” Stocker told a media conference today.

The 2007 IPCC report concluded that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations” (GHG refers to greenhouse gas). The IPCC defines “very likely” as over 90% certainty.

Church says the fifth report has made significant scientific progress on the effects of climate change on sea level rise; this report would be more advanced than the previous one.

The IPCC experts speaking at the opening of the summit would not be drawn on what else the fifth report might contain, or on how precisely the scientists would be able to project the impacts of climate change. The summit runs until Saturday.

  • 51
    Posted Wednesday, 16 January 2013 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Mike 34 - thats why they invented gaffa or 100 mile per hour tape…..

  • 52
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 16 January 2013 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks. But further to your previous post, I have been following with interest Cyclone Narelle from the east coast and your observation bear many truths that we should all be taking careful note of.
    Keep up the good work, what ever you’re up to, for you are living in some of the finest and grandest country in the world. And that is not to say I don’t enjoy my own spot on the east coast Richmond Ranges.
    Have a good one mate!

  • 53
    Posted Wednesday, 16 January 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I am lucky I live in a part of the country that defies description…I never feel I can find the words to describe its beauty, ruggedness.
    All we need to do is stop the State Liberal Govt from opening up some very precious and sensitive area to mining and that type of destructive development.
    They are planning a LNG plant at James Prices Point, a place that is significant to local aboriginals. And if you know of them they are also looking at a copper mine near the Horizontal Falls.

  • 54
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Wednesday, 16 January 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Even the term “awe inspiring” does not do justice to that area’s impact on your soul, intellect and body.
    We have the same problems on the northern half of the east coast with Gas Extraction, coal and manner other minerals in demand.
    We have coal mines in Queensland that have only recently completed dewatering fron Cyclone Yasi, over two years ago.
    The dewatering has been delivered to the local rivers and creeks. Coming from an open pit mines I stronly suspect that the water’s exposure to the open seams of coal will show up as dangerous pollutants in the near future.
    It goes on and on mate with no sign that the powers behind this distruction have any sense of what they are going to deliver to future generation. Unfotunately I have to admit to myself…….NOR DO THEY BLOODY CARE.

  • 55
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    We migh have to untangle that “bare” from my barb wire entanglement in the back paddock, on the way back.

  • 56
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Mike - I have no doubt they will show up as pollutants. And its not just the local effect…we have seen the effect fertilisers are having on the Great Barrier Reef so I would suspect these pollutants will also effect the Reef.

  • 57
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    Achmed; And without considering the effects on both the riverine biosphere or our artesian reservoirs. Most of the effected rivers flow SW and are replenishing channels for our artesian basins.I do hope that the relevant disciplines at QUT are keeping themselves and the public informed.
    Queensland and NSW are going to be closely grided out with rusting pipes in five years time if we continue with ‘business as usual’ that our corporate leaders espouse. But the grid might be a valuable edition to our GPS, but will be of little other value with our reaction to the impacts our sciences are predicting.
    Keep up your chin and the good fight for the alacrity that climate change seems to be arriving, all according to the science predictions, might shake the letharcy from all of our leaders to reflect on the longterm implications of their decisions and stop this raping of the common by ourselves and the satisfaction of our self imposed economic imperatives
    It is time that all the sciences are at our decision tables

  • 58
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    We have a problem with our current Liberal Premier. With the proposal to build a LNG plant at James Prices Point he has said that if the Traditional Owners can’t/won’t come to an agreement with the developers (Woodside) then he will confiscate the land. Also one of his chief advisors was previously on the board of — you guessed it — woodside.

  • 59
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    My post at 24 wasn’t about climate change per se it was about the impact the agw ideology is having on utility prices. We in SA have near the dearest power prices in the world. Re the northern monsoon pershaps I should have written “readings”. The Age has been running a series of articles where the lateness of the monsoon was mentioned. Elsewhere I’ve seen mentioned deforestation in Indonesia (specifically Borneo) as an issue, this is where the monsoon originates. Less forest, less moisture rising into the atmosphere (do your own research). Re jetting into Hobart, I’ve heard cycle paths are already being organised for the next event. Seriously though the convention is held in one of the remotest cities in the world? Jets plus carbon emissions?

  • 60
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a “fan” of the carbon reduction plans of either Party. Govt should be putting money into R&D. Develop the technologies to reduce carbon emissions. Then make them available to Australian companies and sell the technology overseas to give a return on the investment in R&D. Australia has a fantastic record in the development of ground breaking technologies.
    The CT does not encourage companies to develop the technology, all they do is pass the CT cost onto the comsumer.
    Direct Action gives the polluters taxpayer money and we have seen the track record of how companies will abuse their access to taxpayer money.

  • 61
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Floorer;
    I did misinterpret your earlier post after I have read your more recent offerrings.
    I apolgise, sincerely if you took offence at for some of my rejoinder to your earlier post. But a little bit of clarity would help to avoid future misunderstandings.

  • 62
    Mike Flanagan
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    You could elucidate on what you mean by “agw ideology”
    Off course electricity prices will go up, just like any thing that that requires an energy source to bring it to the market and consumer.
    We have built the whole system on the cheapest source of energy available, namely fossil fuels and our scientists are now imforming us of the consequences.
    But major variations between states electricity pricing should be debated and brought to the attention of the voting public. South Aussies included.

  • 63
    Posted Thursday, 17 January 2013 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey Mike not offended, always a bit cut and thrust on agw threads. “Elucidate on agw ideology”. Please take it at face value.