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Jan 15, 2013

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.

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63 comments

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63 thoughts on “IPCC chief calls for ‘sane voices’ in local climate debate

  1. klewso

    Why wouldn’t it be “exclusive”?
    Who else (with a sense of reality) would touch that sort of spin?
    [Is Murdoch – with his trolls spreading his word – a climate science expert, or a PR mogul, with a barrow to ply?]

  2. MJPC

    “Business-as-usual has a very strong force behind it” or is it the case of exploitation as usual. Murdoch and his fellow-travellers (and not only in the media) from the big end of towns have only one business and that is gain as much capital for them at the expense of the rest of us, and indeed the planet.
    The trouble with this attitude is that too late will be too late for all, not just he and his ilk.
    Just one question, what scientific qualifications has Graham Lloyd, surely not a comms degree from some Uni to allow such scientific pontification.

  3. Kincuri

    This situation really highlights an issue with current reporting of climate science in Australian (and generally international) media. That someone like Graham Lloyd is given an equal voice in the climate change dialogue as someone truly credentialed like Dr Pachauri…

    An expert says one thing, a journalist (mis)interprets it another way and suddenly we feel justified simply to do nothing at all.

  4. David Allen

    Dr Church should demand a correction to the story or right of reply. If that is not granted then he should lodge a complaint to the [toothless] Press Council.

  5. keith marlow

    Dr Pachauri has NO Climate science qualifications – he is a generally qualified bureaucrat who has a vested interest in climate change – look up TERI.

  6. 2dogs

    “Dr Pachauri has NO Climate science qualifications”

    “255 scientists from 39 countries are at the Hobart summit considering more than 30,000 comments received on the previous draft of the report.”

    So I guess that he must have amazing powers of mental mind manipulation to have all those 255 scientists say what he wants and a magical “wand of auto-correctness” to align those 30,000 comments with his “vested interests”

    Yep Keith, don’t let facts get in the way of highjacking a thread with a good old fashioned “attack on a person” rather than the content

    (BWT do you know where I can find a “wand of auto-correctness”? I am writing some awfully long company recommendations at the moment and …. well some magic instead of logic would go a long way)

  7. Microseris

    Keith Marlow implies Rajendra Pachauri has a vested interest in his advocacy of climate change. This chestnut was raised by the denier media in 2009.

    In response to the allegations, TERI asked KPMG to carry out an audit of both TERI’s financial records and Dr Pachauri’s personal financial records. The Guardian published the KPMG review in 2010. The review concludes: “No evidence was found that indicated personal financial benefits accruing to Dr Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest”.

    In terms of qualifications, he is the chair of the IPCC, whilst there are 800 authors of the report, each with a specific area of expertise.

    Deniers, grasping at straws as if we have a plan B.

  8. floorer

    2dogs 255 scientists all agreeing on the topic they’re there to remedy doesn’t surprise me at all. Bit like all pollies agreeing to a pay rise, whoopee…just like any other club.

  9. keith marlow

    2dogs – I wasn’t attacking the person – its a fact he has no climate qualifications. I was commenting to the first sentence of the article namely “The world’s most influential climate scientist Rajendra Pachauri speaks..” – he ain’t no climate scientist; he is a bureaucrat. If you can find some actual climate qualifications he has then I with withdraw the statement – good luck!

  10. keith marlow

    Floorer – exactly, its a club who very existence depends on having climate change be proven to be man made – when NONE of all the 4 reports by the IPCC have correctly predicted the temperature since they have been published – all have come in with reality UNDER their lowest predictions.

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