in Poland

Climate change is “unequivocal” says the IPCC. Could someone tell the UNFCCC?

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This morning in Stockholm, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its fifth assessment report (AR5). “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” the IPCC states in its Summary for Policymakers.

The IPCC report released today is from Working Group I – a team of scientists looking at the physical science of climate change. The Working Group has met 12 times since 2010, and received a total of more than 50,000 comments on the two draft versions of its report.

The IPCC reports that, “The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.” The period 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period in the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere. Arctic sea ice and Antarctic ice sheets are shrinking. Sea level is rising. The level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is “unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years”.

Perhaps the scariest statement is this: “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped.”

Kevin Anderson, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at the Tyndale Centre at the University of Manchester, is one of the UK’s leading climate scientists. In an interview with Friends of the Earth, he describes the IPCC report as “essential”.

“With climate change, what we’ve got is a huge wealth of scientific endeavour and the IPCC process is the only body that is able to bring that together, and then scrutinize it word by word, line by line, argument by argument. We’ve never seen that level of scrutiny over any other scientific domain before. And without something like the IPCC I think we would not have a collective understanding of what the consensus is, what the wealth of science is telling us. So I think it is a really essential part of the climate change story.”

In its new report, the IPCC explains what should, by now, be obvious:

Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

The body responsible for achieving this is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It’s been meeting since 1992. So far it has spectacularly failed to achieve “substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”.

Here’s Kevin Anderson again:

Since the [IPCC’s] last report in 2007, we’ve put up around about 200 billion tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 200 billion tons….
Since the first report in about 1990, we’ve almost doubled our emissions. So the trend line for the emissions is for me where the real interests lie in that what we are seeing there are very rapid increases in emissions. No sign of those emissions coming back down. And any changes in the science are effectively just noise in the system compared with the real change which relates to the emissions that continue to be put in the atmosphere.

This year’s Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC will take place in Warsaw in Poland. The Polish government is organising a “International Coal and Climate Summit” to run in parallel to COP19. The meeting will take place in Poland’s Ministry of Economy.

But the meeting will not be looking at ways to stop burning coal. It’s organised with the World Coal Association, which proposes continuing burning coal as a way of addressing climate change. Renaming “coal” as “clean coal” is about the only acknowledgement that the World Coal Association makes of the dangers of climate change.

Claude Turmes, MEP and vice-chair of the European Parliament Green group told EurActiv,

“The Polish government is transforming something of international importance into a lobby opportunity for coal, the very energy which destroys climate the most…. Clean coal is a climate killer full-stop.”

As if that wasn’t bad enough, among the sponsors of COP19 are such paragons of sustainability as ArcelorMittal, International Paper, BMW, General Motors, PGE Polish Energy Group, and Polish Airlines.

ArcelorMittal is presumably just returning a favour. ArcelorMittal is the world’s biggest steel company and the EU’s fifth biggest greenhouse gas polluter. But instead of asking the company to cut its emissions, the EU handed over millions of carbon permits through its Emissions Trading System. By 2011, according to environmental NGO Sandbag, ArcelorMittal had a carbon permit surplus worth US$2.4 billion. The value of these permits has fallen since 2011, but in 2012, ArcelorMittal earned US$200 million from sales of pollution permits.

While COP19’s doors are open wide to polluting industry, places for observer organisations have been cut back. Several civil society groups have received less than half their usual number of places.

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