Climate change is happening- The IPCC’s fifth report

Liliana Derewnicka | 16/10/13 | London

Last month saw the release of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC)’s report on the physical basis of climate change. The report is the first of four contributions to the panel’s fifth assessment report, to be released over the next year. It is based on 9,200 peer reviewed studies by 259 scientists.


The report begins by describing observations of the climate. It states that, it is likely that 1983 to 2012 was the warmest period for 1400 years. Global warming, so the authors say, is ‘unequivocal’, with ‘many of the observed changes [being] unprecedented over decades to millennia.’


There has been continued depletion of ice sheets and glaciers. Oceans have warmed by an average of 0.11°C per decade, risen by an average of 0.19m since 1901 and show continued acidification from absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the concentration of which has increased to ‘unprecedented levels in at least 800,000 years.’
This increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is identified as the main cause of climate change. Burning fossil fuels is the main source, with deforestation showing a significant contribution. The report explains that ‘human influence on the climate system is clear.’


The report then discusses what we might expect from the future. It explains that, since the last report, modeling techniques have improved and so the group has been able to make more accurate predictions.
They now believe that, over the next century, we can expect temperature increase of 1.5 to 4°C. We will face greater contrasts between wet and dry seasons and regions. The oceans will continue to be affected by warming and acidification, ice sheets will continue to melt and sea levels are expected to rise by 0.26m to 0.98m on average. This rise is enough to effect 2,223 km² of land, home to 145 million people.


The report ends with what could be considered as a call for urgent action. The group state that ‘most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO² are stopped.’


Many important figures seem to have accepted this message including Ban Ki-Moon, who said “The heat is on. We must act”.  However, as usual, with issues surrounding climate change the sceptics and critics have been out in force.
 Much of the criticism surrounds the fact the IPCC do not fully explain why there appears to be a slowing in global warming, not predicted by models. True, the report does only focus on this briefly, but, it does suggest why this may be and explains that long-term models agree with observations. Highlighting areas for further study and being honest about discrepancies in knowledge is a desired and natural aspect of the scientific process. If we consider that climate change is highly complex issue, some uncertainty is inevitable.  


Nigel Lawson wrote, in the Telegraph, that he believes that a 1.5°C rise in temperature “would be a thoroughly good thing: beneficial to global food production and global health alike.” Ignoring the fact that most of the IPCC’s models suggest that the temperature rise we can expect would, in fact, be higher than this. What of the other issues involved with this increase? Loss of habitat due to flooding, depleting glaciers and reduced Northern hemisphere snow cover, changes in water cycle effecting the duration and extent of monsoon, etc.


But, how are we to know what to believe with such contrasting opinions thrusting themselves upon us at every turn? The answer is by being able to make educated evaluations of what we read. This can only be achieved through effective education. With an issue like climate change, in which the public’s actions and opinions play a significant role, it is essential that there is a public understanding of the current scientific consensus.  It is heartening to see that so many agree. Dedication to the importance of education on climate change was seen recently when over 65,000 people signed petitions against Michael Gove’s plans to remove climate change from many areas of the national curriculum. Fortunately, these plans have been revised and climate change still features across the curriculum.


Resources


Climate change is not only of great importance to a well rounded education, but, is an area for great potential for IBSE. The following lessons plans will help secondary school children to appreciate this complex issue.


CO2 IN THE WORLD: PRODUCTION AND ABSORPTION


HAS SEA-LEVEL RISE GOT ANYTHING TO DO WITH CLIMATE CHANGE?


CLIMATE CHANGE IN A BOTTLE


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