Critics of efforts to address climate change are misinterpreting a slowdown in the pace of global warming, the United Nations’ top climate official said.
Those who deny mankind’s contribution to warming have a “primitive understanding” of the science behind the Earth’s climate, Christiana Figueres, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said today in an interview. She spoke a day ahead of the release of the group’s updated assessment of climate science.
It will show a slowdown in the rate of warming since 1998, along with estimates that melting ice will make sea levels rise faster than previously projected, according to drafts of the report.
“To say that the temperatures have plateaued misrepresents the understanding of the science,” Figueres said. “It’s a very primitive understanding of the science.”
New data has caused the organization to lower predictions of the pace of global temperature increases by 2100, according to draft documents obtained by Bloomberg.
The draft refers to a slowdown in the rate of warming since 1998. Global average temperatures are likely to rise by 0.3 degree to 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, according to a draft issued on Aug. 12. That’s less than the 1.1 degree to 6.4 degree gain forecast in 2007. The world already has warmed about 0.89 degree since the industrial revolution.
Leaks from the report have been used by bloggers and newspapers to question whether the planet is warming at all.
The newspaper The Australian on Sept. 16 published an article headlined “We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC,” a day after the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph had a story announcing “Top Climate Scientists Admit Global Warming Forecasts Were Wrong.”
In a Sept. 8 article whose headline included the words “now it’s global COOLING!,” the Daily Mail said the IPCC was forced to call a “crisis meeting.” The IPCC issued a press release denying the claim.
“There are some years in which the temperature has not spiked over the past decade, but if you compare this decade to the past decade you see that this decade on average is clearly much warmer than the previous decade,” Figueres said. “It doesn’t follow a straight line. Nature never does, but there is a very clear tendency and very clear trajectory toward increasing temperatures and certainly toward increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.”
Figueres is trying to guide the governments of more than 190 nations toward a legally binding deal to cut greenhouse gases by 2015 that will take effect in 2020. The effort requires balancing the interests of small island nations at risk from rising seas to Middle Eastern oil producers whose economies depend on fossil fuels, as well as closing gaps between the two biggest emitters: the U.S. and China.
The report identifies volcanic eruptions, a periodic decline in the sun’s warmth and natural variation in the weather as possible contributors to the lull in the overall pace of climate change, though computer models aren’t able to simulate the temperatures that have been observed.
When the panel finished its last work six years ago, it was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The scientists were criticized over inaccuracies in their work and the content of leaked e-mails between climate researchers.
Spanning thousands of pages, the report was written by 830 scientists. A summary is due tomorrow in Stockholm from the IPCC, an organization set up by the UN to compile research for policy makers. Further installments are due in March and April, with a final summary in October 2014.
The report says sea levels may increase 26 centimeters to 81 centimeters (10 to 32 inches) by the end of the century, more than the 2007 range for gains of 18 to 59 centimeters. The level already has risen about 19 centimeters.
It also signals that the sensitivity to a hypothetical doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may be lower, leading to a temperature increase of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees. That’s a half degree lower at the bottom end of the range than in 2007.