The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently revealed that it is now “extremely likely” that humans are to blame for more than 50% of the increase in global average surface temperature in the last 60 years, which has resulted in the hottest 30 year period in the Northern Hemisphere for 1400 years. This information is contained in the 2014 ‘Synthesis Report’ that also claims that if we keep going as we are, we will threaten the world with disaster such as substantial species extinction, global food insecurity and more frequent extreme weather events. Further damning evidence from the report reveals that a lot of the damage that we are imposing on future generations is irreversible, and that some negative impacts associated with global warming are beginning to materialize already.
To solve the problem of climate change, international cooperation is required. Climate change is truly a global issue, every country contributes to the problem, and its effects will be realised by everyone. A significant issue is that slowing climate change via greenhouse gas emission reduction is a global public good; the costs of cutting emissions are borne by the country that engage in the process, whereas the benefits of emission reduction are experienced by all. It is therefore rational for individual countries to avoid reducing emissions in the hope that others will.
Political issues such as how to fairly distribute the cost of greenhouse gas emissions across nations, along with the underlying temptation to avoid the issue means that an international agreement on climate policy has proved a near impossible task. Nonetheless, since 1989 the IPCC have been releasing reports outlining the science behind, potential impacts and possible options for climate change in order to help motivate governments into action.
The recently released ‘Synthesis Report’ is believed to be the most comprehensive review yet, which will spark politicians into cooperative action to stop climate change.
However, this is now the IPCC’s 5th assessment report and if recent history is anything to go by, it is clear that politicians are unmoved by the reports. During 2012/2013 greenhouse gas emissions increased at their fastest rate in 30 years and in addition to this, it was reported last week that G20 countries continue to spend vast amounts ($88 billion a year) subsidising oil, gas and coal companies for explorations into new fossil fuel reserves.
The IPCC have an obligation to review the physical science behind climate change and its associated effects. However, it is evident that this type of information (or the language used) is not sufficient in motivating governments into action on climate change. Nonetheless, in a similar fashion to the older reports, the IPCC have continued to emphasise the potential disastrous effects of climate change in an attempt to scare politicians into action. Given recent experience however it is hard to believe that this will generate any greater international action than before.
To motivate a response from world leaders, a change of approach is needed in the IPCC reports. One suggestion would be to focus on climate change in a more positive light. Indeed it now appears that the cost of emission reduction is affordable if done correctly. Additionally, adaptation policy (e.g. building flood defences) has the potential to offer a variety of short run benefits such as new employment opportunities. Rather than rehashing the same old threats, a more positive approach to the climate problem may get politicians closer to international cooperation.