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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 16:24 GMT
Climate panel urged to 'get real'
Thundercloud AP
Climate science could be in for a big review
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A damaging row is threatening to envelop a panel of United Nations experts charged with recommending the best ways of softening the impact of climate change.

The panel starts work on 28 February in Accra, Ghana, to finalise its report to governments. The report will be the third issued in 2001 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Its two earlier reports this year said unambiguously that there was greater scientific confidence that the world was warming, that human activities were at least partly responsible, and that the consequences would be serious.

But this third report, by contrast, by the IPCC's working group three, looks likely to dwell instead on the remaining uncertainties surrounding climate change, and on the consequent difficulty of choosing suitable mitigation policies.

Unwillingness or inability?

A copy of the draft which the Accra meeting will be seeking to finalise was passed to BBC News Online. It urges "a prudent risk management strategy" and "careful consideration of the consequences, both environmental and economic".

None of us would want the IPCC reports or their summaries to be ridiculed for being vague or evasive on this point in this increasingly critical climate

Aubrey Meyer, GCI
It says policymakers should be ready for "possible revision of the scientific insights into the risks of climate change". The draft says: "Climate change decision-making is essentially a sequential process under uncertainty . . . it should consider appropriate hedging" until there is agreement on the level at which greenhouse gas emissions should be stabilised.

But the panel's apparent unwillingness - or inability - to be as forthright as the authors of the two earlier reports has been attacked by a UK-based group, the Global Commons Institute. This argues for a policy of "contraction and convergence" (C&C) as the fairest way to tackle climate change.

C&C insists, in essence, that everyone in the world, from rich and poor countries alike, has an equal right to emit greenhouse gases, but that total emissions should be kept below the level where they intensify global warming.

French support

The advocates of contraction and convergence include most of the European Union's environment ministers, the European Parliament, and the UK's Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

It was given a significant boost at the climate conference last November in the Dutch capital, The Hague, when President Jacques Chirac of France spelt out his support for it.

Now, Aubrey Meyer, the director of the GCI, has written to Bert Metz, who co-chairs the IPCC group meeting in Accra, urging him to include a recommendation of C&C in the policy-makers' summary which the meeting will issue.

Mr Meyer writes: "Failing this, a residual character of randomness and drift in the summary will continue to dissipate the process that the IPCC exists to inform. None of us would want the IPCC reports or their summaries to be ridiculed for being vague or evasive on this point in this increasingly critical climate.

"Such an outcome is irresponsible, unnecessary and dangerous."

Dissenters' view

Support for the GCI stance has come from an influential climatologist, Sir John Houghton. Sir John is a former head of the UK Met. Office, and now co-chairs the IPCC's working group one, the team which last month said it was more confident that global warming was happening, and that average temperatures might rise twice as fast by 2100 as had been thought.

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He told BBC News Online: "I hope contraction and convergence will find some part in working group three's report. I think these ideas are important because of their logic, and because of their appeal on grounds of principle. C&C does actually address three distinct principles: that we should take a precautionary approach, that the polluter should pay, and that we must be concerned with equity.

"Because it addresses these, C&C needs to be taken very seriously."

However, there are also those observers who will want the scepticism that has crept into the IPCC's working group three draft to be maintained. Those scientists who doubt the global warming hypothesis, and humankind's part in it, were delighted to see what they regarded as some realism enter the thinking of the UN body.

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See also:

24 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
'Odds against' a climate deal
21 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate 'uncertainty' stumps UN
22 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Global warming 'not clear cut'
22 Jan 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate change outstrips forecasts
16 Nov 00 | Climate change
Viewpoint: Get off warming bandwagon
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Viewpoint: The Sun and climate change
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