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scientists and engineers comment on the UN Climate Change Conference

The Science Media Centre asked climate change experts for their take on negotiations at the conference in Bali on its final day.


Professor Bill McGuire, University College London, said:

“If we are to avoid dangerous climate change, we have perhaps seven years to stabilise global emissions. Meanwhile we are having meetings about meetings, and still can’t seem to come to any sensible and effective consensus. To be counted as anything like a success, Bali must end with a cast-iron, inclusive, commitment for industrialised nations to cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020. Anything less must be regarded as failure.”


Professor Diana Liverman, Director, Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University, said:

“Bali has already agreed on many stages in a roadmap to reducing the risks of climate change. Clearly informed by IPCC and other scientific studies, considerable progress has been made on the key issues of adaptation, avoided deforestation, technology transfers and a more geographically and sectorally balanced Clean Development Mechanism. It remains to be seen if we will also see mention of the scientific guidance that emissions should be reduced by at least half by 2050 or of interim goals of 25-40% by 2020. One of my other observations on Bali is the dynamic role of non-state actors such as cities, firms and regions who are making parallel commitments to reduce their emissions.”


Dr Dave Reay, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, said:

“Bali has not delivered the mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that are required to avoid dangerous climate change. The clock is still ticking and it would seem that yet another 18 months will have to pass before the greatest obstacle to progress is removed.”


Dr Stephan Harrison, University of Exeter, said:

“Scientific evidence of the rapidity and seriousness of climate change is appearing almost weekly. In the light of this, it would be seen as an enormous political failure if the Bali conference ended without binding agreements on future emissions.”


Dr Paul Williams, a NERC Research Fellow in climate modeling at Reading University, said:

“”It will be profoundly disappointing if the summit ends without a firm commitment to cut emissions beyond 2012. Legally-binding targets are urgently needed to create stability for the global carbon market and to help businesses plan for a low-carbon future. We must not allow another year to pass before agreement is reached.”


Andrew Furlong, Director of Policy, Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), said:

“Any framework agreed in Bali to dramatically cut carbon emission levels must include industries such as international aviation and shipping.

“The Kyoto agreement remains fundamentally flawed in its failure to include such emission sources. Huge international decisions in the areas of energy policy, climate change and sustainable development need to be reached. And yet all too often, input based on sound science or good engineering principle is sidelined or worse, ignored altogether.

“Within the British Government, a fundamental step-change has to take place – starting with reassessing the impact scientists and engineers can bring to key departments including the Treasury, DBERR and DIUS.

“Chemical engineers have consistently argued for a much stronger technical input into policy making. Technical expertise has to be the foundation for any future legislation. Politicians can then start tackling problems, rather than simply discussing them.”


Prof Robert Spicer, Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research (CEPSAR) at the Open University, said:

“The physics of the world’s climate is not subject to compromise. It is governed by the laws of nature that cannot be negotiated upon. This is something politicians need to appreciate. They also need to demonstrate to the world’s population, all of whom are subject to the effects of climate change, they can agree on an appropriate, timely and intelligent response to the challenges we face. So far I don’t see much evidence of either understanding the problem or agreeing on appropriate actions.”


Dr Colin Summerhayes, Scott Polar Research Institute, said:

“When polar scientists talk about the dangers inherent in a global warming of 2 degrees, they are not thinking about that average, but about the fact that the polar regions warm twice as much as the rest of the world. We see early indications of this effect in the massive and unanticipated rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice. The worry is that with further warming the ice sheets themselves will suddenly start to shrink. Summer surface meltwater will expand vertical fractures in the ice sheet and lubricate the ice sheet bed, so leading to mechanical breakup by mechanisms that we currently cannot model by computer and so cannot forecast. Such a break-up could progress rapidly, raising sea level further and faster than currently predicted. That is why the IPCC has recently removed the upper limit on potential sea-level rise.

“In calling for a cutback on emissions, the Bali participants recognise the reality of these potential hazards, and are trying to agree on a way to deal with the problem. In parallel we need significant investment in research on ice sheet models. There will be a major scientific workshop in St Petersburg, Russia, in July 2008, to develop plans for ice sheet modelling as part of the International Polar Year (2007-2009).”


Dr Chris Huntingford, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), said:

“Computer models of the climate system are now highly sophisticated and can differentiate between natural cycles and changes made by increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. These models show very clearly that the warming being measured around the world is almost certainly due to the burning of fossil fuels, and could not have happened naturally.

“Projecting to the future, to stabilise the climate system at a warming level that is not dangerous does require large cuts in carbon dioxide emissions and soon. Based on these computer models, cuts of 25-40% by 2020 as suggested in Bali, are a major step along the path to achieving climate stabilisation.”


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