Sunday, March 02, 2014

Why Cameron was wrong to say climate change is one of the most serious threats.

Last Wednesday, 26th February 2014, there was an exchange in the House of Commons between the Prime Minister, David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. As recorded by Hansard,  where you can read the whole thing, after some discussion about floods and spending on protection, it went like this:
Edward Miliband: It is very interesting, because someone who in opposition wanted to talk as much as he could about climate change is now desperate to get off the subject. I asked him a question: will he just set out for his party and for the country his views on man-made climate change?
The Prime Minister: I believe that man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world face. …
Edward Miliband: Excellent; we are getting somewhere. I agree with what the Prime Minister said about the importance of climate change.
Yes, it is excellent, we are getting somewhere. But where and how quickly? Cameron is wrong to say that climate change is one of the most serious threats. It is far and away the most important threat; by far the most likely cause of the end of civilisation as we know it, perhaps even the extinction of the human race. Miliband is wrong for not pointing this out and wrong for not talking of climate change at all in his Labour Party Spring Conference speech two days later. That was rather a large omission for one of the most serious threats that this country and this world face.
Certainly the floods have increased the volume of climate related talking but let's just take a check as to where we are.  The first part of the IPCC AR5, the biggest scientific study ever undertaken about anything, was published last September. It presented the physical science. Near the end of this month the second part, on 'Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability' will be published, spelling out consequences.

On the same day as Cameron and Miliband came to agreement in Parliament a paper by Todd Sanford et al. was published in Nature with the opening lines: "It is time to acknowledge that global average temperatures are likely to rise above the 2 degrees C policy target and consider how that deeply troubling prospect should affect priorities for communicating and managing the risks of a dangerously warming climate." Sanford says that we are ill-prepared for a world that is increasingly likely to experience warming well in excess of 2°C this century.  The World Bank, in its 4 degrees Turn Down the Heat reports last year has shown just how unacceptable such a scenario is. My son, Chris Vernon, while working on the Greenland Ice Sheet melt problem, set out just why the the future for his generation is so bleak in this article over a year ago.
David Cameron (and Ed Miliband) are wrong to think that their brief parliamentary agreement represents any serious glimmer of hope.  Too much time has slipped by, the (arbitrary) 2 degree goal has slipped by, we are currently on course for worse than the worst case scenario presented by the IPCC.  Government, and that means all government ministers, must recognise that man-made climate change is the most serious threat that this country and this world face. And we the people must empower government to act accordingly. We mustn't just sit back and blame the politicians. It is our collective responsibility.

The choices before us:

The Ski Slope Diagram from German Advisory Council on Global Warming drawn in 2009.  We have chosen the red path, or worse.