The political climate needs to change – and quickly
The latest international report makes us more certain than ever about climate change – why then does global inertia persist?
Calved icebergs from the nearby Twin Glaciers are seen floating on the water in Qaqortoq, Greenland. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Last week saw the publication of two research reports into climate change, the fifth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a study from Met Éireann on how climate change is likely to affect Ireland.
The IPCC report has now reached a 95 per cent confidence level that much of the change taking place is related to human activity.
At this stage the debate should be over, and governments should be moving towards agreement on how to respond to the massive threat we face.
Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case. There was no sense of urgency arising from the report, nor much local response from Met Éireann’s fine study. Yet climate scientists here argue that the time for action is now, given that the ongoing science has delivered more than enough evidence to show climate change is real.
A kind of Manhattan Project
“The latest IPCC report didn’t reveal new things, but it makes us more certain than ever about climate change. There is no doubt about it now,” says Peter Lynch, professor of meteorology at University College Dublin.
“I would never say the science is done, but the scientific picture is very clear and there has to be political action.”
However, there is nothing to suggest that governments will act in any concerted way. “I don’t think the politicians are going to solve this, really,” says Lynch.
He suggests we need innovative thinking, and the resources and resolve to make bold moves. Lynch likens the situation to the effort and money poured into the Manhattan Project in the US to develop and build a nuclear weapon. At the time that goal became a key objective, and technological and financial obstacles were swept away.
He would like to see this sort of determination applied to, for instance, the development of a working fusion reactor, a source of electricity based on the chemistry that makes the sun and stars work.
Heavy engineering may deliver ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or methods to mop it up through carbon capture and storage, he says. We have to think big, because engineered alternatives such as wave energy are still a long way off delivering cheap, reliable power.
Governments are slow to respond to the challenges posed by climate change in part because electorates are indifferent to the issue. This is partially due to the effectiveness of the climate-change sceptics lobby.
“We are still involved in having to sway the community at large,” he says, warning them of the negative effects but “having to sound believable. The problem is we have so much evidence from so many areas we are going to see these impacts. We really need to take this seriously.”
However, governments still do not seem motivated to do anything about it. “We have got to have a clear path. There are significant changes that will take place, and action can follow once we accept we have to do something about it,” Jones says.