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Climate change experts offer hope at international conference in Exeter

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 19, 2014

A gathering of climate scientists in Exeter said the UK still had a huge way to go but there was hope of avoiding catastrophe

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Avoiding catastrophic climate change is still "perfectly feasible" if action is taken now to ditch fossil fuels and move to a low-carbon economy, a world-renowned West Country scientist has said.

Professor Catherine Mitchell, lead author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said reducing "greenhouse gases" to keep the global temperature rise to within 2C rise by 2100 remains a realistic target.

But to avert a global crisis, the Government must "up its game" and stop looking after the big companies who profit from polluting fuels.

As professor of energy policy at Exeter University, she was one of more than 250 scientists to work on the fifth IPCC report – the latest in an analysis which began in 1988.

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The report warned last month that halting disastrous increases in temperature requires the tripling of renewable power and calculates that this would only cost a fraction of GDP and need not mean sacrificing living standards.

Professor Mitchell spoke during a unique gathering of the some of the world's leading climate scientists at Exeter's £48 million Forum this week.

The landmark Transformational Climate Science conference assembled the key academics who led the report's three working groups for the first time in the UK and the only time outside the confines of the United Nations.

She said: "Personally, I think the IPCC report shows how much mitigation we have to undertake if we are to meet the 2C target – in Britain we are nowhere near and we have to up our game.

"The report shows that by 2030 globally we should be getting about 25 per cent of our energy – for electricity, heat and transport – from low carbon sources but we have had a process in place since 1990 and we have only managed 3 to 4 per cent so we are way off target.

"The Government really has to start explaining, not in a scary way, what climate change means to people's daily lives and manage that change.

"There will be winners and losers – I would argue the Government spends too much time looking after the losers – the fossil fuel companies – rather than innovative businesses."

Experts from across the spectrum met to critically reflect on the IPCC report, which was published in stages over the past year.

The report was boiled down from 1.1 million words to 14,000 for the Summary for Policymakers (SFP), which was negotiated by governments over four days last September, sometimes taking up to an hour to agree a paragraph.

A 24-page synthesis report will be presented to the UN climate conference next year in Paris, an annual event, which tends to grab global headlines when a deal on emissions is attempted, as in Kyoto and Copenhagen.

Swiss climate change modeller Professor Thomas Stocker, co-chairman of working group one, summarised the findings during the first of five sessions held over two days in Exeter.

He said the panel had reduced the text further into a set of 19 headline statements, providing a "coherent narrative on less than two pages".

"There is no excuse for policy makers not to understand or read what we have found," he told the audience.

"Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and widespread. All these scientific findings have led us to the simplest of the headline statements – that human influence on the climate system is clear.

"It is short and concise and all the governments of the world have approved this statement."

Professor Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Met Office, said the panel's findings represent "compelling evidence that climate change is taking the Earth into uncharted territory" which could lead to "unprecedented extremes" of weather.


Merlin Hyman, chief executive of regional industry body Regen South West, says the IPCC reports sets out 'in stark terms' the urgent need to tackle carbon emissions but says the massive increase in renewable energy is already under way. He points to Spain, where wind power narrowly outstripped nuclear to become the number one electricity generator with a share of 21 per cent last year – up 12 per cent – slashing emission by almost a quarter. Germany, produced a record 27 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources during the first quarter. According to Mr Hyman, 70 per cent of new electricity generation capacity in Europe in 2013 was renewable energy and Scotland expects to produce half its electricity from 'clean' sources by next year. 'Anyone still wondering if renewables work should simply try flicking a light switch when they next cross the border,' he added. By comparison, the UK has been one of the slowest developed countries to transformation its pledge in 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent from their 1990 level by 2050 In 2013, 15 per cent of UK electricity came from renewables

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  • Jim_Hunt  |  May 20 2014, 6:40PM

    siarad2 - For comprehensive coverage of the Transformational Climate Science conference, including lots of pretty pictures, please see http://tinyurl.com/ecotcs As it says on the tin, the conference was about science not taxing clouds!

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  • siarad2  |  May 19 2014, 12:54PM

    How come if CO2 is such a good insulator do we get frosts at night when the heat containing clouds are gone. I recall living in the Sahara desert & it was scorchingly hot during the day but good blankets were needed at night due to frost under the cloudless sky, why? if CO2 is such a good insulator. Obviously it's clouds that keep the Earth warm, tax them you know it makes sense ;-)

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