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MEPs and experts debate global warming

Expert witnesses gave a range of assessments of the potential climate impact of different levels of global warming at the Temporary Committee on Climate Change on Monday, which held the first of six meetings on different themes.

There were warnings of catastrophic consequences of inaction – but a researcher from the US gave a different view. „Global warming exists”, said theme leader Vittorio Prodi (ALDE, IT). „The situation is both serious and imminent”: we had to be ready to study it and to process the available technical data on climate change, he argued.

„When we produce a final document,” he added, referring to the role of the Temporary Committee, „we should be able to propose a number of measures that will guide the work on climate change across all EP committees.” We need to get people motivated, said committee rapporteur Karl Heinz Florenz (EPP-ED, DE), to get the „research and development revolution” necessary to address climate change.

2003 heat wave a „normal summer” in future?
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and chief climate change adviser to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, urged members to recall the heat wave which killed 35,000 people during the summer of 2003. Such a summer, according to his projections would become the norm by 2040; by 2060 standards, it would be perceived as cool.

Schellnhuber listed a number of ecological disasters that threaten to accompany „unbridled” global warming, among them: the decimation of the Amazonian rainforest; the disruption of monsoons over the Indian subcontinent; the „increasingly disruptive” power of hurricanes; a significant rise in sea levels; and even less precipitation in southern Europe. In order to meet the EU's target of limiting temperature increase to less than 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, Schellnhuber concluded, we need not to stabilize but to lower carbon emissions.

Atmospheric CO2 levels currently stand at 375 ppm (parts per million), said Malte Meinsheusen, also of the Potsdam Institute. Without climate mitigation, he estimated, we will have reached anywhere from 600 to 1550 ppm by the end of the century. Even if CO2 levels were to stabilize at 550 ppm, the likelihood of meeting the 2°C target would be only 20 percent. Global emissions, he argued, „need to peak around 2015” and then begin dropping: otherwise, he warned, our climate change objectives for 2050 will slip out of reach. Stabilization at 500 ppm, said Caroline Lucas (Greens/EFA, UK), will not deliver climate change security.

Criticism of and support for the IPCC projections
Richard Lindzen, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had a notably different view of things. „Never has an area of physical science been subjected to such a volume of illogic”, he began, „as has climate science in connection with global warming.” Criticizing the methodology behind some of the research on climate change, including that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he argued that „only about 30% of the surface warming since 1979 can be attributed to global warming of any sort.” He concluded: „The long chains of inference involved in projecting catastrophic consequences are grossly unlikely.”

Brian Hoskins, of the University of Reading, expressed confidence in the „repeatedly tested” IPCC models. Though he acknowledged that „they certainly are not perfect”, he said: „If the models are wrong, they are wrong on the conservative side”. Highly confident that „greenhouse gases are perturbing the Earth’s climate system in a significant manner”, he noted that „we may not know the details of what we’re doing but we are doing something that we need to be aware of.” The „grand challenge of science”, therefore, is to give policymakers „well-founded projections for regional climate change in the next few decades” – this, to enable proper adaptation. (EP Press – press release)