Monday, December 7, 2009

Opening ceremonies

As part of the welcoming ceremony this morning the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, made some brief comments to underscore the urgency felt by many scientists and what is at stake in the political negotiations here in Copenhagen. He spoke about many of the impacts of climate change (both being witnessed now and expected in the future) such as the depletion of sea ice in the Arctic, increases in drought intensity and frequency and the number of species at risk of extinction or extirpation because of a loss of habitat as background conditions change. Human factors are expected to exacerbate all of these effects as population, urbanization, and land use modifications increase worldwide.

He highlighted a number of key elements that signaled the shift from science to policy. As for the so called "climategate" issues that has been shadowing the Copenhagen meetings for the last week, he re-asserted that the IPCC has concluded that the empirical evidence for the occurrence of changing climate conditions is now "unequivocal". These smears meant to discredit the IPCC miss the point that there is a large body of independent research and investigators that have consistently generated research supporting the main message that climate change is now being seen on land, in the atmosphere and oceans, and in the ice-bound areas of the world. This research has been extensively peer-reviewed and vetted before being published or released. He concluded by saying "I have no basis for any objections" about the scientific basis for climate change.

Listening to Dr. Pachauri speak followed by many of the party nations as they are making their opening statements is a sobering experience. It is clear what is at stake. Less clear is whether the political consensus exists or can be forged in the next two weeks to make meaningful change.

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