Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Climate lecture with Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri

The chairman of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri, held a climate lecture at the University of Copenhagen, as part of the University's series of climate lectures (this was the 24th in the series). The lecture series has been going on for several months leading up to COP15, which is going on right now in Copenhagen.

As many of these lectures are held during the day, I have unfortunately not been able to attend most of them. The only one I've seen before this one was one held by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a Saturday. This lecture, however, was in the evening - from 19:30-20:30, so it ended about an hour ago.

The topic of today's lecture was Key findings from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

The audience was a good mixture of young and old, academia and activists, Danish and foreign.

The following is based on the notes I took during the lecture.

First the head of the University, rector Ralf Hemmingsen made a speech on the importance of an agreement at COP15, and the contributions of Dr. Pachauri and the IPCC towards this goal. Hemmingsen also made clear that science is clear regarding anthropogenic global warming.

Hemmingsen said that people wanted to get photographed with climate scientists like Dr. Pachauri, and one of Dr. Pachauri's first comments was to make clear that was because people want to have their photographs taken together with geeks.

Dr. Pachauri also raised the issue of ethics from the start - saying that we often miss ethnics when we are looking at the science.

The Dr. Pachauri went into explaining about bit about how the IPCC works. IPCC is an intergovernmental body, which is not really bound by the bureaucracy of the UN, and all its decisions are made by consensus.

First they do an outline of the report, write to countries, organizations and institutions to get nominations to the authors. This results in more than 2500 nominations, 450 lead authors, 800 contributors. After report has been written it's submitted for peer review and governmental review. These reviews are read and usually incorporated in the document, and the author has to document why any input is disregarded.

Now Dr. Pachauri went into the findings (the report can be found here, so depend on my resume of Dr. Pachauri's speech). Some of these were:

- Global atmospheric concentrations of emissions of greenhouse gases has increased markedly as a result of human activities with an increase of 70% in 1970-2004.

- Fluctuations have in the past been the result of natural phenomenons, but within the last 100 years that's not the case. Within the last 50 years, the increase has been twice as much as the hundred year average.

- A large number of models using only natural forcing has been run, showing that the current increase is a deviation from what would be cause by natural forcing. Models
taking anthropogenic forcing into account fits the observed data.

- Sea level rise has accelerated in last couple of decades.

- Frequency of heavy precipitation events has increased over most land areas. Won't link any specific/single event to AGW, but the trend is there.

- Tropical cyclones reaching higher intensity have increased over the past 3 decades. Again, no single event to AGW, but the trend is there.

A lot of these things re-enforce each other.

- Heat waves are becoming more frequent.

- Continuing the trend will induce many changes in the 21st century much worse than what can be observed now.

- 1.1-6.4 degrees C best estimate 1.8-4 degrees C. Even the lower estimate of the best estimate would mean that the temp would increase 2.4 degrees in 2 centuries.

- Asian and African mega-deltas are particularly in danger, and the impact is severe.

- 20-30% of species are likely to be at risk if warming exceeds 1.5-2.5C

And now for the more political aspects of the findings.

- Need to think on implications on global security. Hundreds of millions of people could be forced from their native lands (rising sea levels, extreme events, floods, famines)

- Adaption alone is not expected to cope with all the projected effects of climate change

- Dr. Pachauri made clear that the cost of mitigation efforts would be very small compared to the global GNP, and near-term co-benefits may offset a substantial fraction of mitigation costs.

- We can use technologies that are currently available or expected to be commercialized in coming decades - e.g. introducing public transport places where they don't have it.

- Key tech: energy supply, transport, building

- Instruments, policies and practices - research, infrastructure, regulations, taxes, change in lifestyle (e.g. eat less meat). Needed to be implemented around the world - both in the developed countries, but also in the developing countries.

Sorry about the rather incoherent resume, but there was a lot of information in a short time.

After Dr. Pachauri's lecture, there was a short Q&A where the denialists were out in (relative) force.

First up from the denialist crowd came someone who I think might be Morano - if not, he was the same type of asshole. He made a lot of insinuations and ended up asking Dr. Pachauri if he didn't believe that fossils fuels had been the greatest boon to mankind (as it could not be both a great boon in the past and a very real source of problems now). Dr. Pachauri didn't really answer that question, but said that if the choice was between alternative energy, such as solar power, and classic energy/light sources, which releases greenhouse gases, then people in the places like India would choose alternative energy.

Given the false premise of the question, this might be the most constructive answer, but I would have preferred if Dr. Pachauri had addressed the false premise, and said that it could both be a boon and a problem.

After perhaps-Morano, came definitely-Monckton. Monckton made a lot of noise about problems with the IPCC report and accused the IPCC in general, and Dr. Pachauri specifically, of fraud, saying that people/scientists (didn't catch the names mentioned, but rest assure that it's the usual denialist token scientists) were calling for Dr. Pachauri to step down, and the IPCC to be dissolved.

Dr. Pachauri was exceedingly polite to Monckton, much more so than what his rather serious accusations would merit, and pointed out that if the IPCC was capable of fraud on the scale that Monckton claimed, then the IPCC would merit a great amount of respect, given the number of countries and people involved. At this point Monckton tried to interrupt, and Dr. Pachauri finally got angry enough to raise his voice, telling Monckton to let him finish answering the question.

After Dr. Pachauri had finished demolishing Monckton's silly accusations, Monckton tried to ask follow up questions, but was told, rightfully, by the moderator to sit down, as it was not his turn to have the floor. Still Monckton continued, until he was shouted down by the audience, which was not impressed by his antics.

A few questions more were asked, and the Q&A came to a close.

Given the applause the different questions and answers gave, I'd say that the denialists were rude and noisy, but few in number, while science-minded people made up the majority of the audience.

As a final note, I should perhaps suggest people sympathetic to Monckton to explain to him that Denmark actually have laws against slander and libel, and accusing scientists of fraud might very well be considered such by the Danish courts, especially in this context.

Update: I've just received an email with a link to the actual powerpoint presentation used by Dr. Pachauri - it can be found here.

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