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Fiji Time: 8:24 PM on Friday 25 July

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An icy change

Solomoni Biumaiono
Saturday, September 14, 2013

Ahead of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC's) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), a heated debate has developed between scientists all over the world. This follows reports of the presence of more ice in our seas than in previous years.

At the centre of the debate is the increase of Arctic sea ice, nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered in ice, an increase of 60 per cent from last year's level.

This has led scientists to conclude that the world is cooling and that global warming has slowed down or is no more.

Others are insisting global warming is still very much part of our reality and the global temperature will continue to rise.

Criticisms are largely levelled at the IPCC and its scientists who say that current trends of global warming has not dissipated nor are there any indication that show that the presence of more sea ice in the Arctic is an indication of the slowing down of global warming.

One of the authors and reviewer of four of the five IPCC's Assessment Reports, Professor Elisabeth Holland and winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize medal for her work in the field of climate change, still disagrees with the new findings and theories put forward.

Now Fiji's representative to the IPCC and as head of the University of the South Pacific's Global Climate Change Alliance Project, Prof Holland rebutted the recent scientific findings and media reports labelling it as outdated and very far from the truth.

"From what I can gather from this article is that all it says eminent scientists and that reference does not have a name to it so you should not give too much to it," Prof Holland said referring to the Daily Mail article which revealed the story about the increase in sea ice in the arctic region.

According to the British newspaper scientists believe the world is cooling and this will continue until the middle of the century and even inferred the widely accepted computer forecasts saying global warming are dangerously misleading.

"As far as I know this argument of the world cooling down has been around since the 1970s and was used by some scientists then who said the world was in a cooling period in the middle of the last century. So this model has been around for some time saying that the presence of sea ice will continue to increase."

Using data from the US-owned National Snow and Ice Data Centre, Prof Holland showed that sea ice has been continually decreasing since 1979 and pointing to the upward gradients said: "The increase of Arctic sea ice this year compared to last year is recorded in these upward shift but as you can see the trend is showing that is it is always going down.

"It will have to take another 10 years of upward shifts on this graph for us to correctly conclude that the world is now in a cooling period because such sudden annual increases in Arctic sea ice levels has happened in the past," Prof Holland said.

This is an argument that the Daily Mail says is frequently used by the IPCC against its critics who are now saying Arctic sea ice levels are cyclical — freezing and re-freezing many times in the last century alone.

Prof Holland then threw the debate wide open, flinging six paperback books on top of her desk — books which claim that climate change is just a hoax and a myth, sometimes branding scientists and advocates like Prof Holland as alarmists.

"Here, here, here," Prof Holland said as she flung the books onto the table.

"There are probably more of these kinds of books in the library back there that are against climate change.

"People who do not agree or do not think that our world is growing warmer due to the burning of fossil fuels and that the increase of our energy consumption is causing this and who do not think that human activity is the main cause of all this."

This is a concern that is easily recognised by her critics themselves and one she readily admits is one of the main causes behind the opposition — how the global economy stands to suffer from cutbacks in the global carbon emission levels.

The economic impact of adhering to an environment friendly culture on the global economy has always been a thorny issue with many countries reluctantly pledging to pull back or cut down their carbon emission levels at international environmental summits because they might run the risks of compromising their economies.

"I have just come back from the Forum Leaders Meeting where the head of the PIFS (Pacific Island Forum Secretariat), Neroni Slade, revealed that there are more than $500 billion worth of fuel subsidies. Yet I can say that the cost of climate change adaptation and mitigation projects do not even amount to at least $1billion.

The International Energy Agency estimated that in 2011, the world recorded $US523 billion ($F975b) worth of fossil fuel consumption subsidies.

These subsidies allow countries to make fossil fuel cheaper and accessible for their businesses and their citizens and which in turn prevents them from using alternative energy sources like solar, wind and other environmentally-friendly energy options.

The health of economies is always at the centre of the climate change debate, which at times, stall commitments from countries which use a lot of fossil fuel to drive their economic production.

And according to the IPCC Assessment Reports, low-lying islands around the world, especially in the Pacific, will suffer because of rising sea levels caused by carbon emissions which warms the seas and melts the polar ice caps.

"The energy output from Pacific Island countries right now is three negative below the internationally accepted level," Prof Holland said.

Critics of climate change insist that global warming is a natural phenomenon and not caused by humans burning fossil fuel, their argument based on the questions on the extent to which temperatures will rise with carbon dioxide levels and how much of the warming over the past 150 years is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.

Prof Holland said the IPCC scientists performed experiments using several scenarios which depicted the amount of carbon present in the atmosphere before and after the mass mining of fossil fuel showed a different path.

Using another graph which was published on the Global Carbon Project website with an updated version to be part of the IPCC Fifth Report, she showed that results of these experiments were more alarming.

The graph shows the trajectories of fossil fuel emissions by tracking some of the most carbon intensive emission scenarios.

The current trajectory is tracking the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 8.5 that predicts that the planet temperature will increase by 4 degree C to 6.1 degree C above pre-industrial times by the end of this century.

"The experiments used many different scenarios and the most accurate one that depicts the current global temperature scenario was the one in which the amount of human induced carbon emissions was used.

"The current trajectory will show that we will go beyond some of the parameters and thresholds that we had pledged at Copenhagen. The trajectories have been steadily rising since Rio and up the time of the Kyoto Protocol and then up to Copenhagen just a few years ago," Prof Holland said.

According to the IPCC data, world carbon emission trajectories have been steadily increasing since the United Nations Conference Environment and Development meeting in Rio Je Janiro in 1992 up to the adoption of the 1997 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is widely known as the Kyoto Protocol and which continued to increase even up to the Copenhagen Agreement penned in 2009 to limit global temperature increase to 2 per cent.

The Pacific Report of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report on Climate Change will be launched at USP later in November by scientists from Australia and New Zealand.


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