Scientists warn that slowing climate change headlines should not mean slowing climate action

Clare Saxon Ghauri
20 May 2013

LONDON: Scientists warn that despite reactionary headlines stating the world is warming slower than expected, their research shows longer-term warming will still reach dangerous levels unless we urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Research published in the Nature Geoscience reports that a doubling of CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere above pre-industrial times would increase temperatures over the coming decades at a slower rate than the IPCC estimated in 2007, but the long-term temperature rises match IPCC’s estimates.

Second chance

Authors state that the reason warming in the atmosphere has slowed in the short term is likely due to warmth being absorbed by the ocean. They say that eventually the oceans will stop taking this heat, meaning temperatures will continue to rise and consequences will be just as harmful as originally estimated.

The scientists state that this small pause offers us a ‘second chance’ for urgent climate action. Piers Forster of the UK University of Leeds, who contributed to the new study said: "If previous estimates [of how the climate will warm] were true, keeping the world below 2 °C would have been almost impossible however big our emission cuts. Now it looks like we have a chance, so we should take it."

Nothing to celebrate

Professor Steven Sherwood of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales, said: "These authors have [...] found that the oceans are sequestering heat more rapidly than expected over the last decade. By assuming that this behavior will continue, they calculate that the climate will warm about 20% more slowly than previously expected, although over the long term it may be just as bad, since eventually the ocean will stop taking up heat. So while their conclusions are interesting, they need to be taken with a large grain of salt until we see what happens to the oceans over the coming years.”

Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager, The Climate Group, said: “The slower rate of warming offers no reason for complacency. Based on the current rate of emissions we are still heading for over 2 degrees of dangerous warming by the end of the century, with potentially devastating climate impacts before then. The warming of the oceans instead of the atmosphere is nothing to celebrate either, with warmer temperatures effecting marine ecosystems, increasing thermal expansion of the ocean and accelerating the loss of sea ice. All of these impacts have direct and negative material impacts for all of us, so now is not the time for governments or businesses to be slowing climate action.”

Related news:

Atmospheric CO2 hits record levels

Spiralling climate costs must trigger US action

By Clare Saxon

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