News from the COP: Monckton parachutes in

  • 07 Dec 2011, 17:45
  • Ed King

This morning Durban stopped as a man in a pinstripe suit leapt from a plane and parachuted to the beach, leaving trails of red vapour in the sky.

A gust of wind one way could have sent him into the shark-infested Indian Ocean. A small puff the other would have propelled him into the security wire that rings the buildings here.

But all was still.

On landing - which appeared textbook - Lord Monckton's message was clear: Listen to me! As I may not be listening to you.

Monckton seems to be attending in order to harangue various members of the scientific community. No sooner had I finished interviewing Michel Jarraud, the head of the WMO, than the good Viscount pounced on him. Judging by the website of the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow - which organised the parachute drop - Monckton's team have been trawling the conference, sparking debates with delegates and filming the results.

It's all just grist to the Durban mill. Having covered two Olympics, FA Cup finals, the Six Nations and a variety of other top sporting events, I felt pretty well prepared for a UN summit. But I can honestly say I've experienced nothing quite like this before.

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US Republican candidate sparks hunt for Scottish climate skeptic university

  • 07 Dec 2011, 14:22
  • Ros Donald

Swayed by Scottish skeptics?

Seemingly sensible Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman decided yesterday to court the climate skeptic vote by reversing his support for the scientific consensus on climate change - all because of work by a Scottish university.

At right wing think tank the Heritage Foundation's weekly  Bloggers Briefing, Huntsman said the US could not afford to jeopardise its economic recovery for the sake of combating climate change, suggesting that the scientific debate should "play out" before making policy to mitigate the impact of global warming.

Asked whether he had changed his position on climate science, Huntsman replied:

"I'm not a physicist, I'm not a scientist. I tend to defer to those who do it for a living. I'd be prepared to take it out of the political milieu and put it into the scientific milieu. There are questions about the validity of the science - evidence by one university over in Scotland recently."

But which Scottish university does he mean? Think Progress  notes:

"It is not clear what 'university over in Scotland' Huntsman meant. The universities and colleges of Scotland have signed the Universities and Colleges Climate Commitment of Scotland, which states:

We recognise thescale and speed of climate change, and the likely effect on Scotland's people and places, impacting adversely on our economy, society and environment. […] We acknowledge the Scottish Government objective - to reduce emissions by 80% by 2050 - to avert the worst impacts of climate change; and realise we have a role to play in this."

Huntsman's statement certainly came as news to  Universities Scotland's press spokesperson, whose response we will post as soon as she's rung round to see what he was talking about.

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Frozen Planet episode to show in USA after all

  • 06 Dec 2011, 20:56
  • Verity Payne

When the US Discovery Channel stated it was not going to show the episode of the BBC's series Frozen Planet which focuses on the effects of climate change on the polar regions the news was greeted with disappointment by US commentators. But now it seems that Discovery have changed their minds and the series will show in full in the spring, including the climate-themed episode that shows this Wednesday in the UK.

Press reports earlier this month  suggested that the final programme of the series had been marketed separately in order to help the show sell better abroad. There were also suggestions that the US market might be less interested in a climate themed episode, although as in the US the series is to be narrated by Alec Baldwin, and the climate episode differs from others by featuring David Attenborough on screen extensively, this may be a more mundane explanation.

However  Discovery announced today that the polar climate episode will air along with the rest of the series. Associated Press  report:

"Discovery Channel's documentary series "Frozen Planet" will premiere March 18, and will encompass seven episodes including a program on climate change hosted by David Attenborough.

"On that seventh episode, the famed British naturalist will investigate what rising temperatures will mean for the planet and life on it."

The episode will be the BBC's most extensive look at the subject of climate change in a flagship nature documentary, and the usual suspects have been trying to raise controversy around it.

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At least three-quarters of global temperature rise since the 1950s caused by humans

  • 05 Dec 2011, 09:30
  • Verity Payne

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At least three-quarters of the rise in average global temperature since the 1950s is due to human activity, according to new research published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Researchers using a new technique determined that since the middle of the last century greenhouse gas emissions would have resulted in a temperature rise of around 0.85 °C, although that potential temperature rise that has been partially counterbalanced by aerosols cooling the Earth, offsetting about half that amount.

Overall, temperatures have risen by  around 0.75 °C since the start of the 20th century.

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"Record setting changes" throughout the Arctic

  • 02 Dec 2011, 14:00
  • Christian Hunt

Rapid change is underway in the Arctic, with significant changes in sea ice patterns and knock-on effects on the oceans and soils of the region, according to the  annual 'Arctic report card' from US scientific body NOAA.

The assessment, which summarises the scientific literature on the region from the past year, makes it clear that the Arctic is continuing to experience "the impacts of a prolonged and intensified warming trend".

With more open water in the Arctic ocean for longer, and as the upper layers of the sea become warmer, and less salty due to melting ice, scientists have been observing significant changes in what's happening beneath the waves. The ocean is becoming more acidic, and this is acccelerating, as more open water means faster uptake of carbon dioxide. At the same time, life is blooming - over the past ten years or so satellite data shows a 20% increase in 'primary production' of phytoplanckton - the tiny creatures that make up the lowest level of the Arctic food chain.

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Rising incredulity at the Spectator’s use of dubious sea level claims

  • 02 Dec 2011, 11:15
  • Verity Payne

When the Spectator does climate change, it does it prominently - often on the front cover - and it promotes views that don't reflect the broad scientific agreement on climate change.

This week's  issue is no exception, with a front page article by climate skeptic and retired scientist Nils-Axel Mörner, in which he dismisses projections of rising sea level as "nonsense".

However, we can reveal that his claims are based on highly contested evidence and the body he claims to speak for no longer exists. What's more, his former colleagues are scrambling to distance themselves from his views.

In the piece, Mörner talks at length about the Maldives, the "best-known 'victim' of rising sea levels". Relative sea level in the Maldives has  risen over the last few decades, leading some to question whether the Maldives might become submerged as projected sea level rise plays out.

But according to Mörner's lengthy piece in the Spectator, the "truth about sea levels" is that "they're always fluctuating", and there's no need for concern:

"As someone with some expertise in the field, I can assure the low-lying countries that this is a false alarm... I have conducted six field trips to the Maldives."

Apart from having visited the country, Mörner has two claims to be an expert on this subject - he has published material on sea level rise (and in particular the Maldives) in peer-reviewed journals, and he is a former president of a body called "the INQUA commission on Sea Level Changes and Coastal Evolution," where, he says, "the world's true experts on sea level are to be found".

More on INQUA in a moment.


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