Analysis

Scientists challenge climate skeptic claims that UN panel overestimates warming

  • 06 Mar 2014, 14:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Lord Lawson's skeptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), released a report today criticising scientists' estimate of how sensitive earth's climate is to carbon dioxide.

In what may be a sign of growing confidence in the scientific community about engaging online, climate scientists have been quick to respond, highlighting what they label the report's "cherry picking" approach.

They have also pointed out Lawson's lobby group appears to have unwittingly come out in support of the mainstream scientific view - that we can expect a serious level of warming if emissions aren't brought down swiftly.

The GWPF  report, entitled 'Oversensitive: How the IPCC hid good the news on global warming", argues the UN's official climate body glossed over the possibility of modest future warming in its  latest assessment, in favour of evidence that the risks could be much higher.

Authored by former financier Nic Lewis, who describes himself as an "independent climate scientist", and freelance science writer Marcel Crok, the report claims to provide a "technically sound" and "independent" assessment of the IPCC's conclusions.

But climate scientists strongly disagree, today pointing out issues with the analysis.

A matter of sensitivity

The new GWPF report centres on something called climate sensitivity - the warming we can expect when carbon dioxide concentration reaches double what it was in preindustrial times.

In its most recent report, the IPCC estimated we're likely to see between one and 2.5 degrees Celsius at the point of doubling. This is what's known as the Transient Climate Sensitivity ( TCR).

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Cut the 'weirdo words' and put a human face on climate change, says UN chief

  • 06 Mar 2014, 12:00
  • Ros Donald

Scientists are making a huge effort to translate and humanise climate change - and cut out "weirdo words" the public and policymakers can't understand, the UN's chief climate official said yesterday.

Christiana Figueres told reporters that the UNFCCC, the body dedicated to reaching a global deal on climate change, needs to prioritise getting better at communication. But the way she tells it, there's a revolution going on.

Many of those involved in the UN climate talks, and the production of the bumper science reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have "reached the conclusion that we're just not communicating properly" she told journalists yesterday.

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Special reflection: How scientists, media and the public see the surface warming ‘pause’

  • 26 Feb 2014, 17:45
  • Roz Pidcock

A prestigious journal has released a special issue on what's become something of a preoccupation in the crossover between science and mainstream media recently - an apparent slowdown in surface warming over the last decade or so.

Nature Climate Change dedicates a  whole issue to the so called 'pause' - looking at how scientists, the public and the media have been talking about it.

The issue talks a lot about lessons for scientists in engaging with the media, but is it worth so much soul-searching when evidence suggests the 'pause' has barely made a ripple in the public consciousness?

A lively debate

Since the late 1990s, global average temperature at earth's surface has risen slower than in the preceding two decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s recent  report said the rate of warming over the past 15 years has been 0.05 degrees Celsius per decade - quite a bit smaller than the 0.12 degrees per decade calculated since 1951.

The apparent slowdown is a hot topic, and not just in the science world. Evidence of the 'pause' in surface warming "has sparked a lively scientific and public debate", says the Nature Climate Change   editorial.

Media pickup

An early outing for the 'pause' as a concept was an op-ed in the Telegraph in 2006. The piece claimed global warming had "stopped", triggering a   series of   articles in parts of the media since then.

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How accurate are the Met Office’s predictions? A closer look at this winter’s forecast

  • 24 Feb 2014, 17:15
  • Roz Pidcock

Last week, the Daily Mail accused the Met Office of issuing a "pitiful" forecast in the run up to the period of exceptional flooding that engulfed the country.

With the Met Office defending its predictions, we take a closer look at how the Met Office makes weather forecasts, how reliable they are and what it predicted ahead of the recent stormy period.

Front page forecast

Climate change is featuring more in the national conversation as the media, politicians and commentators try to make sense of the recent weather. But no sooner were flood waters starting to retreat than accusations started flying over who or what is to blame.

On Friday last week, the Daily Mail launched a front-page attack on the UK's official weather provider, the Met Office, for what it called "the worst weather prediction since Michael Fish reassured the nation in October 1987 that there was no hurricane on the way".

The paper criticised the Met Office's forecast ahead of the recent stormy period between December and February. Rather than foretelling the exceptional weather, the Mail says the Met Office forecast predicted a "drier than normal" winter. The Mail article's headline reads:

"Could Met Office have been more wrong? Just before floods, report told councils: Winter will be 'drier than normal' - especially in West Country!"

The Independent and the Telegraph repeated the story. But on Friday, the Met Office suggested the papers had misinterpreted the forecast.

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Mail on Sunday falsely claims Met office scientists disagree on climate change link to recent UK weather

  • 18 Feb 2014, 11:40
  • Roz Pidcock

The Mail on Sunday has claimed two high profile Met Office scientists disagree with each other on what's behind the recent exceptional weather in the UK. But the scientists involved say the newspaper has got it wrong, and that "there is no disagreement."

This weekend, the Mail On Sunday ran an  article by climate skeptic journalist David Rose, entitled 'No, global warming did NOT cause the storms, says one of the Met Office's most senior experts'.

The piece quotes Professor Mat Collins, a climate scientist at the University of Exeter who is also affiliated with the Met Office. It suggests Collins disagrees with the Met Office's chief scientist, Dame Professor Julia Slingo, over the link between climate change and the recent wild weather. The piece says:

"One of the Met Office's most senior experts yesterday made a dramatic intervention in the climate change debate by insisting there is no link between the storms that have battered Britain and global warming … His statement appears to contradict Met Office chief scientist Dame Julia Slingo".

But yesterday, Collins and the Met Office issued a  joint statement dismissing the interpretation, saying "this is not the case and there is no disagreement."

A warmer, wetter world

Last week, Slingo spoke to journalists ahead of the launch of a Met Office  report, authored by her, into what's behind the recent exceptional weather in the UK. Her comments have been widely reported.

"In a nutshell, while there is no definitive answer for the current weather patterns that we have seen, all the evidence suggests that climate change has a role to play in it."

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There's little evidence that climate migration will lead to global conflict

  • 17 Feb 2014, 14:35
  • Guest blog from Alex Randall

Last Friday's Guardian carried a front page article by Lord Stern, author of the influential  Stern report on the economics of climate change, warning that climate change could cause migration that will lead to "conflict and war".

The main thrust of Stern's article is that extreme weather driven by climate change poses a threat to global society - what Stern calls "a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore."

The most recent  assessment of the climate science from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) shows that we are now surer than ever that the planet is warming, and that this largely caused by our emissions. The IPCC has also concluded that  extreme weather events will get more frequent, more intense, or both in a warming world.

But Stern misses the mark when he talks about climate change, mass migration and war. It is true that there are important connections between climate change, the movement of people and security. But there is little evidence to support the second part of the Guardian headline - "Climate change is here now; it could lead to global conflict".

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What climate change attribution can tell us about extreme weather - and the recent UK floods

  • 14 Feb 2014, 15:00
  • Dr Peter Stott

PeterstottpaddedA guest post from Dr Peter Stott, head of the Climate Monitoring and Attribution team at the Met Office.

Climate change attribution is the science of determining the causes of unusual climate trends and climate-related events, and it's an area of research that I've focused on throughout my career as a climate scientist at the Met Office.

Attribution studies can help us understand how humans are influencing the climate. Such studies have identified the 'fingerprints' of change due to human influence on climate in observed records of temperature, rainfall, and other climate parameters. Scientists can distinguish these fingerprints from the effects of natural factors, like changing solar output and natural climate fluctuations like the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

These studies have shown that human influence on climate, from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, has been the dominant cause of the global warming observed since the mid 20th century. 

 

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Met Office report spells out climate change link to UK storms and flooding

  • 10 Feb 2014, 16:00
  • Roz Pidcock

As flood waters continue to engulf parts of the UK this weekend, the Met Office released a report looking at whether climate change is playing a part in the exceptional weather.

Chief scientist Julia Slingo summarised the Met Office's position by saying "all the available evidence suggests there is a link to climate change" - though the full  report makes clear just how difficult it is to unravel the special weather we get here in the UK.

Record-breaking weather

Official Met Office  figures show this winter brought with it one of the most exceptional periods of rainfall in England and Wales in at least 248 years, when records began. When the two months are combined, it was the wettest December and January in the UK as a whole since 1910.

The rainfall has hit the south fastest. In January, parts of the southern England received more than 200 per cent of the average rainfall for the month - shown in dark blue in the maps below.

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Newsnight and the Daily Mail ponder the effect of low solar activity on the climate

  • 17 Jan 2014, 15:40
  • Roz Pidcock

Update - 20th January: The Daily Mail has  written up the story this weekend, covering some very similar ground. The main thing to remember is that scientists think the effect of lower solar activitity will be regional rather than global.

Colder winters in Europe aren't inconsistent with a world that's warming up on the whole. See  this guest blog post from Professor Mike Lockwood for a clear explanation of what scientists think is going on.

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Last night, BBC's Newsnight delved into a question that seems to fascinate the media. A six-minute report entitled "What's happening to our sun?" asked how much a drop in solar activity could affect the climate here on earth. The answer from scientists is very little.

We've written about this issue  many times. We recently had a  guest blog by Professor Mike Lockwood - solar scientist at the University of Reading - about the many myths, misconceptions and misnomers about the sun's influence on climate.

It's well worth a read. But here's a summary of the key points.

A declining sun

Back in the 17th century, the sun went through a period of prolonged low activity, called the Maunder Minimum. This coincided with the beginning of what's become known colloquially as the Little Ice Age, when parts of the northern hemisphere cooled by as much as two degrees Celsius. (Incidentally, read Mike Lockwood's  blog for an explanation of why it wasn't a 'Little Ice Age" at all.)

Scientists think the next low point in solar activity could be low enough to rival the Maunder Minimum, which often leads to the question of whether we could see a return to freezing conditions. In the Newsnight report, Rebecca Morelle asks:

"Does a decline in solar activity mean plunging temperatures for decades to come?"

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Cameron "gets the balance about right" on climate change and extreme weather

  • 10 Jan 2014, 15:05
  • Roz Pidcock

With the very worst impacts of the recent storms beginning to tail off, Prime Minister David Cameron waded into the media debate this week by appearing to connect the dots between climate change and recent "abnormal" weather.

Some newspapers suggested Cameron's comments aren't backed by the facts, but a close look at what he said shows his comments to be uncontroversial, scientists say.

Stormy weather

The heavy storms hitting Britain in recent weeks attracted a lot of media coverage. Some   commented on potential links with climate change, but most left the topic well alone, and one or two flatly  dismissed the idea of a connection between the weather the UK is experiencing and any wider climate change.

During Wednesday's Prime Minister's questions, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron suggested the recent weather in the UK was a "destructive and inevitable consequence, at least in part, of climate change". Asked whether he agreed, David Cameron replied:

"I agree with you that we are seeing more abnormal weather events. Colleagues across the House can argue about whether that is linked to climate change or not. I very much suspect that it is."

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