This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 18, 2009

Climate Congress Reports Worsening Findings on Climate Change

It has been less than two years since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its latest compilation of climate science, called the Fourth Assessment Report, but climate scientists are already finding the document to be out of date. In light of upcoming negotiations on a new global climate treaty, an international scientific congress on climate change was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 10-12, and the findings are almost universally gloomy. For instance, the IPCC report projected a sea level rise of 18-59 centimeters by 2100 based on thermal expansion of the ocean and recent rates of polar ice flows, while admitting that dynamic processes affecting the polar ice sheets were still too poorly understood to account for in the report. Scientists have since gained an improved understanding of those processes and now warn that sea levels could rise by as much as a meter by the end of the century, while sea level rises of less than 50 centimeters are looking "increasingly unlikely." See the press release on sea level rise from the climate congress.

While the projection of sea level rise is perhaps most disturbing, other climate trends, such as the rate of ocean acidification and the frequency of extreme climate events, are following the worst-case scenarios of the IPCC report, according to the climate congress. Meanwhile, mounting evidence demonstrates that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. The findings suggest that global temperature rises of 2°C or more above pre-industrial levels would result in impacts that contemporary societies would have a difficult time coping with. The climate congress also noted that strong emission goals for 2020 are essential, as weaker goals will make it much harder to meet the 2050 emissions targets needed to keep the global temperature rise below 2°C. That finding echoes the results of a recent report from McKinsey & Company. See the press release on key messages from the climate congress, and for background, see the articles from this newsletter on the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and the McKinsey & Company report.