Sunday, May 10, 2009

"There is no Excuse for not knowing and not doing anything" says Prof. Katherine Richardson.

This is an article "A kick-start in Copenhagen" adopted from the The Guardian, Friday 13 March 2009, by Katherine Richardson, who chaired the Scientific Steering Committee of Copenhagen Climate Congress in March 2009

History has taught us many lessons about the relationship between humans and the planet. In the beginning, nobody thought it would be necessary to make sewer systems, or regulate agriculture, or the dumping of waste in the oceans. But as the population grew and people saw the effect we were having, we made a decision to do something.

I firmly believe we are the first generation that actually has the knowledge of what we are doing to the climate system, and that makes us the first generation capable of doing anything about it. History shows that when politicians decide to do something, it's because they have a knowledge of the problem and the need to do something about it. The science presented at the Copenhagen climate congress this week makes that conclusion inescapable.

The most recent report from the UN's scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is probably the most important document on the subject to date. But the report came out in 2007, and the conclusions it drew were based on science produced before the beginning of 2005. A lot of new knowledge has emerged since then, and we need to bring this forward.

I have a very strong conviction that if researchers have access to knowledge society needs in order to be able to make good decisions then researchers have a moral responsibility to make that research available. This week's congress was aimed at bringing together the latest and best climate change science so the public and policymakers can access it. It turns out we're on the worst-case trajectory the IPCC identified. In some cases, the picture is even more bleak.

One thing the IPCC couldn't have known about is that we would face crucial decisions about the climate change while in the middle of an economic crisis. Some argue we can't afford to think about climate change, but many others believe the recession is an opportunity. It is clear to most that future economic growth depends on developing a new energy system that doesn't rely on fossil fuels. We know we're going to have to use public money to kick-start the economy. Some of it can be used to kick-start a transition to a new energy system.

The new data on the oceans is particularly striking. It's clear the oceans will take up less carbon dioxide in the future than they have in the past. And it turns out that ocean temperature is rising about 50% more rapidly than predicted. All the messages coming in are telling us that the climate system is operating on the worst-case scenario.

The good news is there's really no excuse for not doing anything now. We have the economic instruments, we have the knowledge base and we have the technologies, and we have this tremendous realisation that the chance for economic and social development in the future is dire if we don't realise that we need to change our energy sources. For many reasons we understand now, it's important to move to a non-carbon based energy supply, and a lot of the things we can do to make that transition happen have been discussed and identified at this meeting.

My belief is that once you understand a problem then you know how best to react to it. The worst thing in the world that could happen is if, in a couple of years' time, some of the people who have been in Copenhagen this week say we should have done something, but we really didn't know what was happening. That is an excuse they must not have.

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