Climate change is getting out of hand, academicians warn

Marina Lemle

Marina Lemle
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Three of Brazil’s most prominent scientists, Carlos Nobre, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa and Jacob Palis, came together this week to stress the importance of cutting greenhouse gas emissions now, to help moderate the planet’s rising temperature and reduce the impact of climate change.

The three scientists were reunited during a press conference at the annual conference of science academies’ network, IAP — Grand Challenges and Integrated Innovations: Science for Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development — held in Rio de Janeiro this week (24-26 February).

Global conventions on the interface between environmental quality and human development are not advancing as they should, according to Nobre, secretary of the Policies and Programs in Research and Development secretariat at Brazil’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

Climate issues are of particular concern, he said, because studies indicate alarming risks if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced in order to balance the planet’s rising temperature.

“Consequences will be very severe,” he said. “Adaptation is already a necessity. To have a lenient attitude with emissions rising, and to expect that it will be possible to reduce or adapt in the future,  is not responsible.”

Nobre — who is also chair of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme’s scientific committee and executive secretary of the Brazilian Research Network on Global Climate Change Science — explained that while the planetary system is naturally instable, scientific evidence of humanity’s contribution to climate change is overwhelming.”Earth climate is changing 50 to 100 times quicker than in the period between the end of the last glaciation 20,000 years ago,” he said. “We have never had such a rapid change. And the best explanation, dominant among scientists, for the rising temperature, is the greenhouse gases we are emitting.”

He added that as the stratosphere is getting colder, and the ‘sun-getting-stronger’ theory advocated by some climate sceptics doesn’t fit the evidence.

Nobre also said he believes the reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have a great impact, because they point to the urgency with which countries need to act and expose scientists’ worries about climate change.

He did, however, admit that scientists can also make mistakes. Since the 2007 IPCC report, which have overestimated the speed at which glaciers were melting (a mistake which was later corrected), the organisation had become much more rigorous regarding information, he said.

The fifth IPCC report is currently being compiled.

Knowledge has advanced almost 50 per cent in seven years and results are more solid, in spite of uncertainties and intrinsic instabilities, Nobre said.

Jacob Palis, president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, explained that every prediction system carries some uncertainty, an idea which he said people often found difficult to grasp.

“It’s a complex system, and that’s why we are talking about probability,” he said. “But it doesn’t hinder us of from doing the best work possible.”

Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, a professor of nuclear physics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and executive secretary of the Brazilian Forum on Climate Change, said: “We cannot be optimistic.”

He said worldwide discussions were “stuck in a rut,” as the Rio+20 summit last year, when climate matters were barely discussed, had affirmed.

This blog post is part of our coverage of 2013 Global Network of Science Academies (IAP) conference which takes place 24-26 February 2013, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To read further news and analysis please visit our website.

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