Wednesday, 17 August 2011

International Dimensions of Climate Change

Recently the UK Government's Chief Scientific Officer (Sir John Beddington), and the Government Office for Science, published a document titled International Dimensions of Climate Change, outlining how international climate change may affect the UK and the required response from policy-makers. Even if we do not see significant changes of climate in the UK, there are likely to be significant effects to our foreign policy, security, economy etc from climate change overseas.

The report includes an excellent overview of global climate change (Chapter 2) including key tipping points (page 28) and key effects (page 30-), as well as chapters on the threats and challenges to the UK from international climate change. The report convincingly argues that the global nature of finance, trade, resources, infrastructure and health mean that a changing climate overseas could cause significant challenges to the UK. It also argues that the knowledge and skills of UK engineers, businesses, research institutes and other organisations mean that the UK is well placed to play a leading role in a post-carbon world. There are a number of UK-based geologists, geographers and other scientists playing a significant role on the world stage in this field.

Another aspect of this report, covered the need for behavioural change in the UK. A while ago The Times published an article in which it quoted this report and Sir John Beddington, stating that climate-related disasters should be used by the Government to persuade British voters to accept unpopular policies for cutting carbon emissions. The report argues that there appears to be growing scepticism of climate change, and a low percentage of people believing that individual responsibility is required. The report states:
"Effective, consistent communication and education linking climate change impacts to events overseas allows the UK government to encourage domestic behavioural change and the adoption of low-carbon technologies."
Whilst in theory this sounds like a reasonable recommendation, I have some concerns that this could lead to further scepticism if claims are not made in a responsible manner, without the backing of good evidence and science. There is scepticism when overseas events are declared to be as a result of 'climate change' by the media, NGOs or Government, without any reasonable evidence. Some events most likely are linked to climate change (amongst other things), but credible and reliable evidence must be used to show this. Whilst this report emphasises a number of times the uncertainty in this field, the difficulties and caveats involved within modelling such complex systems, and that policies should be science and evidence based - Government Ministers (as well as the media, NGOs and others) do not always clarify their statements in such a way.

This report is definitely worth reading, very helpful and well qualified. I would certainly hope that if Government's implement some of the recommendations in this report they do so in a responsible manner. Government's must base their conclusions on good evidence-based science - and do not simplify what are often complex issues. We would urge the Government to speak on these issues in a responsible way in order to effectively communicate these important issues.