How Would Climate Change Influence Society in the 21st Century? (Panel)

moderator: Rajendra K. Pachauri, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
author: Akimasa Sumi, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
author: John Reilly, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Adil Najam, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
author: Howard Herzog, Carbon Capture & Sequestration Technologies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Michael W. Golay, Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: William Moomaw, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
author: Andreas Fischlin, ETH Zurich
published: May 21, 2010,   recorded: January 2008,   views: 3769

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Rajendra K. Pachauri leads fellow members of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC in a remarkable public session of soul-searching. Now that the IPCC has helped make climate change a signal issue of our times, what next?

John Reilly wonders whether the IPCC should be celebrating any success, given that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise in spite of all the comprehensive study. Given the “dismal outcome so far,” it’s important that the IPCC “avoid the complacency that comes with big awards,” and that “much, all of the work is still there to be done.”

“It’s probably time for sunset, Michael Golay suggests.” Now that the IPCC has succeeded in establishing climate change as “a reality among at least the chattering classes,” the next step is actually a social question, one that is much more difficult than coming up with new technologies. “We’re really talking about interfering with markets, and doing this in a way that doesn’t become simply another vehicle for creating profits for special interests….”

William Moomaw believes IPCC reports have made possible policy and corporate innovations that would have been unthinkable only a decade ago, and the IPCC should continue to serve in an advisory capacity to the world, laying out the technological and economic possibilities. Says Moomaw, “We got off to a bad start. We talked about global warming as being an environmental issue when in fact global warming is a symptom of maldevelopment."

The IPCC “should continue as the voice of science and help a well-informed society make tough decisions,” declares Andreas Fischlin . This will mean “facing the issue of sustainability in the context of climate change to an extent many of us won’t like.” Research challenges in developing nations may impede efforts to “optimize the IPCC’s work and help in the whole issue of moving toward a more sustainable world.”

Akimasa Sumi believes IPCC should continue to have a powerful role in the future, because the “climate change issue is driven by science.” He proposes refining climate models in the hope of reducing uncertainty around such matters as the role of aerosols and clouds. He says the focus must now be on adaptation and mitigation, particularly over a 30-year time scale.

The IPCC established its relevance because it drew a line between being policy relevant and policy prescriptive, says Adil Najam. Now, “we need to claim victory on understanding the mechanics of the science and stop debating.” The next step must mean “focusing not on the scope of the problem, but on potential for solutions.”

Should the IPCC attempt to become more prescriptive, believes Howard Herzog, “it would lose respect.” In his years with the organization, “anytime we got into policy prescriptive areas, when we got close to the line, tensions rose, arguments intensified, we lost consensus.” He thinks it’s important to continue the IPCC’s work, because the science will change, and we need a “broker out there to summarize where science is on critical issues.”

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