When the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report is published this week, most UK media coverage will be along the lines of:
Scientists say humans are almost certainly responsible for climate change and the world is on course for unprecedented warming over the next century. But the report reflects a gap between scientists and the general public, with growing numbers saying they don’t believe what scientists tell them about climate change.
If anyone doing interviews about the report is daft enough to be reading this blog, there are a few points I would suggest making.
1. The overwhelming majority of the country do believe climate change is real and the world needs to act to stop it.
Around 9 in 10 people think that climate change is happening – only 6% think it’s some kind of conspiracy*. And only 13% – fewer than one in seven people – say it won’t be a threat to Britain.
To put that in perspective, 18% say they want to get rid of the Queen and make Britain a republic: hardly a mainstream view, yet more popular than climate scepticism.
Those numbers haven’t really changed for the last four years**.
2. The report tells us in more detail, with more confidence, what we can expect to happen as a result of climate change
The two most important climate risks for the UK are flooding and summer heatwaves.
The floods in 2007 are estimated to have cost the economy £3.2bn pounds.
We usually don’t think about heatwaves as a bad thing, but the heatwave we had in August 2003 killed over 2,000 people.
Both heatwaves and floods are predicted to become much more common and more severe.
There are still uncertainties. Science by its very nature is never final and certain. But we know enough now to act.
At this point, you may be tempted to talk about how many degrees the world is projected to warm by. Don’t. 4° warming may sound terrifying to you, but it sounds fine to most people.
3. The question is no longer whether man-made climate change is happening. The question is now: what are we going to do about it?
Countries around the world have pledged to reduce the emissions that cause climate change. Even the countries that have traditionally been slow to act – like China and America – are now saying they will cut back their carbon pollution.
Getting these pledges is an important start, but the world needs to do a lot more to make them happen. That includes us – the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change says we’re not on course to meet our commitment to cut our pollution.
And even if the world does cut its emissions, we’re already on course for some global warming. We have to make plans so we’re ready for it.
In the UK lots of people may wonder if their home will now be at more risk of flooding and if they’ll be able to get insurance. Some people may worry about older relatives and the effect of heatwaves on their health.
What are these risks? Is the government doing enough? At the moment we don’t know because the information isn’t public.
This is what we should be talking about – so we can hold the government to account, to make sure it deals effectively with the most important risks, and spends our money well.
* A poll this month from the UK Energy Research Centre put those who say it’s not happening at 19%. A fair bit higher than the 5% above, but still barely a quarter of the number who say it’s happening.
** In fact, they went down a bit and then came back up. But the overall effect is of no change.