Scientists present policymakers with the latest climate change research

Over 2000 delegates from 80 countries met in Copenhagen from 10 to 12 March for the International Scientific Conference on Climate Change. The conference was called to provide a scientific update of the 2007 assessment of global warming made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), taking account of the latest research.  

Outcomes from the meeting will be compiled into a 30 page report, which will be presented to delegates meeting at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen in December, where it is hoped that a plan to succeed the Kyoto Protocol (which expires in 2012) will be agreed. 

’We’re making a special effort to make up-to-date scientific knowledge available to the people who need it,’  says Katherine Richardson, vice dean for the faculty of science at the University of Copenhagen and chair of the meeting. ’While our report is not an official paper [for the UNFCCC], and the starting point will have to be the IPCC report, there are signals that politicians do want this information, to see how we’re doing against the predictions.’ 

The major areas of discussion during the meeting were ocean acidification, rises in sea level, and warming-related rainforest destruction.

Ocean acidification has potentially serious effects for marine ecosystems - mass extinctions in prehistoric oceans have been attributed to sharp changes in oceanic pH. It is thought that carbonic acid from dissolved CO2 emissions has lowered the average oceanic pH from 8.2 to 8.1 in the last 200 years. Since pH is measured on a logarithmic scale, this corresponds to about a 30 per cent increase in acidity.

Other research presented at the meeting suggested that even if CO2 emissions were to peak by 2015 and decrease at a rate of 3 per cent per year thereafter, there is still a significant chance that global average temperatures will rise by more than 2?C. These risesmay disrupt fragile rainforest ecosystems, which are crucial in controlling atmospheric levels of various greenhouse gases.

’History has shown us that every time we discover that something we’re doing is having a detrimental effect on our environment, we make rules to control it,’ adds Richardson. ’This meeting is about scientists trying to make sure that their knowledge is available to people who have to make decisions about how to deal with these problems.’

Phillip Broadwith