After climategate, the science still has the same message
Scientists at the University of East Anglia have emerged from the six-month “climategate” inquiry with their reputations for honesty intact. However, many in the public remain skeptical, so the challenge for scientists across the world now is to communicate clearly the realities of climate change to a public that simply wants straight answers.
The Independent Climate Change Email Review in the United Kingdom, led by Sir Muir Russell, a former top civil servant, concluded that “the rigour and honesty” of the UEA scientists “was not in doubt” and that there was no evidence “that might undermine the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessments”.
The challenge of clearly and openly communicating climate change to a public understandably alarmed about the associated changes to our world is as real in Australia as it is for people in other countries. Sir Muir has put the challenge for scientists into plain English: “They should learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand.”
Tackling the challenges of climate change will require us all to understand not just the science of climate change but also what options we have to respond to it and mitigate further change.
We must not just talk about the future, because there are essential steps that have to be taken now if we wish to prepare for the changes ahead. We must be clear about what is happening now and that information must be available to everyone.
The next most important opportunity to better communicate the work of climate scientists will come with the next important stage of the world’s leading climate change science research body - the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
There was nothing found in the leaked university emails to undermine the reports or the IPCC. A report released last week by the Netherlands Environment Agency also found the IPCC was “robust” and the handful of mistakes did not alter the conclusions that modern climate change is occurring and is caused in large part by human actions.
However, the challenge remains for the more than 800 experts who will now begin work on the Fifth Assessment report by the IPCC to be clear with the public.
831 researchers have been selected to lead work on the report, which will involve almost four years of work and is due to be published between 2013 and 2014. Eight scientists from CSIRO are among this highly qualified group.
Scientists working for CSIRO and other organisations have been studying and observing the many changes to our climate for a number of years now.
Recent debate about climate change has led to CSIRO receiving high demand for practical information from the public, industry and government. The message has been clear: tell us what is happening now as well as about the likely climate in the future.
CSIRO joined forces with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to publish the State of the Climate Snapshot earlier this year to update Australians about how our climate has changed over recent decades and what those changes mean. The snapshot can be accessed here.
More extremely hot days and fewer cold ones; wetter in the north and drier in the south of the country; sea levels higher around the country: this is not a forecast for Australia’s climate but part of the snapshot of recent changes.
The consensus amongst CSIRO’s climate scientists and those across the globe is that these and longer term changes show climate change is real and happening now. In fact, climate scientists have been convinced by the evidence about this for years, but we recognise that there has been doubt among some people in the community.
It is important for all Australians to have confidence in the understanding of climate change that has been developed at CSIRO and other agencies. The State of the Climate Snapshot provided Australians with some plain English information about how climate has been changing within our lifetimes.
People need to understand these recent changes, and those expected in our future, to plan for adapting to a changing climate and to take action to reduce the extent and impacts of future climate change.
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