Thank you very much indeed Martin.
If the adjective 'evidence-based'(and it is an adjective, it needs a hyphen)
if it didn’t exist I think we’d have to coin it, to describe your paper.
And we are very grateful to you for that argument.
The room is now open to questions. You need to tell us who you are.
My name is Elizabeth Arnott, and I work for RPS Consulting Engineers,
and we do a lot of work in public awareness and raising people's understanding of issues like this.
If you were to bring a member of the public, with no scientific understanding of climate change,
to a place on the planet that best demonstrates what you have just told us, where would you bring them?
I think that there’s more than one.
The problem is we are now starting to see changes in quite a lot of different things, and some dramatic ones,
but probably the Arctic.
I think the melting of permafrost, the fact that you have large buildings suddenly subsiding,
and things like that, you know they have been there for a long time.
So, I think the Arctic is probably the simple case.
Thank you for a fabulous presentation
I will also alert David Maguire, to seek a microphone. He put in a question,
seek a microphone that’s not in use, and we will get all the more quickly to him then.
Rory Ryan, Chair of the Industry and Commerce Committee, Royal Dublin Society
my question is this; we’ve all known that the Gulf Stream comes up along the coast of Brazil,
goes around by the Gulf of Mexico, comes across and up past Ireland on its way to the Arctic Circle,
where it then drops down and goes virtually in the form of figure eight, back down to Antarctica.
My question is: With what’s happening at the moment, will that Gulf Stream be affected if we do nothing?
And Number 2: If we do take corrective action, given what you’ve said about what’s happening now,
has a forward dimension to it, will Ireland remain as it is? Or will it change our climate?
Yes, there’s been some rather crazy science fiction stuff about the Gulf Stream
and what’s called the Meridional Overturning Circulation in the Atlantic.
All our climate models are basically consistent in the fact that the warming they predict
is slowing down of ocean circulation, but not an abrupt cut-off.
In some very simple climate models that were being run a decade
or so ago, you could actually see an abrupt cut-off;
but when you make the models more sophisticated and
put more physics in them, that doesn’t seem to happen.
So what we are saying is going to happen,
for the warming sorts of scenarios that I have shown you,
is a slowing down of the Meridional Overturning Circulation of the Gulf Stream.
And the effect on temperatures: it warms Europe but it slows down,
there’s a bit less warming, but you’re still getting all the Greenhouse Effect.
That overwhelms it, so this is not going to save you because
the Gulf Stream goes away or something like that and
you get a cooling effect.
That’s not on any of our models at all or any of our projections
and it doesn’t seem to make sense physically for various reasons.
You’ll still get warming, but it may be just a tad
less because the Gulf Stream slowed slightly.
Are you saying then in that answer that those who suggest that
there might be a tipping point, where the Gulf Stream would reverse,
with catastrophic consequences for Ireland - admittedly unlikely - but are
you saying that is very unlikely, or impossible even?
Certainly I’m not saying its impossible.
We are more humble than that, I think in physical sciences.
There’s a lot we don’t know, but we are saying that our best understanding is
that’s not going to happen this century.
If we were to go on one of the high warming curves,
into the next century, then all bets are off
For this century at least, if we can keep within that range of up to
three, four, five degrees, slowing, but not an abrupt cut-off.
But it is still true of the Gulf Stream, that there could come a point,
where it would just change, it would change suddenly, catastrophically,
if things went on, it wouldn’t be a gradual change, like the way a
desert might change, and be gradual and incremental and inevitable
and keep going, that there is a tipping point in the Gulf Stream, but we
are so far away from it - it is highly unlikely; is that what you're saying?
Is that right?
I think the background issue here, is the people who study Paleoclimate
know, that this whole overturning circulation particularly in the
Atlantic, has shut down in the past, but when it's done so, as far as
we can tell, it has done so because there was a huge flood of fresh
water coming in off melting ice sheets in Canada that came in
and disturbed the physics of the ocean. That suddenly made the
surface water a lot lighter, and so it stopped sinking down, and
that was the engine that was driving this overturning circulation.
We know it has happened in the past, but that’s not a good analogue
for the future, because that was a colder world. And it was a colder world
where you had the potential for all this land based ice, all over
Europe and North America, to fall off into the ocean. We’re not looking
at that anymore. There’s less ice on the planet now, less potential
say from Greenland to give you this fresh water flood into the North
Atlantic that might shut it down. I think a lot of the thinking on this has
come from knowing a little bit about the past, which may not be a
good guide to the future.
David McGuire, Is he here?
Hi there David Maguire, environmental consultant. Given the recent
IPCC report, and projections of 1m sea level rise in the next 90 years,
and also with peak oil, and the trillions that that’s going to cost the
global economy, why take such economic unpleasant decisions today?
I don’t think I understand the question.
You’re saying because we’ve got peak oil, we’re just going to do it anyway?
Well no, effectively that we’re at a stage now, where we’re beginning
to calculate the potential cost that global change is going
to have on the global economy, and we are going to have to take
economic unpleasant decisions today. Has that calculation been done?
What is it going to cost to get the parts per billion down?
Has that calculation been made?
I should have referred earlier to the fact that my colleague Dr Bert Metz,
who is the Chair of the Working Group III in IPCC, will be
talking next week, and he will be able to give you a lot more information
about the cost of reducing Greenhouse gas emissions. I should also
say that he is more of an optimist that I am, but he knows more
so believe him - by all means.
Does he know more about your subject than you do?
No. The assessment that’s been done of the costs of reducing
greenhouse gases, the maximum cost they get is .1% of GDP per annum,
for the next 30 to 50 years. Now, is that a cost that you say is too high?
And we're not going to do anything, and we’re going to go into the land
of the unmanageable. I can’t make that judgement for everyone,
but I know it is an individual one, to make that choice.
Yes. Can I also alert Alison Donnelly to seek a microphone. One of the unused microphones.
Also anybody down at the back would need to stand up to
catch my attention. I'll take you next if you have the microphone.
Michael Connolly, Monaghan Sustainability Group. I’ve been looking at
some of Dr Hanson’s figures and speculation about the West Antarctic
ice shelf, and the possibility of, in the nearish future, the West
Antarctic ice shelf collapsing, with a consequence of a quite a large
level of sea level rise. What do you think about the possibility of that?
It’s something that we don’t have a lot of information about.
It's a harder judgement to make, as to what will happen to the Western
Antarctica ice sheet, than the Greenland one. That’s why I focused on
Greenland. Throughout our Report we tried to really focus on stuff that
we knew more about, and we know at least what’s happening on
Greenland is now getting to the stage where say it could be Swiss
Cheese around the margins. Western Antarctica is out there.
It probably has gone in the distant past,
if you go back several million years.
I have a good friend in New Zealand, who is a Paleoclimatologist, who
thinks it is an issue, just like James Hanson does. I can’t give you any
real assurance, but the models that we have say that it is just going
to slowly contribute, and not do a huge dramatic thing.
But how much confidence do you put in those models? I don’t know.
Somebody with the microphone… Yes?
Thank you, Dr Manning.
My name is Eamonn Tuffy. I am a Labour Party Councillor on
South Dublin County Council. For my working life in fact I was a physicist.
I have taken an interest in Adaptation, because of the fact that I am a
councillor and have recently put motions into Council; and I've
read the handbook published by King County in Washington, a handbook
of guidelines for local and regional governments, to prepare for
Adaptation. My question to you is: I think this is very urgent, I think it is
a practical thing we do at the local level; should I continue,
as a local politician, to push for this, to get action on it?
Well definitely. All that science is saying, as I have said here, that some
further climate change is unavoidable, no matter how fast we move>
We are going to get some change, and then we're going to have to
adapt to that, so a strong emphasis on Adaptation is important.
I think we went through a phase where you were
politically incorrect to talk about Adaptation,
because it made people think 'Oh we are going to adapt,
you mean you are only talking about that.
We don’t have to do anything to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
That’s the solution is just to adapt'.
We now, I hope, have matured to the point where we
realise that you have to do both, and you have to adapt to what is
coming down the pipeline, and to what is now unavoidable. And that's
going to be significant, and I think we are insulating ourselves against
extreme events, as I have tried to indicate. It's probably the key issue,
but at the same time, we don’t want to go up into that high regime of
big temperature changes, which are going to become unmanageable,
so we have to do both.
Can I ask those with the microphones to give the microphone
to somebody here who's looking for it.
Hi, Oisin Coughlan, from Friends of the Earth. Thank you for a fascinating
account of the science, and of the scientific process. Could you say
a little though as well, about what I understand is the political process,
also part of the IPCC, whereby the findings of your Working Group
were subjected to comments and observations by representatives of
the governments of the world, before the Summary for Policymakers
was finalised, and what impact do you think that had on the findings?
But also what impact do you think it might have therefore, because it
has that sign-off, on what happens next, in terms of the political process?
Good question. The IPCC, I think, plays a critical role in this business
because it’s a point where the science and policy come together.
Science and the governments in particular come together, and the key
thing about our process for getting governments to agree line by line
on a Summary for Policymakers, is then they've signed onto something,
and when they go to the COP 13 meeting in Bali in Indonesia next
month they are not going to try and re-litigate the science. We’re not
going to have Saudi Arabia putting up their flag and saying … So when
we went into Paris and asked whatever it was, 120 governments, to sign
on to our Summary for Policymakers, - I forget we had something like 50
to 60 bullet points, we lost one! Then we saw someone write, I think to a
journal in the UK (it might have been even Nature), saying that they’d
detected what they thought was a shift in balance between the
previous draft of our Summary for Policymakers and what finally came
out, Susan Solomon, my Working Group co-chair, and I didn’t need to do
anything. All our co-ordinating lead authors immediately wrote in
rebuttal to that, and said they held the pen at every stage of the
process, and that’s on record, they have written that down. We didn't
ask them to do it. So if you stick to sound science, then the authors
really do control the pen. It can get a little murky though where
sometimes scientists want to put in stuff that is really based on
more subjective issues, and some of the other Working Groups,
The Impacts Working Group and the Mitigation Working Group, have
to deal with issues that are harder in that regard, because it is more
subjective judgement going on. And we saw a little bit of that in The
Synthesis Report. I wouldn’t discredit the process, because the
governments might push back on something, and filter out a few
statements here and there. The science has to be accurate, and backed
up by the underlying report. Chairmen can always rule something out
because it is not consistent with the underlying report. And I do think it
needs to be the real consensus, the real hard science, as a basis for
negotiation and I defend that position, because otherwise you destroy
that whole framework, and you won’t have the discussions in Bali totally
separate from the science. People will be saying 'oh but we didn't quite
agree to that Mr Chairman, I don’t think really Greenland is such a
problem after all'. We have got to stick to the hard stuff!
And which politician has disappointed you most?
Well seeing as I won’t be in America very much longer, I guess,
I guess I can name the gentleman George W
But can you really persuade, and do you think the precautionary
principle, on which all of this is being, you’re hoping that policy will be
based on that, do you think that is vulgarly understood by the voting
public, and by the wider public, and how important is that
to be understood?
Yeah, the precautionary principle and the wider public, or the electorate?
I don’t know. I never really tried to think about the connection there.
I would say the that we have not followed a precautionary principle
at the political level. I mean if you think about it, a hundred years ago,
we knew that if we increased Greenhouse gases it would warm the planet.
50 years ago, we knew that we knew we were increasing
Greenhouse gases. 30 years ago, we had redone all of the calculations
by Svante Arrhenius and company, we knew the scale of the problem.
We knew that doubling carbon dioxide would lead to somewhere to
between 1ºC and 4ºC of warming. By the mid nineties, the IPCC had
put out two reports. We were saying, at that stage, there is now a
discernable human influence on global climate already. If we’d been
precautionary, we would have moved ten years ago. We in fact
operated on a basis of wanting absolute proof before we moved
forward, and because of that, its now very late. Its almost too late, and
we have to move fast.
Somebody with the mike. Yes, Jim O'Keeffe.
Jim O’Keeffe, Fine Gael, Well you have certainly convinced me. I think
the case you make is proved beyond doubt. You and your colleagues
have done a tremendous job, and as we used to in the old days, you
can write QED, I think, under the case you make. For me as a politician
here, could I ask you a question: What can we do as a small country,
what would be the three most important things, if you were an
adviser to us in this country, that we can do as a small country to
help to, as you put it yourself, manage the avoidable and above all
to avoid the unmanageable?
Small countries have quite a big voice I think relatively. I’m told in New
Zealand, that we generally box above our weight at United Nations
meetings. I think we’ve had good people representing our country to do
that. I’m sure Ireland is the same. I think if you believe in it, then to
engender a real sense of the importance of the global common,
that we do have to solve this problem as a community of nations,
is a critical thing. And so for every country to endorse that idea is
important, and the more voices you have saying that, is important,
because no one country can solve it, as you obviously recognise.
In some places, then countries then can provide leadership in
particular issues either because of the circumstances they have, or
the expertise or the resources they can call on. Obviously the United
States is the country that has been bereft of leadership and could
make a big difference, but Europe has obviously provided a lot of
leadership so far, and I know that Ireland supports that, but there may
be specific issues within Ireland where you could make a difference.
And one where I know there is commonality with New Zealand,
is we have a lot of agricultural emissions, and if we can find a way of
reducing methane from pasture agriculture, for example, through joint
work, by bringing in the best brains around the world, we should work
together to do those sort of things. I’m sure there are lots of other
specific things that your experts from EPA can tell you that you can
do right now, there’s always stuff to do, and we just need
to do everything we can, as quickly as we can.
Dr Alison Donnelly Trinity College.
How certain can we be that the projected sea level rises
of one metre will not be exceeded by the end of this century?
I’m trying to indicate that I can’t put a probability on that number.
Also the 1 metre by the end of the century is the upper end of the
range, it’s not the mid point. I was at a meeting in Florida with the
State Legislature about three weeks ago, and there, their local experts
are telling them to plan on half a metre by the middle of the century.
By the middle of the century?
By the middle of the century. Half a metre by the middle of the century.
That’s consistent with a metre by the end of the century. We can't be
sure that we are going to stay within that because there could be
surprises. I’ve indicated where I think they are most likely to come from:
there's Greenland, but there still could be surprises in the Antarctic
for instance. I can give you no guarantee.
I’m very sorry but I can’t give a guarantee, it’s tough.
Somebody with the microphone
Hi, Andrea Carroll Arup, Consulting Engineers. I was just wondering, you
you mentioned that the Montreal Protocol had done more in terms of
International Agreements in helping climate change, but we are all
working towards the Kyoto Protocol, so is there something that you
think that that’s lacking, or any kind of stronger Agreements that you
think we need internationally to get the ball really rolling on this?
The beneficial role of the Montreal Protocol on climate was sort of
accidental or at least (accidental is not quite the right word)
it was sort of unintended. It wasn’t the primary motivation.
The primary motivation was clearly to stop ozone depletion,
but those gases like CFCs were very powerful greenhouse gases,
and we were starting to increase their production dramatically
in the 70’s and 80’s, when suddenly the Antarctic ozone hole appeared.
Another example of the surprise, it caught the science community unawares.
The other big difference about the Montreal Protocol
compared to the Kyoto Protocol, is it proposed to totally remove them,
to totally cease the production of those
ozone depleting substances, whereas the Kyoto Protocol was to
try and turn the ship around, you know it was just going to try and cut
back to a little bit below 1990 levels for emissions. And so they are
very different quantitatively in terms of the targets they set. Dealing
with ozone is much easier because we knew we could come up with
the technological fix, basically. There were alternatives to CFCs, and we
are now using them, and we are now also starting to see cross linking
between the Montreal Protocol and the Kyoto Protocol,
even in some jurisdictions you can now destroy CFCs and get a carbon
credit. I don’t think it happens in Europe, but it happens in America.
I hope that answers the question
Yes, With the microphone, yes.
Mark Bennett, Connects CSR.
We talked about the public and we talked about politics.
What role do you see businesses having in making positive change?
Critical. Absolutely critical. Businesses drive our economies.
We have to find ways of keeping the economy going, but changing
the nature of energy supplies, so obviously any business involved in
producing energy, and any business that wants to get into that
field with innovative ways of producing energy, has a big potential role
to play. Business is where a lot of us spent a lot of our day as well so
you know without the full engagement, I think, of the industrial sector
and the business community, we would never make any progress on this.
It’s a combination of political will and backed up by a social buy-in
to doing things, followed through by a lot more research, I would say,
but also by action, and when you come down to that action part of it,
the governments don't do things, they just try and accept the
guidelines, and try and point people in the right direction and maybe
give market signals and things like that. If businesses were to
disown the problem we'd be in deep trouble, so business needs to buy-in.
Somebody with the mike, yes, there, then here please.
Karin Dufski of Coastwatch. I would be very interested in adaptation
in an island situation like Ireland, but also New Zealand. At present
we don’t have a National Erosion Control or Managed Retreat or
Coastal Zone Management Strategy, and I can sometimes see that
there may, in the short term, there is a potential advantage for industry
which has a lot of rock armour and cement, to try and hold sites.
Have you got any good advice for Managed Retreat or Coastal Defence?
I think I am going to have to say "no I don’t", because it's rather outside
my area of experience. I think you are right. In New Zealand we don't
have any sort of real Strategy on Erosion Control, but we do have
something called the Resource Management Act, which does put some
constraints on how people owning property, particularly farmers for
example, can change land cover which might then cause erosion. I think
you should probably direct that question to some of your local experts
Yes, Duncan Stewart.
Duncan Stewart, Ecoeye. Doctor you mentioned some of the big
unknowns like the Antarctic, Greenland, the issues that are not fully
scientifically assessed, but could reveal new information that could
put us further at risk, the other big ones such as the Positive Feedbacks,
the implications of CO² being less absorbed by the oceans, and the
acidification of the oceans, that is one. The tropical rainforests that
are possibly drying up in the Eastern Amazon, the implications of the
lessening of the Albedo Effect because of less ice cover and
therefore more absorption, the other one of the permafrost issue,
these are all big issues. Have the IPCC been able to sufficiently
assess these and include them into your assessment?
Or are these going to become issues that still are out there, caused by
us humans, but that could become a situation that would become
unmanageable? In other words are there other big risks out there?
I think by listing a number of areas like that as you did where you
potentially see a Positive Feedback Loop, for example if the Amazon
Rainforest were really to dry out and those trees are no longer
sustainable and you get it turning into something more like a savannah,
then obviously you’d lose a lot of carbon and so this is a
big Positive Feedback. Our models try to take these things into account.
I will just caution you that we are not ignoring all this sort of stuff,
but as you rightly say, there are a number of areas where there are
potentially Positive Feedbacks. Now I did mention one, the Arctic Sea ice,
and I admitted that this is a case which this year, hopefully it will be
better next year, but this year we are starting to see things move
outside the range of our model projections. But I guess the fact that
there is such a list of those things, and it only really needs one of them
to change abruptly, whereas all our models basically assume they are
going to move steadily and slowly, you only have to have something
that we missed if you like, in the processes that hold some system
together. If one of them changes abruptly then yes we could be worse off,
and the fact that there are a number of areas where there are those
sorts of Positive Feedbacks is a worry, but I still have to defend the
science where it is. I think the projections are trying to do as good a job
as we possibly can, it's just that we don’t know enough, and as
the Greenland case shows, in a warmer world we start to see new
phenomena occurring, for which science has no observational basis.
We don’t have the empirical evidence we need to construct an
analytic way of projecting how it will evolve. And so the science I think
now is at the point where it is really struggling to keep up with the
pace of change on the planet. It's true for the physical sciences, it may
be even more true for the biological sciences.
Padraig Larkin, EPA. Dr Manning, the 2°C that you talked about as being
the European safe level, I think recognises that we are still going to
lose 20% to 30% of our species on the planet, of our flora and fauna.
There will be that kind of percentage loss in our biodiversity, and
bearing in mind that the science is now unequivocal, and that the bus
has almost left, or is leaving as you say, do we have the international
institutions, in your opinion, to make the political decisions and the
policy decisions that now have to be made if we're all going to address this?
Well, strangely I would have asked you that question. I would have
thought you were in a better position to comment on political
institutions, in your role, I don’t know. I think Bali next month is going to
be an acid test, we’ll know the answer to your question perhaps in a
few weeks time. I know some people are pinning very high hopes on a
good outcome from Bali, which will at least set a framework for moving
beyond Kyoto. I don’t know, I really don’t know. I just live in hope. I have
a grandson so I have to live in hope that we do have, but it is a big
issue, because up to now we have assumed that our institutional
frameworks are adequate for dealing with this problem and the political
level it's hard to see a different way forward but I think at national
level, and I guess that goes back to some of the questions
that were raised here earlier, at national levels I think we need to do a
lot more to educate ourselves, to ensure that people understand why
new policy may be framed in the way it does, the national level has
called for a lot more evolution of institutional frameworks that bring the
scientists and the policy people and the business people that we
mentioned and the ordinary public together, to get a common
understanding of this. Scientists such as myself have to do an even
better job of communicating what we know and what we don’t know.
That deviates from the nature of the question that you asked, I know,
but I don’t think I can answer it, sorry.
Is there a problem? Are we in one sense asking the poorest of the
world to forego industrialisation and what they see as modernisation,
and can’t they turn around and say "it’s the rich who polluted and have
given us this problem and you are now inviting us to stay out of that
Nations are able to make their own choices and as China has indicated
very clearly, it is not going to accept your starting point there. They
are saying that they will develop to the point where they enjoy a
similar lifestyle to developed countries, in Europe for example. But there
is a big difference between Shanghai becoming like Zurich to Shanghai
becoming like Houston. They're very different lifestyles, and they involve
very different use of energy and very different carbon dioxide emissions.
Zurich actually is the most popular city to live in in the world. It's got a
reasonably good carbon footprint, well not good, but better than some.
So I think first of all there’s a choice about how China goes about
doing those things, and how India does, and the other developing countries,
and also making sure that we find ways to leapfrog them over
inefficient energy production systems. Let’s, for heaven’s sake, get them
into Carbon Capture and Sequestration in their coal plants as rapidly as
possible. Who knows, they may invent the electric cars and actually
mass-produce them before Japan does, the way we are going. If
they can be brought in, and use their tremendous production capacity, to
push the whole world in the right direction, then again we are starting
to win. I don’t think its quite the way you put it. I think that we are a
commonwealth of nations, and those nations are going to operate
obviously in their best interests. They have to factor in that their best
interests now includes doing something about climate change.
Yes, somebody with the microphone now, yes here -
My name is Glenda Chimino I’m with the Drimnagh Community
Development Project and the Irish Antiwar Movement. It seems to me
that this is an extremely important report, but in a sense we are still
dealing with an idealised, best of all possible worlds, in the way that we
look at the responses that are possible. Someone has already raised
the question of the permafrost. I read somewhere that the CO² that
could be released from the permafrost, even if India, China and the
United States cut back tremendously, or didn’t develop further, that this
would be enough to actually cause a huge increase in our problems,
but I am surprised that we can talk about this without looking at the
problem of population movements in competition for scarce resources
of potable water, and of land that can be farmed.
It seems to me that there has to be an equivalent study of population
movements and migration, and of implications for resource wars, as
people compete for scarcer and scarcer resources. And while it seems
obvious perhaps to the majority of the world's populations that war,
as a means of making decisions, should be obsolete, in fact we have
resource wars going on in many different parts of the world.
I would like you to comment on this and whether you would see further
studies that would look at population migration change, war and
the consequences, for example, of the nuclear weapons testing and
bombing in the forties, in relation to heating up the planet. Thank you.
The very end, I can’t connect nuclear weapons testing with this issue.
But I think you are right to point to the fact that it’s the number of
people, and where they are on the planet, that’s quite important, and
connecting that to the availability of water is a very important issue,
and the potential now for the availability of water to change
considerably as a result of climate change. It was not the present
Secretary General – it was one or two back, who said that in this
century we’re probably going to see wars fought over water, instead of
wars fought over oil. And we’d all like to think he’s not going to be right.
But on the other hand we all recognise the truth behind that statement.
So I think climate change adds to the sorts of pressures you are
talking about, basically. It doesn’t make any of that any easier. We are
going to see environmental refugees. If we were to get rapid increases
in sea level we would certainly see a lot of environmental refugees.
In New Zealand, our Foreign Aid Policy has become very much oriented
to creating sustainable communities in the South Pacific, to try and
ensure that they can actually have a viable economy there.
Some of that is weatherproofing them against extreme events
and things like that. In some cases, very low lying places like
Tuvalu and Kiribati are probably not going to survive very long anyway,
hopefully a lot of the other countries can. I accept the things you are
saying, and I think climate change is just another ingredient in there,
which helps to make things more difficult to manage.
I'll take three more questions. Yes?
Thank you chairman. Rory Deasy, farmer, and I represent IFA.
Dr Manning I suppose you’ll agree, I heard recently a definition of
sustainability, as being one which provides for the needs of the present
generation without jeopardising the needs of future generations. And
what you’ve clearly outlined to us we’re not abiding by those standards,
quite clearly, and I accept that, but from the agriculture point of view,
and you’ve mentioned methane coming mostly from cows I think. Surely
that is a cycle where it comes from grass to cows and the grass
re-absorbs it, sequesters the carbon again, and that is a cycle that has
been going on for years and years. What has changed in that sphere
over the past century like you’re saying there?
I’d like you to comment on it please.
I’ve worked in New Zealand for a long time and have had this question
many times, because the farming community does believe that it is
responsibly managing the natural cycle, and to some extent that is true.
But let me try and explain it this way. If you just have grass, fields of
grass with no animals on them, then what would happen is the grass
would grow in the summer and the spring, it would take carbon dioxide
out of the air. In the winter the grass would die back, you’d get
respiration from the roots, you’d get carbon dioxide going back in the
atmosphere. You’d get a cycle, things come into equilibrium, and you’d
get grass growing and dying every year, and it would be in balance.
When you put animals on it, when you put ruminant animals on it like
cows and sheep, they eat some of that grass, a lot of it they respire
back as CO², so that’s still part of the same carbon dioxide cycle,
CO² going in and out, but a proportion of the carbon that they ingest
about 4% to 5% in energy terms, and I think it is the same in mass,
actually comes out of the animal as methane, comes out the front end
of the animal. The popular idea is that it comes out the back end but
most of it comes out the front end of the animal, it is burped out in
the ruminant digestion process. That’s coming out as methane, so
you’ve converted the carbon dioxide into methane. The methane
stays in the atmosphere on average about ten years, and while
it is there as methane, it is absorbing a lot more of this infra-red
radiation coming back off than surface than the carbon dioxide would do.
So the role of the animal is to create a short-term emergence
of the methane in the atmosphere, it goes back to carbon dioxide,
it is slowly oxidised or burnt off in the atmosphere, so you then
are back to the carbon dioxide cycle. The effect of adding
the animal is to cause a little temporary bypass in the whole cycle,
where you create for a while, for ten years, a gas that's much more
potent than carbon dioxide, so unfortunately because we do have
many more ruminant animals now on the planet than we did 100 years
ago, that's actually contributed to the rise in methane.
Yes, I have somebody way down at the back.
Fred McDarby from Enterprise Ireland.
Could I ask, has the committee considered the projected end point to
all this? If we assume that the world reverts to a coal based economy
when the oil and gas is gone, and the reserves are finite, so there will
be an end to it, what is the projected finish in terms of
atmospheric CO² and global temperatures?
You mean if we were to like burn all the coal?
Well if there’s an assumption that first of all the oil and gas will probably
be burned, and then unless something else comes along, we will probably
revert back to coal, so that could be all burnt eventually, but it is finite,
what is the result of all that being put into the atmosphere?
There’s actually more of a debate than one might imagine about the
reserves of all of those species, all those fuels. The general view is
that we are going to run out of oil in 20 to 30 years time,
and we may run out of gas in 40 years time, but coal, we've got
like 400 years. If we were to burn all the coal, we can go way
beyond doubling CO² we can go to tripling and quadrupling and beyond.
There’s enough carbon there that we could burn, to create a totally
bizarre climate. Then going beyond coal there are things like tar-sands
and there are more complex forms of potential fuels out there, that
one can reclaim, if you are prepared to spend enough money.
Basically there’s enough carbon-based fuels on the planet to get carbon
dioxide concentrations well over 1000 PPM, and maybe even up to
2000 PPM, whereas we are currently at 380. We have to find a way of
generating energy without using carbon. There's no other way
Yes. Final question here.
Karl Dalton, Environmental Manager in Connolly Hospital
in Blanchardstown. Fundamentally this is of interest to us globally,
because of the effect on human life. In 2002 the World Health
Organisation reported that 10 million children a year die just due to
environmental pollution. Is there a forum where the scientists could
meet to see if this is a synergistic effect, a cumulative effect, caused
by this and other environmental problems, such as pollution and
toxicology, that could effect the human life and cause a more serious
effect. Is there a magnifying effect?
I don’t know whether or not there is a scientific forum which brings
things together quite the way you were suggesting. If you were to hear
from some of my colleagues who come from Working Group II and look
at impacts, an interesting development happened in assessing health
impacts over the last six years. Six years ago we were talking about
things like malaria, and the spread of what we call 'vector borne
diseases'. Now I think it is realised that probably the biggest issues to
public health emerging out of climate change are going to be water
based, and they’re going to be as you mentioned, a lack of access to
clean water, and that’s exacerbated by floods. Extreme events now
suddenly start to play a role in human heath, and more so obviously
in the poorer countries than the richer ones, that probably have
better systems for handling those extremes. Katrina showed us that
even rich countries can sometimes get it all wrong. I think the problem
is recognised, and I think the World Health Organisation is well aware of
the implications of climate change. I’m not aware of a formal
link between say the IPCC and the World Health Organisation, but that’s
not actually to say that nothing like that exists, it might, and I just don't
know about it, because it is not my area of expertise.
I’m now going to conclude the meeting which has run well over time
but I’d like, on your behalf, to express our gratitude to Martin Manning.
Dr Manning’s final words were "this is not my area of expertise" I’m sure
all of our spouses tell us these are words which should be on the tip of
our lips all the time (I know my wife does she says the second three
most important words in the English language are "I don’t know"). There
seems to be very little that Dr Manning doesn’t know on this subject.
I can only say on your behalf, that he has a very fortunate grandson in
New Zealand, and when you go back and meet him next, you tell
him that a whole room in Dublin thought that he was very lucky in his granddad.
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Dr Martin Manning, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, USA, Director of the Working Group I Support Unit for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The science of climate change - Q&A