The IPCC, Elvis and the elephant in the room

The IPCC presents the last of three highly anticipated reports in Berlin on Sunday The IPCC presented the last of three highly anticipated reports in Berlin on Sunday

Everywhere you go in Berlin there are nostalgic echoes of the past - in the shadow of the wall's remnants, old Trabants take tourists on nostalgic car rides to times long gone.

And at the conference centre where IPCC delegates have been ensconced for a week deliberating on how to save the world from dangerous climate change, other ghostly voices have been making their presence felt.

Every night at the Estrel, Elvis lives. And so does Marilyn Monroe.

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The world can tackle climate change, said the leaders of this group - it is not rocket science, it is mostly economics”

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For the location is best known as the home of musical impersonators, the walls festooned with posters showing the capes, medallions and curled lips of the men who would be King.

In this slightly surreal atmosphere, the more sober suited ladies and gentlemen of the IPCC finalised a plan to end the world's addiction to carbon.

But their report clearly echoed the sentiments of the Memphis legend.

"A little less conversation, a little more action please..."

The world can tackle climate change said the leaders of this working group on mitigation: it is not rocket science, it is mostly economics.

Their Summary for Policymakers pointed out that investments in renewables needed to triple, subsidies to fossil fuels needed to decline and a switch to natural gas could help wean countries off coal.

Window of opportunity

But timing - in music, comedy and climate science - is everything.

The report's authors say there is a double-glazed window of opportunity that is rapidly closing.

If the world embraces low-emissions energy sources on a huge scale before 2030, the carbon curve can be bent in our favour.

If we don't act in time, we'll be trying to concoct some scheme to suck the CO2 out of the air and bury it in the ground.

The big changes being proposed by the IPCC can be done for what seems a bargain price of a 0.06% reduction in consumption growth every year until the end of the century.

"Statistically you won't notice," said Dr Ryer Gerlagh, who was a co-ordinating lead author on the economics chapter of this report.

"Developing countries may grow not by 5% per year, but 4.9%; in the UK you may not grow by 2% a year but 1.9% instead. There won't be any statistician who would be able to make the difference between the two."

'Huge pain'

So has the IPCC discovered a painless path to a carbon-free nirvana down in the jungle room?

Not quite.

In this Dec. 6, 2010 file photo a wind turbine is pictured in the in front of a steaming coal power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany The use of renewable energy such as wind and solar power would have to triple said the IPCC report

"There will be huge pain. We will have to change our energy supply systems. That may not cost us a lot of income, but we will have to think about windmills, solar panels - major changes. It is going to be tough," said Dr Gerlagh.

Fossil fuels will only have a future with technologies that capture their carbon. Many greens are unhappy with these concepts, believing that they're the devil in disguise.

Whatever the merits of the technologies, we just can't take the risk and we have to find a way to insure ourselves against the worst, says Dr Gerlagh.

"We should pay a risk premium, not because we are definitely certain the world is going to end, but we don't like the risk of playing with the Earth. We've got only one."

Who will pay?

While everyone is looking to the challenges ahead, some other participants here have been looking wistfully at the past, and not just because of Marilyn or Elvis.

Members of environmental activist group Greenpeace pose with a giant placard which reads "Power to the people! Clean energy now" in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin April 13 Greenpeace activists held a demonstration at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate after the report was released

Some of the delegates were concerned that the past emissions that got the world into this climate mess seem to have been forgotten about.

"Countries are developing in different ways. There are some changes in their emissions patterns, but there are also historical emissions we have to take onboard," said Dr Yacob Mulugetta from the University of Surrey, another of the report's authors.

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There are divisions appearing about who should cut, and who should pay ”

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"The key question is how do you bring in the past emissions and align them with the future?"

This question seems to have sparked some of the same divisions between the developed and developing world that have hampered the UN climate negotiation process.

The scientists appear to have agreed on the causes, impacts and solutions to the climate challenge, but there are divisions appearing about who should cut, and who should pay. As we get clarity on the medicine, people begin to worry about the bill.

"They see the elephant from different angles," said Dr Mulugetta, "and it poses its challenges."

Matt McGrath Article written by Matt McGrath Matt McGrath Environment correspondent


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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Some 30-odd thousand years ago, the Earth's temperature rose over a few years. A lot of ice melted. Sea levels rose by about 30 feet. Was this due to fossil fuels being burnt?

    The Sun and the Earth will do what they do, despite man.

    Global warming, while it cannot be ignored, is certainly not entirely due to man. The Sun is far more powerful...

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The cost of HS2 WILL spiral to £55 BILLION.There are 25 million homes in the UK,of which 8.5 million are suitable for photo-voltaic panels. If spent on this we could instantly create 150 000 sustainable new jobs which would eventually lead to saving 15 MILLION tonnes of CO2 per year from polluting our world. The Sun lights half the world ALL of the time giving the cheapest and cleanest energy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    "The world can tackle climate change said the leaders of this working group on mitigation: it is not rocket science, it is mostly economics."

    ...and here it is ladies and gentlemen, finally the truth spouted from the very lips of those charged with the task of convincing us we are going to die from the weather. "its not science its economics" damn right, no science and all money. Youve been told.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Recent bad weather more due to polarity changes on the sun than global warming . Hyped up reports do not help . We have to ask who is making a lot of money out of these statements ? The climate change groups are losing the argument with worse case possibilities that over egg the pudding .

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The elephant in the room is that, despite record CO2 production, there has been no warming since 2000. None. Zero. Which shows this has nothing to do with science and everything to do with ideology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Global warming has become a kind of neo-religon and these guys are a kind of high priest and anyone who detracts from it is identified as a heretic. The climate has changed many times over the millennia and will continue to do so. The problem, which no-one will address, is the exponential growth in world population. That is the real problem !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Are they intent on ignoring the Real elephant in the room?

    The growing global population is the Problem!

    People consume massive amounts of resources in their lifetime and produce tons of pollution.

    Unless somebody starts working out how to stop the global population expanding we are likely to breed ourselves to oblivion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Once Scotland is independent, the Scotish MP`s stop blocking it we can save a lot of power by moving to double summer time again in the rest of the country.

    Plus everytime the Solar power subsidy works and gets people signing up for panals the government cut it, which seems to back to front thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    It’s going to be difficult as a good proportion of the 1% of the population which owns 25% of the wealth made their money out of fossil fuels. They and their mouth pieces, Murdoch, Lord Rothmere etc are going to keep fighting tooth and nail to keep business as usual. Blaming all the world’s woes on immigrants and lefties, but not those with all the money and power, who are responsible for the mess

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Another elephant in the room is meat consumption - for information I am not a vegetarian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    But there's more to it than that (10). The things we use energy for are, directly or indirectly, ways to make life (and making money) easier. To save time and effort when we could be taking it easy or having fun, to save time getting somewhere when we could drive or fly and enjoy more time at our destination, and ultimately to save us the trouble of surviving in the wild. Forgeddit!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Quite right, Hamish (5). We're all going to have to use less electricity and move fewer people and goods. It'd mean (in Europe) no more flowers airfreighted from Africa, no more South American fruit & veg, no more two cheap weeks at Cancun, no more lit-up adverts all night long, when most people are asleep, no jumping in the car when you feel like it, no more JIT logistics. I'm not optimistic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I have no doubt whatsoever that it will end up with us having to find a way to draw carbon out of the air and store it in the ground, and it will probably take a serious disaster to even get that far.

    Too much politics and too much ego has been invested in this situation to allow anyone on either side to back down or compromise, so we will end up in deadlock until something forces a change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Matt, wouldn't the real elephant be population growth? Scheduled to reach 10 billion by 2050, how many Gt of carbon will 3 billion more footprints produce? Not just in terms of demand for energy, but food and the resultant deforestation/decarbonisation of soils.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A simple answer to climate change.
    Switch to a proven, cheaper, safer, CO2-free fuel that would also save 7m air pollution deaths p.a.
    Made anywhere from just air, water, a catalyst and solar energy.
    All internal combustion motors are convertible.
    So why not do it?? If Matt McGrath were to promote NH3 it might finally take off.!!

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The biggest elephant in the room is "how & what we use the energy for", not which energy source is used.

    Our lifestyles are "dependent" on excessive misuse of energy sources.

    So as far as I am concerned real change is not even being sought, as it will hurt the business sector far too much if the world population lived within normal & essential means. The rest as they say is lip service.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Sadly it doesn't matter what the word means either generally or in the context of climate change. In the event that there is somewhere a politician who has the guts to say "less growth" or "more taxation" for the benefit of billions of people in other countries I suspect he won't be a politician for long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    If the government compulsory purchased all 9 existing nuclear power stations, then built 9 new nuclear power stations, each with 10 reactors, all UK energy needs for the next 100 years would be met with no carbon emissions. As we own the stations, no subsidy would be payable to private companies; reducing energy bills by 40-50% for decades. But our gutless politicians obey the energy companies.


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