Global warming could hit 5°C, says Defra scientist

24th August 2012

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Defra's chief scientist Sir Bob Watson has warned there is 'almost no chance' that global temperature rises can be restricted to 2°C and that a 5°C rise is possible

In an interview with Channel 4, Watson argued that there was now only a 50/50 chance that global warming could be stopped at 3°C and that coordinated international action is crucial if the impacts of climate change are to be limited in future.

“There’s no question that the movement under the climate convention is unbelievably slow, with some countries blocking any progress,” he said. “However, we need emissions in literally all countries to be reduced... international action is absolutely critical.”

The outgoing science chief argued in favour of bilateral negotiations between administrations such as the EU and China, and multilateral movement through groups like the G20, to complement ongoing UN negotiations.

“It’s not just about the big economies like the EU, the US and Japan, it needs to include India, China, Brazil and Mexico as well as emerging economies like Indonesia and Kurdistan,” he said

Watson also called on governments to work with businesses to develop the new technologies necessary to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, such as carbon capture and storage which he lamented had seen “a lot of rhetoric” from politicians, but “not much action”.

“We need consortia of countries and the private sector working on these new technologies,” he said. “We need political action, with governments working with the private sector and supported by the public. The challenge is how to bring these things together.”

Watson acknowledged that some of the momentum towards tackling climate change had been lost in recent years as governments have focused on improving their economic situations, but he warned that action could no longer wait.

“If we do, we will not only see a 2°C temperature rise, or a 3°C or 4°C rise,” he said. “The challenge is how do we stimulate the economy, create jobs and address climate change.”

Watson argued that energy efficiency will play a crucial role.

“Whether it is in transportation, buildings or everyday home life, [energy efficiency] is absolutely essential,” he said.

“If we continue as we are I wouldn’t rule out a 5°C world... and that type of world would have very adverse effects on society, especially on the poor people in developing countries that today don’t have adequate food and water.

“This is a serious issue that we need to deal with and there are solutions that are cost effective.”


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