Editor’s notes

This is a letter from two Chinese scientists to Dr. Dahe Qin, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. Human society has taken an historical step to address climate change issue. However, how to understand climate change and how to response to climate change will always and everywhere lead various types of disagreements and disputes, thus affecting the pace of societies’ promptly taking orderly human activity against climate change. In the letter, the two scientists bring up their thoughts and recommendations on how to carry out coordinated research on orderly human activity to cope with global climate change.

The Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was concluded with a “Copenhagen Accord” with a goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius. COP 16 will be held in Mexico at the end of 2010. No matter whether the COP 15 reached a satisfactory climate change agreement or not, and whether it was mandatory and operational or not, 194 national and regional leaders and more than 30,000 people from wider communities coming together to deal with the threat of climate change has proved that this issue has attracted world-wide attention. And, more importantly, this marked that human society has taken an historical step to address climate change issue. IPCC Assessment Reports have played an essential role in facilitating and spreading the climate change knowledge and recognition. Thanks to the scientific communities, the media, the United Nations, most of governments and publics for their nearly 40 years of hard work and efforts. Indeed, due to the scientific complexity and uncertainty of climate change science, and the remarkable influence of human actions addressing climate change on the strategic and long-term economic and social interests of different countries, how to understand climate change and how to response to climate change will always and everywhere lead various types of disagreements and disputes, thus affecting the pace of societies’ promptly taking orderly human activity against climate change.

We believe that the key cause leading to this situation is that the current international climate change research community has focused mostly on phenomena, attribution, impacts and vulnerability, and mitigation and adaptation studies, but so far has ignored the quantitative assessment of economic responsibilities of all the countries on the formation, impact and response process of climate change. This leads to such a phenomena in international negotiation today: every representative can find enough reasons to fiercely criticize that the others have not taken enough responsibilities and actions against climate change, but it is hard to reach an operational protocol and make real progresses. In order to provide the scientific basis for the COP 16 and beyond, in this letter we propose and appeal to IPCC and the other UN relevant organization to initiate the research project on “How human beings to orderly act against climate change?”. The project aims at quantitatively assessing the “contributions”, “benefits”, and “losses” of various countries and regions from an economical perspective so as to provide a basis for climate change negotiation, and promoting and facilitating orderly human activity to address climate change issue. The specific recommendations are as follows.

The global warming in recent hundred years is indisputable evidence. Although there are different views on causes of the warming, but most of scientists believe that it is mainly attributed to human activities. The IPCC Assessment Reports concluded with high confidence that global warming in recent 50 year is majorly due to the increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases emissions from human activities. Observational evidence shows that the atmospheric greenhouse gases emissions are growing continuously. Since the existed carbon dioxide in atmosphere has a longer life and the global oceans have huge thermal inertia, even if all emissions stopped today the global warming would last a considerable period in future. Therefore, the global warming as a fact has become a more and more important element considered by the policy makers when making their relevant decisions. In recent years, the topic “how to act against climate change” frequently appeared in the agenda of the G8 or G20 and the United Nations summits.

As it is related to economic development, how to act against global warming is not a pure scientific issue. At present, many countries have started to facilitate clean energy technology development and utilization and take effective actions to reduce emissions, which become a kind of force to support the United Nations to hold the climate change conference in Bali and Copenhagen. The conferences are the signals of awareness of most of the national governments on the necessarity of taking coordinated actions against climate change. However, even from the scientific viewpoint, the academic community has not given a clear solution on how to act against global warming up to now. Economic interests-driven mankind’s large-scale and chaotic productive activities since Industrial Revolution have emitted a large number of greenhouse gases into atmosphere which has introduced global warming. This is an example that demonstrates how a large-scale disorderly human activity in history affected global climate system. Global warming has had a great impact on both human society and the natural environment. Today we are potentially facing another wave of disorderly human activity, which is a large variety of actions against climate change that each country taken itself under the name of protection of its national interests. Obviously, all countries try to make full usage of positive impacts and reduce or eliminate negative impacts of global warming. However, no country is isolated, and economic development of each country must have linked to other countries and regions. Climate and environment are similar to economics, whose changes will affect other countries and regions too. Thus, it is hard to know that the consequences of the currently popular way that each country makes its own policy and takes its own action are whether leading a greater damage to the interests of the whole humanity or not. To avoid the possible adverse influence introduced by a new wave of the disorderly human activities, it is beneficial globally to initiate coordinated research on the orderly human activity to cope with global climate change. Here, we put forward a proposal to build a framework that helps the world to take orderly action against climate change.

We need to take human society as an integral part of the earth system, and to implement this component into current earth system models. At present, a lot of ongoing national and international scientific programs have been implemented to understand the impact of human activity on climate change and the possible influence of climate change on the environment and economy, which have been partly reflected in the IPCC Assessment Reports. In future, the descriptions of human activities in earth system model need to be further improved, and various virtual experiments needed to be conducted to quantitatively assess economic losses/benefits of each country under the course of human action against climate change. The model research should be organized and coordinated by the relevant international organizations, such as IPCC or WMO. The project will be expected to provide several best options based on which the human’s actions against climate change can obtain the totally maximum benefits for the whole world through a comparative analysis of outputs of all experiments. After an integrated consideration, discussion and negotiation, the international organization can recommend one of the best, which is actually the ideal plan on how to take orderly human activity against climate change.

For some countries, the implementation of the orderly human activity against climate change may cause some losses of their economic benefits, which expose a problem related to national benefits. In such case, the implementation of these actions should be organized by authoritative international institutions, such as the United Nations. If some countries have to endure a loss of their benefits due to the orderly human activity against climate change, the other countries should give them compensation, e.g., through an international funding sponsored by the United Nations’ organization.

Till now the international society has been lack of comprehensive and effective measures regarding human actions against climate change, therefore, it is urgently needed that the scientists and the other communities associated with climate change immediately take coordinated research on the orderly human activity plan and by which to enhance policy makers to reach climate change agreement and take actions against climate change.

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Published on 15/05/17
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