News / Science & Technology

    Lessons from History Inform Climate Change Future

    (L-R) Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, Thomas Stocker and Dahe Qin of the IPCC working group, Sept. 23, 2013, in Stockholm. The UN's Nobel-winning climate change panel kicked off a meeting to release new projections of global warming.
    (L-R) Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, Thomas Stocker and Dahe Qin of the IPCC working group, Sept. 23, 2013, in Stockholm. The UN's Nobel-winning climate change panel kicked off a meeting to release new projections of global warming.
    Rosanne Skirble
    Scientists are more certain than ever that human activity is to blame for a warming climate and those findings are expected to be included in a report released this week  from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world authority on the issue.

    Climate experts and government officials are meeting in Stockholm this week to finalize the report.

    What the IPCC report illustrates is the important role science plays in decision-making, says K. John Holmes, an energy analyst with the National Research Council, who believes history holds scientific lessons for policy makers.

    Writing in Nature, the energy analyst with the National Research Council singles out legendary 19th century geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell, who is celebrated for promoting sustainable development across desert lands in the American West.

    “He really introduced this idea of integrated assessment of large-scale environmental issues,” Holmes said.

    Powell’s plan called for detailed scientific surveys. It outlined initiatives to develop water, land and mineral resources. Holmes says as settlers moved west, those ideas were met with intense political debate over access to natural resources and adaptation to climate.
    Geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell introduced the importance of science in decision-making with his surveys and analysis of the unmapped regions of the United States in the late 1800s. Shown here in the Utah territory. (Smithsonian Institution)Geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell introduced the importance of science in decision-making with his surveys and analysis of the unmapped regions of the United States in the late 1800s. Shown here in the Utah territory. (Smithsonian Institution)
    “Powell, even though his plan was never implemented, his assessment provided what the USGS [United States Geological Survey] called ‘definitive information upon which the committees of Congress and individuals interested could base their statements or conclusions.’”  

    But the data did not end the debate. Laws to allocate resources took decades to enact. Holmes says Powell’s legacy reminds us of the central role science plays in decision-making, reflected today in reports issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

    “It brings that fundamental set of facts and common knowledge that can be used by global governments everywhere to bring the science to the debate,” Holmes said.

    Those views are shared by Elliot Diringer, with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, a bipartisan research group. 

    “I think the IPCC assessments are a critical opportunity to focus global attention of the reality of the problem and the urgency of addressing it,” he said.

    Diringer says addressing climate change has played out on the world stage under the global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.  When it expired in 2012, negotiators agreed to replace it with a new treaty by 2015. Diringer says what is emerging is a more workable, inclusive approach.

    “This is something perhaps not as rigorous as the Kyoto Protocol, but more rigorous than what may have appeared to be the alternative, which is a strictly voluntary bottom up approach," Diringer said. "In Kyoto, you had binding targets for developed countries only. No new commitments for developing countries. That is not going to fly this time. All the major economies are going to be expected to step up and prepare to take action.”

    Diringer says countries would design their own commitments apart from negotiations, while at the same time commit to monitoring, periodic reporting and international scrutiny on those self-imposed commitments. 

    “Basically what you need is institutionalized peer pressure.”

    As climate negotiations continue, side accords are being worked out. Ninety nations stepped forward in 2009 with voluntary pledges to reduce emissions, including for the first time all the world’s major economies. While the countries represent 80 percent of global warming emissions, their actual pledges fall short of the level needed to limit global warming.

    What they do provide, Diringer says, is a fresh start on a comprehensive treaty. 

    “Hopefully, what we will have created is a more durable framework that can help to elevate the level of ambition over time,” Diringer said.

    Writing in the journal Nature, Diringer says a new agreement forged from this patchwork of national efforts “can strengthen countries’ confidence in one another, in the process and in our collective ability to overcome the climate challenge.”

    You May Like

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.