Updating the Science of Global Warming: A Q&A with Marine Biologist Katherine Richardson

Will it be a consensus document?

The scientific community is notoriously divided. But we will speak with one voice. And there will be a review process by outside researchers of this synthesis document to make sure that it is the best science. There will be mechanisms to make sure that this is not just one researcher's opinion.

But the strength of the IPCC is that it's not just the scientists, it's also the governments.

Probably the value of this in terms of the negotiations themselves is to keep the sense of urgency. It will keep that right in front of the policymakers. It doesn't matter if everybody agrees with everything in there.

Scientists should see this as a possibility to communicate to a much wider audience than even this meeting. We show these pictures of the ice in the Arctic melting. We think when we've showed these pictures, we've communicated the problem. But people just say, "Oh, let's put a shipping traffic route in there." Or "There must be some oil in there we can exploit." The implications for what this means for the planet maintaining itself, people just don't have the faintest idea about. We are missing the boat in communicating this story to the wider world.

Who will be involved?

It reads like a who's who of climate science. One of the first people we asked was [economist] Lord Nicholas Stern. He said, "no thank you." But then he called back later to ask whether he could still come and talk.

We also have [Rajendra] Pachauri from the IPCC to indicate that this is a compatible exercise with IPCC; [José Manuel] Barroso, president of the European Commission; [energy expert] Dan Kammen from [the University of California,] Berkeley; and [economist] William Nordhaus from Yale is a speaker.

Famously, Stern and Nordhaus really disagree on what should be done about climate change.

I recognize those conflicts. It wouldn't be a real scientific conference, I wouldn't be being honest, if I chose one or the other. We also have [economist] Terry Barker, an IPCC author from [the University of] Cambridge, who has invited Nordhaus to debate with him at this meeting. We are trying to make sure that we have well-balanced economic presentations and conclusions as well as scientific ones.

What will be the outcome?

Politicians' biggest challenge is getting the balance right between mitigation and adaptation. The core of this meeting is entirely devoted to mitigation and adaptation.

There are six themes: The first one is the natural science part of it— What do we understand about this climate system, tipping points, how bad could this go? There is also a theme about ethics, or equity, between nations, generations [as well as] humans and nature or animals.

Then there is mitigation and adaptation. How far can renewables take us? What are the potentials and limits of biofuels? And then there is the theme of managing the planet as a whole.

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