Climate change panel points to mankind as dominant cause of global warming

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A report released last Friday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of observed global warming in the past few decades.

The panel, which is commissioned by the United Nations, is considered the leading scientific authority on issues of climate change. The report is the fifth issued by the IPCC, and it expressed a 95 percent level of certainty regarding anthropogenic climate change, representing an increase of 5 percent from the organization’s previous report, issued in 2007.

The report, which will be released in full in 2014, is composed of three working-group reports and a synthesis report. Working Group I, the only part of the report to be released thus far, addresses causes of climate change. Working Groups II and III assess the socioeconomic and environmental effects of climate change and options for mitigating climate change, respectively. The report includes contributions from more than 830 authors.

According to William Collins, a UC Berkeley professor of climate sciences and one of the lead authors of Working Group I, the report’s three takeaway messages are that the climate is changing, mankind is causing the change and, if our society does not change its behavior, these patterns of climate change will amplify.

Collins said stopping emission of greenhouse gases, from fossil fuels in particular, is a top priority in mitigating climate change and acknowledged that recent breakthroughs in creating sustainable energy could allow that goal to be accomplished.

“The community has been absorbing and coming to terms with this information more slowly than climate scientists would advise that they do so,” said Collins. “But I am a technical optimist in the sense that we know what we need to do and have invented much of the technology that we need to do it.”

UC Berkeley Class of 1935 Distinguished Professor of Energy Daniel Kammen emphasized the importance of the report, calling it in an email statement “another nail in an already sealed coffin on climate change deniers.” He added that it is technically and economically possible for the world to meet an 80 percent decarbonization target.

While much of the report confirms information that was released in previous studies, John Harte of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group agreed with its significance.

“We’ve seen a huge effort in the past month to put up a smoke screen of misinformation to try to divert the country from taking the next step,” he said. “What the IPCC report does is act as a counterweight to this effort. Without it, I think the forces at work trying to deny the science would completely win.”

Contact Chloee Weiner at [email protected].