Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Report: Up Yours

If you thought that global climate change negotiations could not get more difficult, you haven’t seen anything yet.

If you thought that the fossil fuel companies — ExxonMobil, BP, Koch Brothers — were nasty before, you haven’t seen anything yet.

We knew the IPCC 5th Report was not going to be upbeat news about climate change. And it’s not. But it’s a useful document for calling a spade a spade. Here are a couple of sound bites that will dominate the conversation:

It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century

This is just a stronger affirmation of what we all, except the radical climate deniers, know: we’re in for climate trouble over the next 50-100 years plus.

To hold global warming to 2ºC above preindustrial levels, total emissions cannot exceed 1,000 gigatons of carbon. Yet by 2011, more than half of that total “allowance” [a/k/a budget] – 531 gigatons – have already been emitted.

This is the carbon budget idea and to ensure the budget is not exceeded, governments and businesses may have to leave valuable fossil fuel reserves unexploited. This is as close to a political statement the IPCC scientists have come to making, and it is a welcome message.

 In other words, we’re living way beyond our means, like during the real estate bubble when everybody took out incredible mortgages assuming resources and benefits would continue to rise. But they did not rise, resources became scarce, and the expectations of the children sank. And they are still stuck in the mire. The global climate mire is much worse.

George Monbiot can be argumentative, and ornery at times, but he also can sometimes hit the target on the head, as when he aptly characterized responses by various governments to the IPCC report, in supporting a need for fossil fuel and their company interests, as “Up Yours.” In other words, “We need a global programme whose purpose is to leave most coal and oil and gas reserves in the ground, while developing new sources of power and reducing the amazing amount of energy we waste.” Meanwhile, most governments push the glories of shale gas and/or deep sea and/or Arctic oil and gas. That’s a classic “Up Yours.”

Over the past several decades, the fossil fuel interests, noted above, have spent millions defending their turf, their interests, against any government regulation that would make their business more difficult, i.e., more costly, by adding more technical requirements and environmental protections.

Imagine how they are going to react to suggestions, let alone legal requirements, that they leave their very valuable fossil fuels in the ground, deep seas, or frigid Arctic. Imagine some governments, e.g., China or Russia, agreeing to not extract their fossil fuels wherever they are. More than 3 trillion tons of carbon are still left in the ground as fossil fuels. Try calculating the loss profits on leaving that in the ground, or seas.

Imagine the developing world countries hearing more developed countries saying, “Sorry but you’ll have to leave any fossil fuels you control in the ground or seas, even though we have already made good use of most of our fossil fuel reserves to support a growing and inexpensive economy.” This is the issue of how to allocate the remaining “carbon budget” fairly among countries.

UN climate talks are supposed to culminate in a global agreement on emissions in 2015. The latest IPCC report, and its use of a carbon budget, will complicate that process. If it finally focuses minds on the incredible challenge ahead, it will be a most useful complication.



George Monbiot, “Climate change? Try catastrophic climate breakdown The message from the IPCC report is familiar and shattering: it’s as bad as we thought it was,” Guardian,

Fiona Harvey, “IPCC: 30 years to climate calamity if we carry on blowing the carbon budget,” Guardian (27 Sept 2013).






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