Li Xing

IPCC errors no excuse for business as usual

By Li Xing (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-02-04 06:32
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Since my column "Do three errors mean breaking point for IPCC" appeared last week, it has been all over the Internet. I've also received many emails from readers, most of them questioning the scientific value of reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Quite a few scientists have offered me their research data, challenging the IPCC's position on global warming.

Readers have also introduced me to articles criticizing the IPCC's procedures as unscientific and studies pointing out more loopholes than the "three errors" I wrote about.

Although climate change as an issue has been around for some 20 years, we still do not have "a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic consequences", which was the IPCC's stated goal in the first place.

According to many scientists, the IPCC has failed to take into account the often capricious changes brought about by Mother Nature herself.

While I share these concerns, I fear that I may be misunderstood as an advocate for continuing "business as usual". On the contrary, I suggest that the IPCC submit to a thorough review and make its procedures more transparent because its errors threaten to undermine all the hard work that has been done - and must continue to be done - to protect and preserve our home, the Earth.

As an ancient Chinese proverb (yin ye fei shi) says, we must not stop eating for fear of choking.

The effect of the controversy surrounding the IPCC reports is already apparent.

According to a survey released recently by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press in the United States, "dealing with global warming", "protecting the environment", and "dealing with US energy problem" are seen as less urgent than they were three years ago.

In China, environmental protection wasn't even among the top 10 hot issues to be discussed by deputies at last year's National People's Congress, according to an online survey of Chinese Internet users by

In a similar survey on the same site this year, promoting a low-carbon economy ranks 16th, or last, behind a host of issues such as corruption, income disparity, public health care, and pornography.

It is true that scientists remain divided over whether human activities alone will cause the temperatures to rise to levels that threaten humankind.

However, it is also true that the amount of fossil fuels on earth will eventually run out. China and a few other countries have plenty of coal, but we are gradually depleting our reserves and blanketing our country with soot in the process.

Meanwhile, our population continues to increase. As more trees are leveled to make way for housing and agriculture, the habitat for wild animals is shrinking and the number of endangered wildlife is increasing.

We have enjoyed more than 30 years of robust economic growth. The skylines of urban centers continue to rise, and our roads are increasingly jammed with motor vehicles. The air we breathe has gotten dirtier and our rivers and streams are no longer clean.

The average Chinese causes only one-fourth of the greenhouse gas emissions of the average American. Still, we must realize how far we are behind in energy efficiency. While China's energy use per unit of GDP has decreased steadily in recent years, it remains much higher than that of many developed countries.

The IPCC's errors are unfortunate, but we must not allow them to become an excuse for wasting energy as if it is inexhaustible, or for spewing greenhouse gases as if they do no harm to the environment.


(China Daily 02/04/2010 page9)