Wording climate change policy no easy task

by Eve Savory, CBCNews.ca

It’s a task to give pause. First, visualize thousands of peer-reviewed studies on climate change, already boiled down to three massive volumes and their summaries.

Your job is to sum up the whole thing in just five pages. And do it in layman’s language.

That’s the chore facing scientists and policy-makers from the world’s governments this week in Valencia, Spain. The document will be the basis for the next global negotiations on climate change.

The work they are doing is the final leg of the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC – the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change. Three summary reports, five years in the making, on the science, on the impacts, and what we can do about it have already been released.

Now, scientists and government policy makers have gathered in Valencia to negotiate - line by line and sometimes word by word - a synthesis report. Those scant five pages will be the basis of the next global political step on climate change, the step that follows the Kyoto Protocol.

John Stone, vice-chair of one of the three IPCC groups, on the phone from Valencia said he hopes governments will take the report seriously, and begin in earnest to negotiate the next step.

"The science is getting stronger and stronger and stronger, that the imperative for governments to act is getting stronger and stronger and stronger."

Stone, an adjunct research professor at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says the difficulty is that the synthesis report has to be acceptable to each of 130+ governments. "This will be public property, and the people hopefully will hold their governments to account. So those governments are going to be very careful with what is written."
Canada, he says, has been "very constructive."

Stone says the conclusions the Valencia delegates are trying to sum up are very clear. Climate change is unequivocal. Temperature changes are very likely due to human influence, we are seeing the impacts already, they will get greater, and we have the tools to act.

He says you won't see the word "threat" in the report. But he will use it.

"The scientific question about is this real or not has been settled. And it is legitimately a threat. It’s a threat to our civilizations, our humanity,our ecosystems and the like, and only a fool walks away from a threat."

The report is to be finished by the end of the week, and what promises to be two weeks of extraordinarily sensitive and complicated negotiations will begin December 3rd, in Bali.

For more, read Beyond Kyoto: What to expect as nations meet over next steps