Climate: The difference between scientific bodies

Sometimes, virtually the same group of scientists can say slightly different things, when they feel less politically constrained. Or at least they can say them more concisely. Thatâ''s the case with the American Geophysical Union and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our space correspondent Barry E. DiGregorio reported this on 25 January.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), the worldâ''s largest scientific society of Earth and space scientists made the official statement that: â''The Earthâ''s climate is now out of balance and is warmingâ'' and is best explained by â''the increased atmospheric abundances of greenhouse gases and aerosols generated by human activity during the 20th centuryâ''. Unlike the report made in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Program) the new AGU statement calls for the world community to take individual action [] in an effort to stave off the human impact on global climate change.

Special guest speaker at the meeting, Michael J. Prather, Professor of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, California who was also a lead author of several chapters of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, â''The IPCC has a different role to play than the AGU. The IPCC adjudicates the science, reviews it, and ascertain the pros and cons, and then state what they think is happening or what the uncertainties are but are responding to the request of the international government (UN). The encapsulated summary/statement made by the AGU is made by group of scientists saying here is what is happening, listing the dangers, and then suggests that we should all be doing something, The IPCC report didnâ''t do thatâ''.

â''If you dig at the individual details of the AGU statement I donâ''t think there is anything new there in terms of scientific content, although there is a bit of an update. What is new is pulling it all together in one page,â'' says Prather. â''As an example we took the IPCCâ''s workshop summary and wrote it in the first paragraph of the statement. We are trying to get a message across to what really are the big issues and it shows that global warming is no longer disputed by most scientists.â'' The second paragraph of the AGU statement describes what the dangers are we and what is necessary to avoid them. The third paragraph is a call for action and says combating human impacts on climate change is a diversified and shared responsibility amongst both AGU members and others members of society. â''We are actually calling on individuals to use their ability and their own perception and make their choice so everyone can contribute in their own way to the best of their ability, Prather explained.

For the AGU, which is a very broad body of scientists, Prather and his colleagues who drafted the statement had to convince space scientists, geologists and oceanographers about a call to action on the human influence on climate. â''I think that this was an honest statement of the current facts as we know them and best statement we can make. You are not going to get 100 percent agreement from every AGU member but from the AGU leadership in general, nobody voted against it on the council.â''

The AGU boasts a membership of 50 000 researchers in 137 countries and every four years releases a new public statement reflecting their position on global climate change.

Online AGU statement:


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.