Last February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met at UNESCO
to approve the scientific basis for its 2007 report on climate change. This report
outlines the strongest case yet for a warming planet influenced largely by human
of the climate system is unequivocal', notes the report approved by the world's
governments. It predicts that global mean temperatures will rise by 1.8°-4.0°C
this century, depending on which socio-economic scenario is followed. The report
confirms that 'most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures
since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic
greenhouse gas concentrations' and that 'discernible human influences now extend
to other aspects of climate, including ocean warming, continental-average temperatures,
temperature extremes and wind patterns.'
International Polar Year launched last March will devote the next two years to
monitoring one of the few remaining grey areas in the IPCC report, the polar regions.
The report can predict sea-level rise of up to 60 cm by the end of the century,
for example, but not the influence on sea-level rise of future changes in the
dynamic ice flows in Greenland and Antarctica. The Polar Year will strive to fill
some of the gaps in our understanding of these processes, an urgent task when
you consider that the last time average polar temperatures were 3-5°C higher
than today, some 125 000 years ago, the corresponding reduction in polar ice volume
led to 4-6 m of sea-level rise.
change is affecting not only our environment but also our way of life. Finding
solutions to mitigate the negative impacts and adapt to a changing world - see
the back page of this issue for a glimpse into the future - will require an approach
that combines sound, unbiased science with social and cultural considerations.
UNESCO offers a unique forum in this regard, bringing under one roof not only
key disciplines for climate science such as geology, hydrology, ecology, oceanography,
physics, chemistry and biology but also education, social and human sciences,
than 30 UNESCO programmes address a range of climate-related issues, including
glacier melt, biodiversity loss, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, carbon economics
and sequestration, saltwater intrusion in coastal soils and groundwater, drought
and flood management, renewable energy use, education for sustainable development,
the effects of climate change on world heritage and biosphere reserves, and climate
monitoring via global observing systems.
anniversary issue of A World of Science is a compilation of climate-related
articles published in the journal over the past five years. This retrospective
has been put together to illustrate the role UNESCO has been playing - and must
pursue - in helping countries to monitor, mitigate and adapt to climate change.
debate about the human influence on climate is over. What the world needs now
is damage control, via reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and adaptation strategies.
If UNESCO does not take up these challenges, many of its programmes are in danger
of becoming irrelevant.
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences