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Why Congress is wrong headed in assault on IPCC

By Martin Leggett - 27 Feb 2011 23:21:1 GMT
Why Congress is wrong headed in assault on IPCC

Last Monday's decision by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives, to take a funding swipe at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is both mistimed and mistaken. Mistimed, because the crest of the wave of denialist accusations has certainly foundered – on the hard rock of a wide-ranging validation of the IPCC's science. Mistaken, because it offers up the prospect of the US being left out in the cold, as the world develops a rejuvenated Kyoto framework that moves towards a low-carbon economy.

The timing of the cut, part of a slashing of $3bn from environmentally-slanted funding, is perverse. The feeding-frenzy of climate denial surrounding the Climategate affair, which did much to influence the Tea Party ascendancy in the mid-term elections, has now been shown to be toothless. Several investigations have exonerated the scientists involved, and have also completely validated the science behind anthropogenic global warming. None of the serious skeptic claims at the time have withstood independent examination.

So in a real sense, Congress is several steps behind where the public debate is now moving. At another level, the vote to zero the IPCC funding, costing only $3m annually, can be seen as purely symbolic. There is a chance it will be dropped, when the cuts package hits the Democratic-controlled Senate. But with the cut only a small part of a massive raft of budget-cutting measures, it's easy to envisage it slipping through. And after all symbols do matter.

Of course, the IPCC draws funding from governments across the world, and such funds will easily be replaced. The slashed funding for the IPCC Working Group 2, which looks to issues of impacts and adaptation, will likely be taken over by a developing nation. That funding shift may be more than just a procedural one. It also sends a signal that the rest of the world may not ignore. They may conclude that it's time to move forward on reaching an agreement, without having to take into account a hostile US Congress.

With the huge momentum for change towards a low-carbon economy, so reducing the impact on climate stability, those nations left outside of the framework may miss out economically too. The future is clear – a sustainable global economy. The Tea Party-affiliated House Representatives will have much explaining to do, if their idealogical commitment drove the US into the backwaters of this new economy – and cost their constituents jobs.