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Facts Are Facts: We Must Act on Climate Change

09/27/2013 04:12 pm ET | Updated Nov 27, 2013
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"Sceptic (skep•tic) noun
1. A person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions."
-Oxford English Dictionary

In diplomacy we ask a lot of questions. We aren't doing our jobs if we don't challenge accepted conventions and look for new solutions to apparently intractable problems. But there is a line between healthy scepticism and questioning and seeing conspiracy where there is none.

Today, the UN's Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published the first of three volumes of its Assessment Report, the most comprehensive study of the science of climate change ever undertaken. The report, as authoritative as it is comprehensive, shows beyond doubt what we have now known for many years: that our climate is changing and that harmful emissions from human activity since the Industrial Revolution are largely to blame.

Some people reading today's report will try to find evidence to support inaction. They will focus on a reported pause in global temperate rise. But the thermometers do not lie: 2012 was among the ten warmest years on record. And the long term trends are clear: Arctic sea ice is receding; Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers worldwide are losing mass; sea levels are rising around the globe. All of these pose grave risks.

A recent joint UK/U.S. paper showed that the extreme heat waves the U.S. experienced last year are now four times more likely to occur than they were before human-induced climate change. Coastal flooding caused by devastating events like Hurricane Sandy is now twice as likely as in 1950. These are not just abstract figures; extreme weather threatens lives and livelihoods. Hurricane Katrina alone killed more than 1,800 people and reduced US GDP by 1.2 percent.

So we need to act. As the British Foreign Secretary said today, "The longer we delay, the higher the risks and the greater the costs to present and future generations." That's why the UK has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050. And it is why we are working internationally to agree a binding global deal to reduce emissions.

An international deal will require all countries to act. This latest report shows us with greater clarity than ever before why that action is needed.