The recent media revelation that the earth’s average atmospheric temperature has hardly budged for the last 17 years has been known to, and debated within, the global scientific community for some time. This pause, which can no longer be treated as an “outlier” does not yet place the earth’s average temperature outside the range of uncertainty of forecasts from some 70 climate models developed by researchers around the world, but is certainly skating close to the edge. Moreover, none of the models predicted such an actual long pause in rise of the earth’s average temperature.
The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a network of scientists from different countries nominated by their governments, and tasked by the UN with preparing “consensus” reports on the earth’s climate, technology options, costs of response measures, and now, even the ethical basis of burden-sharing among countries, is to shortly discuss this finding. At stake is the future evolution of negotiations towards an international treaty to comprehensively address climate change, hoped to be concluded by 2015 and widely expected to be the mother of all economic treaties yet since nothing less than the future rights of countries to use commercially proven energy is at stake. However, this is also an existential issue for the IPCC itself since it must be unambiguously seen to apply the stringent tenets of the scientific method in dealing with this result if it is to retain and enhance its own credibility among both scientists and voters from different countries whose intellectual and political support respectively are crucial to successful negotiation of the new treaty.
Several explanations have been offered to explain this 17 year “hiatus”. Some scientists have pointed to stronger than expected La Nina ocean events during this period. However, this begs the question why, at least, those models which couple the atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems did not anticipate the strength of the La Nina events. Another suggested explanation is that during these 17 years there were more frequent volcanic eruptions than on average, spewing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere, which is known to reflect solar radiation