A Faulty Advisor: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

By Thomas J. F. Goreau, Ph.D.

The International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC for short, is often misunderstood. A glance at Wikipedia might help clear things up a bit

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations. Its job is to advance scientific knowledge about climate change caused by human activities. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988. The United Nations endorsed the creation of the IPCC later that year. It has a secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, hosted by the WMO. It has 195 member states who govern the IPCC. The member states elect a bureau of scientists to serve through an assessment cycle. A cycle is usually six to seven years. The bureau selects experts to prepare IPCC reports. It draws the experts from nominations by governments and observer organizations. The IPCC has three working groups and a task force, which carry out its scientific work.

The IPCC informs governments about the state of knowledge of climate change. It does this by examining all the relevant scientific literature on the subject. This includes the natural, economic and social impacts and risks. It also covers possible response options. The IPCC does not conduct its own original research. It aims to be objective and comprehensive. Thousands of scientists and other experts volunteer to review the publications. They compile key findings into “Assessment Reports” for policymakers and the general public; Experts have described this work as the biggest peer review process in the scientific community.

The IPCC is an internationally accepted authority on climate change. Leading climate scientists and all member governments endorse its findings. Media, governments, civil society organizations and businesses cite its reports. IPCC reports play a key role in the annual climate negotiations held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report was an important influence on the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for contributions to the understanding of climate change.

It’s vital to understand this: the IPCC’s role is purely advisory. The big decisions regarding global climate change policies are made by our governments at the UN Climate Change Conference.

The Consensus Rule and Climate Models

That fact helps explain why, regardless of what scientific data might suggest about the urgency of climate change, a few oil producing countries have, for 27 consecutive conferences, been able to block consensus on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions. (Troublesome fact: Any agreement at the conference has to be unanimous, according to UN rules.) This keeps happening despite the disastrous impacts of climate change on other countries, especially small island nations and coastal countries.

The absence of an agreement on the accounting and balancing mechanisms of global CO2 (which would help stabilize our climate at safe levels) has made the future look bleak. We must now recognize the certainty of warming overshoot. Our beautiful coral reefs, low islands, and coasts will be the first and worst victims, but they won’t be the last to suffer.

Moreover, the IPCC faces certain methodological limitations, allowing it to reach conclusions that too often are influenced by popular consensus. Climate models are complex, but they still over simplify or ignore key natural climate feedbacks. This means they don’t always accurately depict past climate changes.

For example, there have been times when global temperatures were around 1-2 degrees Celsius higher than they are today. The last such period was about 120,000 to 130,000 years ago, and the climate was significantly different. The sea level was about 8 meters higher than today. We had lush coral reefs in Jamaica, which died of bleaching, hurricanes and tsunamis. Greenland had no ice caps, and crocodiles and hippopotamuses frolicked in swamps that are now London, England! Yet the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was one third less than it is today.

Our atmosphere already has CO2 levels above 420 parts per mission, and the Arctic ice is going to melt in the summer, which will trigger even more rapid warming — factors that the IPCC models are not considering. Based on the fossil fuel record, the IPCC models actually seem to be underestimating the potential impact of global warming. We need to prepare for far more extreme climates sooner than expected.

One more flaw to consider is the IPCC’s emphasis on managing CO2 and other major greenhouse gases. While known carbon dioxide removal mechanisms are available that can tackle the excess CO2 over geological timescales, these measures seem to be too slow to prevent temperature overshoot that will condemn our coral reef ecosystems to extinction. We need quicker results.

Biorock Electrotherapy

Fortunately, I know of a solution to that particular problem. The only available method of protecting corals from bleaching is Biorock Electrotherapy (BE). Also known as mineral accretion technology, BE is a method used to promote the growth of coral reefs and other marine structures. It involves the use of low-voltage direct current electricity to stimulate the formation of calcium carbonate minerals on metal structures placed in the water.

The process uses a metal framework or structure, such as steel rebar or wire mesh, in the ocean or other marine environments. Once this scaffold is in place, a small electric current is passed through the metal, causing electrolysis to occur and coral or other marine organisms to grow on it.

Electrolysis leads to the release of positively charged calcium ions and other minerals from the metal, which then react with carbonate ions present in the seawater. These ions combine to form solid calcium carbonate, which is the primary component of coral skeletons and other marine structures.

As the electric current continues to flow, the calcium carbonate increases, strengthening the structure. Over time, corals and other marine organisms colonize the mineral accretion structure, enhancing the growth and biodiversity of the reef.

Biorock technology can help restore and rejuvenate damaged or degraded coral reefs, as well as provide habitat for various marine species. The electrically enhanced mineral accretion process also appears to increase the resilience of corals to environmental stresses, such as rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification. Additionally, the structures help protect coasts by attenuating wave energy and reducing erosion.

Biorock Electrotherapy is an interim measure to save coral reef species and ecosystem services until CO2 can be reduced to safe, pre-industrial level. It provides us with CO2-negative building materials that are harder, cheaper, and more eco-friendly than traditional cement. This technology can be powered by energy from the sun, winds, waves, and ocean currents, generated directly at the site.

Why Geo-engineering?

Here’s the thing: current UN Climate Change Conference policies allowing global temperatures to rise by1.5 degrees Celsius or more are a grave threat to our coral reefs, islands, and coasts. These outcomes are now inevitable and will occur sooner than expected. This means we need physical methods of slowing down global warming by affecting temperatures directly, not only indirectly through CO2 in the atmosphere.

Biorock Electrotherapy is just one of many strategies we could use, from covering our rooftops with reflective surfaces such as mirrors or white paint, to encouraging reforestation (respiration of trees cools the land locally by pumping heat into the atmosphere to form rain), to increasing the reflectivity of clouds or snow, or even extracting thermal energy from the sea.

These techniques, often referred to as “geo-engineering,” may seem drastic but, like it or not, we’ll need them if we intend to save our precious reefs and coastlines.

Thomas J. F. Goreau, Ph.D. is President of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, and previously Senior Scientific Affairs Officer for Global Climate Change and Biodiversity at the United Nations Centre for Science and Technology for Development. Educated in Jamaican schools, MIT, Caltech, and Harvard, he has dived on coral reefs all around the world.

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