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Md. Prof: Important details left out of UN climate reports

Thursday - 8/7/2014, 10:41am  ET

Zoe Sagalow, special to

WASHINGTON - Developing countries like China and India "have been responsible for most increases" in greenhouse gas emissions in the past few decades. But that information is hidden from United Nations policymakers, effectively tying their hands from crafting targeted policies that would reduce pollution, according to a lead author for a UN climate change working group.

Giovanni Baiocchi, an applied environmental economist and University of Maryland geographical sciences associate professor, says important information is intentionally being left out of summarized reports for United Nations policymakers.

He says this prevents the panel on climate change from coming up with focused policies that would tell individual countries, like China and India, or groups of countries what they can do to adapt to climate change. He says the panel's current policies aren't sufficient.

Baiocchi and others involved wrote a series of articles in Science magazine's July issue about the April meeting of the panel on climate change trying to raise awareness of these concerns and determine how to make future work more productive.

"What is clear is that there are some political reasons that prevent... several countries… from accepting publicly this kind of information," says Baiocchi, a lead author for the Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 5th Assessment.

Baiocchi says simply knowing that greenhouse gas emissions have increased globally -- the information that was given to policymakers -- isn't sufficient information for good decision-making.

It is widely accepted among scientists and policymakers alike that carbon emissions and other pollutants are contributing to recent global temperature increases. But policymakers need to know which countries are causing emissions, Baiocchi says. And they need to know that industrialized countries, such as the U.S. and the United Kingdom, are emitting in high amounts but that their emissions have stabilized.

Baiocchi, who is an Italian native and spoke via phone from Germany, works with a group that writes summaries for policymakers from the scientists' research reports. He says the summaries have the general message that emissions come primarily from economic activity and the human population, but the link between which countries cause emissions and what can be done "has been, in a sense, watered down," he says.

The panel on climate change engages both scientists and policymakers to co-write the summaries, Baiocchi says, so that they are all on the same page. The policymakers are involved in writing them because they are the ones "who can actually implement effective policy," says Baiocchi.

He says the panel needs to improve its process so that more detailed information is no longer omitted from the summaries.

Baiocchi says that the panel on climate change needs to consider what the governments' and scientists' roles should be in their collaboration. They also need to ensure that any government's conflicts of interest do not interfere with disseminating information, he says.

"The underlying issue is how we communicate complex scientific information to policymakers and the general a way that is comprehensible, and it makes clear all the complexities and uncertainties that science involves," Baiocchi says.

He says this is "important information that would help us to decide what different countries can do... how they should contribute to mitigate emissions." All countries need to take part in designing policies, Baiocchi says.

Hover over the graphic below for more details about carbon dioxide emissions.

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