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Environment

Informing The Climate Debate

Report: National Academy of Sciences and Royal Society lay out climate-change science for the public

by Cheryl Hogue
February 28, 2014 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 92, ISSUE 9

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Credit: Shutterstock
An NAS-Royal Society report explains why sea ice is declining in the Arctic but not the Antarctic.
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Credit: Shutterstock
An NAS-Royal Society report explains why sea ice is declining in the Arctic but not the Antarctic.

The National Academy of Sciences has teamed up with its U.K. counterpart, the Royal Society, to produce a different kind of climate-change report. Instead of NAS’s traditional report that is densely packed with erudite commentary aimed at a technical audience, this new publication is written in easy-to-understand language and intended for the broader public.

“As two of the world’s leading scientific bodies, we feel a responsibility to evaluate and explain what is known about climate change,” NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone says. The report is for citizens, teachers, and leaders in business and government.

The joint report released last week considers 20 subjects often brought up in public debate over climate-change science. The report explains, for example, how scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activity and why some winters and summers are cold even though the world as a whole is warming. It also examines sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and the role the sun has played in climate change during recent decades.

“Further climate change is inevitable,” the report says. It offers actions that governments and individuals could take in response but does not endorse any of them. Choices include waiting for changes to occur and accepting loss, damage, and suffering; limiting greenhouse gas emissions; and pursuing as-yet-unproven geoengineering efforts. The latter include using aerosols to reduce the amount of sunlight entering the atmosphere.

“We have enough evidence to warrant action being taken on climate change,” Royal Society President Sir Paul Nurse says. “It is now time for the public debate to move forward to discuss what we can do to limit the impact on our lives and those of future generations.”

The report was sponsored by the Sackler U.S.-U.K. Scientific Forum, a partnership between NAS and the Royal Society that is funded by U.S. philanthropists Raymond and Beverly Sackler.

In contrast to the NAS-Royal Society report, the public policy statement on climate change by the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN, recommends specific actions. These include maintaining federal funding for research on climate change and the development of subsidies, taxes, and regulatory incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The statement also calls for an increase in public and private investments in energy technologies including conservation, carbon sequestration, and non-fossil-fuel energy sources.

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