Tavish Scott: Slowing temperature rise no comfort

The weather has been at the front of Scotland's thoughts this summer. Picture: Jane Barlow
The weather has been at the front of Scotland's thoughts this summer. Picture: Jane Barlow
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THE weather forecasting world is a small one. The men and women who report tomorrow’s sea harr, sunshine or gales know each other. Most across Scotland’s media use the services of the Met Office and then interpret their data for a forecast after a news bulletin on radio or television.

I learnt all about this from Sean Batty, STV’s weatherman, as we cycled into a southerly breeze outside Lerwick this week. Sean is raising money for child poverty charities and started his impressive cycling journey in Shetland, before travelling down to Orkney and then back to the Scottish mainland. I discovered that even in Lerwick a TV weatherman is more famous than politicians. That is probably because we are a nation obsessed with the weather, not politics.

Alex Hill is another well-kent face who has interpreted the weather for television news over many years. This week he circulated three Met Office reports that consider the reasons behind a recent report citing a slowdown in the upward march of global temperatures. The Earth’s oceans are the largest absorbers of heat and reports suggest there may be a slower warming of the deep oceans. In addition, as these are ten-year assessments, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Iceland in 2010 that caused a Europe-wide aviation shutdown had a severe, albeit short-term, cooling effect. This is because volcano eruptions reflect light back into space.

The new Met Office reports are worth reading to understand whether long-term climate change projections have really changed. Some commentators say recent figures mean the arguments over the extent of climate change have been grossly exaggerated. Climate change sceptics, of whom there are many, have cited this pause as a reason for a complete review of national and international policy.

But the Met Office reports provide no such comfort for the sceptics. There is no room for complacency over the warming of our planet. The surest way to accurately measure what’s happening is for co-ordinated international science to repeatedly update and refine the estimates of what is going on. These reports explain that the pause in global surface temperature rise is unusual but not exceptional. A slowing in the rate of warming for periods of about a decade has been seen in the past and is recognised in climate change modelling projections. Crucially, this pause does not invalidate previous projections. Nor does it alter the risks of substantial warming by the end of the century through greenhouse gas emissions. This is because surface temperature is only one measure of climate change. The Arctic sea ice cover, glaciers and ocean temperatures around the world all demonstrate that the Earth is warming.

Scientists across the globe are gathering evidence to pinpoint what has caused the pause in temperature rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is due to publish its fifth report in September. That report will now have even greater significance.

• Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland