Thursday, December 8, 2011


From: Mike Hulme <>
To: "Matilda Lee" <>
Subject: Re: Request from The Ecologist magazine
Date: Tue Aug 21 09:41:10 2001

See comments embedded from me below ............ I would appreciate receiving a copy of the
magazine when published. Thank you.
My affiliation is provided below.
At 15:15 14/08/01 +0000, you wrote:

Yes-very much so! Your response would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

From: Mike Hulme <>
To: "Matilda Lee" <>
Subject: Re: Request from The Ecologist magazine
Date: Tue, 14 Aug 2001 16:08:55 +0100
Been away on holiday - is this still relevant?
At 10:10 03/08/01 +0000, you wrote:

Dear Sirs:
The Ecologist, a London-based internationally recognized environmental
magazine, will be publishing a Special Edition on Climate Change in
September. For this edition, we believe it would be extremely useful to
gather the opinions of the top climatologists on an issue for which there
is growing interest by those concerned with climate change.
This issue is addressed in Article II of the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change, which states:
"The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal
instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in
accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization
of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would
prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate
system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to
allow ecosystems of adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food
production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed
in a sustainable manner."
Furthermore, the need to address the issue of atmospheric concentrations
was recently reaffirmed by Michael Zammit Cutajar, Executive Secretary of
the UNFCCC, who stated at the closing session of the IGBP in Amsterdam on
13 July 2001,
"I believe that the political process on climate change would be greatly
assisted by agreement on a target for atmospheric concentrations, at least
an intermediate target. This would give a sense of where the whole
international community should be heading and a basis for apportioning
responsibility for getting there."
We would be very appreciative if you would send a return email with your
response to the following questions for publication in The Ecologist
Special Edition on Climate Change.
-At what levels do you think we should aim to stabilize carbon dioxide
concentrations in the atmosphere and why?

I do not believe we have any sure basis for establishing what a 'non-dangerous' level
should be. This is so for several reasons:
- what is 'dangerous' depends on what measures are taken to adapt to climate change.
550ppm may be 'safe' in one assumed future world but 'dangerous' in another.
- the concept of 'danger' is not one that science can pronounce on. Such a level has to be
negotiated via a social and political process. This negotiation has also to take place in
the context of other risks that society is exposed to, i.e., we may be prepared to run a
higher risk with climate change if it means we can divert greater resources to reducing
global poverty.
- the basis for establishing 'danger' is contested. One could argue that 'dangerous'
climate change is change in climate that leads to the death of just *one* person; or argue
that some benefit/cost ratio should be used; or argue that if a sovereign state is
extinguished (e.g. a Pacific atoll nation) then that is the definition of 'dangerous'.
Thus you can see that I do not believe we can arbitrarily choose 550ppm or 650ppm, as done
by many scientific pronouncements (including the IPCC and others), and claim that is our
target. This can only be done by using the instruments of social and political discourse
on an international scale.
What we can say is that the higher the concentration of CO2 reached the greater the likely
risks associated with that concentration will be. But this is a relative argument, not an
absolute one.

-What does that level equate to in terms of percentages of emissions
reductions and by what date should we aim to reach that level?

So you see this second question I cannot answer. What we need to be doing, while we debate
the first question, is to put in place measures/mechanisms/processes that will now, and in
the future, give us greater flexibility of choice about different energy systems that have
different carbon ratings. The process is more important that the targets, as the Kyoto
negotiations have amply demonstrated.
In 10 years times, what we regard as 'dangerous' climate change will be very different from
today - and different again in the year 2020. We therefore need an emissions reduction
strategy that is flexible and reflexive to the changing demands of society.

We are aware that there is currently no consensus within the scientific
community on what an appropriate level for atmospheric concentrations is.

Indeed not - and there never can be. This question is not appropriately answered by
science - it has to be answered by society! This is a very important point to get across.

Our aim in this endeavour is to share with our readers the values
considered relevant to this debate to illustrate why a consensus is
difficult to achieve.

Exactly so - and in the end it is a matter of risk assessment and risk management. And
with most matters of risk, it is the perception by different individuals that matters more
than any quasi-objective estimate of risk. Temperamentally I take more risks than does my
wife - my concept of dangerous climate change is likely therefore to be quite different
from hers. Writ large and across the nations of the world, this is the problem of climate
change management.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.
Matilda Lee
The Ecologist
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