IPCC 1990 – 2014: a quarter century of The Carbon War.

Jeremy Leggett on the Greenpeace Energy Desk: “When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change completed its First Assessment Report in 1990, almost a quarter of a century ago, I worked for Greenpeace as a climate campaigner.”
“For the previous decade I had been a university scientist, on the faculty of the Royal School of Mines at Imperial College. As an earth scientist, my research had been on the geological history of the oceans.
That was what made me worried about climate change. I figured I knew about the natural rhythms of the planet, from my studies of oceanic sediments. I didn’t like what I was seeing in the first climate models to factor in the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I quit my life as academic and consultant – ahem, to oil and gas industry – and became a campaigner. Or a turncoat, as most of my ex-colleagues saw it.
Then, as now with the Fifth Assessment, the overall IPCC Assessment Report was drafted based on three reports from working groups. In May 1990, the working group on climate science completed the first. “Race to save our world”, the headline in one British newspaper read the next day. The headlines in other papers were all versions of that. The world’s climate scientists had found dire rates of global warming and sea-level rise. Even Mrs Thatcher, the then UK PM, was worried.
The second report, on impacts, and third, on solutions, came out during the summer of 1990. The impacts report sat uncomfortably beside the scientific report, as though its authors had been instructed by their governments to tone things down. The solutions report was completely discordant. Many governments could not bring themselves to say that the deep cuts in emissions advocated by the scientists could be achieved with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the rest of the solutions toolkit.
I gathered a group of eminent scientists and policy experts together who did believe in the feasibility of deep cuts in emissions. We persuaded Oxford University Press to publish a “shadow” IPCC report: one where the projected impacts  and solutions would fit the climate science.  It came out in August 1990, just in time for the World Climate Summit in Geneva, the meeting that kicked off the global  climate negotiations that have been running ever since.
We echoed the IPCC’s climate assessment, but said it did not go far enough. The IPCC projection of global warming was a “best estimate”. Polcymakers needed to hear a “worst case”, based on the probability, as we saw it, of positive feedbacks – natural amplifactions of warming – coming into play.
We were accused of scaremongering at the time. But climate scientists today routinely discuss the feedbacks we described, and how they are very much in play.
We argued that the impacts would be worse than the IPCC argued in 1990. Again the march of events have proved us right.
Nobody likes people who say “we told you so.” I have had to bite my tongue many times over the years been then and now as scientists and policymakers caught up with the IPCC “shadow report”.
We described how the world could be run on renewables and energy efficiency in 1990. Few believed us. In 2013, more new generating capacity came onstream around the world from renewables than from fossil-fuels and nuclear combined. That share will continue to grow. Ever more people believe that a zero-carbon energy system is feasible today. They can see the evidence of their own eyes in countries leading the way. This year, for example, nearly 30% of all Germany’s electricity will come from renewables. Visitors to Germany’s world-renowned renewables research centre, the Fraunhofer Institute, are told how bullish the leadership is about getting to 100%.
I live in hopes that the Fifth Assessment Report will tell the world on Sunday, in graphic terms, how feasible and imperative giving up fossil-fuels and moving to 100% renewables is. We are so running out of time.
That too we have been saying since 1990.