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The term “climate” in science.
Is the UNFCCC terminology ambiguous without this term?

By Dr. Arnd Bernaerts, Hamburg
 

A. Introduction

 What is the difference between partly cloudy and partly sunny, or warm and cold weather? In Australia, in China or in North America? You know, we know, the weather forecaster know! Often we need much more specification, concerning season, location, temperature, and humidity conditions. But we know as we have a lot of knowledge about weather conditions and a lot of experience. Every day we are confronted with weather, we talk a lot about the weather, and are usually keen to know what it is happening next with the weather. For this reason we are grateful for being advised about the weather today, tomorrow, and beyond, and usually do not raise any question when “weather” is described as: 

  • Weather is a short-term phenomenon, describing atmosphere, ocean, and land conditions hourly or daily.
  • Weather is the atmospheric condition over a small area and a short period of time. For example rain is a type of weather.
  • Weather is not constant. It is dynamic and always changing.

As it works fairly well for a couple of days, it is less convincing with regard to months, years, and millenniums. This touches the question how science handles the terms: weather, average weather, and climate, as science is supposed to use words, terms, and definitions with care. Even more, a reasonable definition is a paramount precondition for sufficient scientific research.

The ultimate source to provide an answer should be the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 1982 (UNFCCC). Although the word climate is prominently included in the title, the Convention is silent on the term “climate”. Instead, Article 1 defines in paragraph 2: Climate Change, and in paragraph 3: climate system, and seven other terms. This needs not necessarily to be a shortcoming if the term is well defined elsewhere or comparably understood by all concerned. As the UNFCCC is an international legal instrument, it is binding to all state parties. Moreover, the text of the convention is the baseline for any discussion, agreements, and implementation of subjects covered by the Convention. The two mentioned UNFCCC definitions therefore take a center stage. Is the lack of a conventional definition of the tem climate a serious deficiency? Or are the two subsequent definitions, “climate change” and “climate system” sufficient to regard them as scientifically relevant and reasonable? The question is, whether the word “climate” is properly used by politicians and science, and it is not an irritation to the general public. The investigation shall be a practical exercise and not an excurse of philosophical considerations, as can be found in the work of Aristoteles, Hegel, Hempel, Wittgenstein and Popper, and aims more at initiating awareness about the issue rather than offering final conclusion on how to deal with term and definitions in an academic way. 

However, the reader should know and bear in mind that we regard it as a hopeless exercise to define in one phrase or term past or future weather condition over a fixed or unfixed period of time. But if that is the case the word “climate”, it should not be used by science, as “climate” is a layman’s term for several thousand of years. If science is using the word Climate unspecified and undefined, then this is raising confusion and misunderstanding. Science should do whatever possible to avoid any kind of misleading, or not to use the word “climate” at all. But if they wish to use a layman’s term “climate”, then they should state why and relate it to driver the of the system in question, the Oceans, which will briefly be discussed in the paper’s conclusion. ...

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