Two scathing reviews by scholars working with the IPCC show why the organization is hopelessly corrupted by politics

Two scathing reviews by scholars working with the IPCC show why the organization is hopelessly corrupted by politics

ipcc[1]Two scathing letters critical of the IPCC process were published on Friday April 25th; one from Dr. Robert Stavins, an IPCC chapter Co-Coordinating Lead Author, and a five year veteran of the process, plus another by Dr. Richard Tol, who asked his name to be removed from work he was contributing to because it was “too alarmist”. Tol said in his letter:

‘The Himalayan glacier melt (by 2035) really was the least of the errors’ , ‘The IPCC does not guard itself against selection bias and group think’ – ‘Alarmism feeds polarization. Climate zealots want to burn heretics of global warming on a stick’

First, from Dr. Robert Stavins:

Is the IPCC Government Approval Process Broken?

Over the past 5 years, I have dedicated an immense amount of time and effort to serving as the Co-Coordinating Lead Author (CLA) of Chapter 13, “International Cooperation:  Agreements and Instruments,” of Working Group III (Mitigation) of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  It has been an intense and exceptionally time-consuming process, which recently culminated in a grueling week spent in Berlin, Germany, April 5-13, 2014, at the government approval sessions, in which some 195 country delegations discussed, revised, and ultimately approved (line-by-line) the “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM), which condenses more than 2,000 pages of text from 15 chapters into an SPM document of 33 pages.  Several of the CLAs present with me in Berlin commented that given the nature and outcome of the week, the resulting document should probably be called the Summary by Policymakers, rather than the Summary for Policymakers.

Before returning to the topic of today’s blog entry — the SPM process and outcome — I want to emphasize that the IPCC’s Working Group III “Technical Summary” and the underlying Working Group III report of 15 chapters were completely untouched by the government approval process of the Summary for Policymakers.   So, the crucial IPCC products – the Technical Summary and the 15 chapters of WG 3 – retain their full scientific integrity, and they merit serious public attention.  Now, back to the SPM process and outcome …

The process of the government approval sessions was exceptionally frustrating, and the outcome of that process – the final SPM – was in some regards disappointing.  Two weeks ago, immediately after returning from Berlin, I sent a letter to the Co-Chairs of Working Group III — Ottmar Edenhofer, Ramon Pichs-Madruga, and Youba Sokona — expressing my disappointment with the government approval process and its outcome in regard to the part of the assessment for which I had primary responsibility, SPM.5.2, International Cooperation.  At the time, I did not release my letter publically, because I did not want to get in the way of the important messages that remained in the SPM and were receiving public attention through the Working Group III release.

With two weeks having passed, it is now unlikely that the broader release of my letter will obscure the news surrounding the Working Group III release, and – importantly — it could be constructive to the process going forward, as the IPCC leadership and others think about the path ahead for future climate assessments.  Rather than summarizing or annotating my letter, I believe it makes most sense simply to reproduce it, and let it stand – or fall – as originally written.  It follows below.

Click to see the letter:

Of interest is this paragraph:

Over the course of the two hours of the contact group deliberations, it became clear that the only way the assembled government representatives would approve text for SPM.5.2 was essentially to remove all “controversial” text (that is, text that was uncomfortable for any one individual government), which meant deleting almost 75% of the text, including nearly all explications and examples under the bolded headings. In more than one instance, specific examples or sentences were removed at the will of only one or two countries, because under IPCC rules, the dissent of one country is sufficient to grind the entire approval process to a halt unless and until that country can be appeased.

There is also a Daily Mail article by David Rose:


Now Dr. Richard Tol’s essay:

In September 2013, I stepped down from the team that prepared the draft of the Summary for Policy Makers to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This attracted worldwide media attention in April 2014. Regrettably, the story of AR5 became the story of a man.

I have been involved with the IPCC since 1994, fulfilling a variety of roles in all three working groups. After the debacle of AR4 – where the Himalayan glacier melt really was the least of the errors – I had criticized the IPCC for faulty quality control. Noblesse oblige – I am the 20th most-cited climate scholar in the world – so I volunteered for AR5.

The Irish government put my name forward only to withdraw its financial commitment when I was indeed elected. The necessary funding could have easily been freed up if the Irish delegation to the international climate negotiations and the IPCC would trim its luxurious travel arrangements.

As a Convening Lead Author of one of the chapters, I was automatically on the team to draft the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). AR5 is a literature review of 2,600 pages long. It assesses a large body of scholarly publication. In some places, the chapters are so condensed that there are a few words per article in the learned literature. The SPM then distills the key messages into 44 pages – but everyone knows that policy and media will only pick up a few sentences. This leads to a contest between chapters – my impact is worst, so I will get the headlines.

In the earlier drafts of the SPM, there was a key message that was new, snappy and relevant: Many of the more worrying impacts of climate change really are symptoms of mismanagement and underdevelopment.

This message does not support the political agenda for greenhouse gas emission reduction. Later drafts put more and more emphasis on the reasons for concern about climate change, a concept I had helped to develop for AR3. Raising the alarm about climate change has been tried before, many times in fact, but it has not had an appreciable effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

I reckoned that putting my name on such a document would not be credible – my opinions are well-known – and I withdrew.

The SPM, drafted by the scholars of the IPCC, is rewritten by delegates of the governments of the world, in this case in a week-long session in Yokohama. Some of these delegates are scholars, others are not. The Irish delegate, for instance, thinks that unmitigated climate change would put us on a highway to hell, referring, I believe, to an AC/DC song rather than a learned paper.

Other delegations have a political agenda too. The international climate negotiations of 2013 in Warsaw concluded that poor countries might be entitled to compensation for the impacts of climate change. It stands to reason that the IPCC would be asked to assess the size of those impacts and hence the compensation package. This led to an undignified bidding war among delegations – my country is more vulnerable than yours – that descended into farce when landlocked countries vigorously protested that they too would suffer from sea level rise.

Many countries send a single person delegation. Some countries can afford to send many delegates. They work in shifts, exhausting the other delegations with endless discussions about trivia, so that all important decisions are made in the final night with only a few delegations left standing. The IPCC authors, who technically have the right to veto text that contradicts their chapter, suffer from tiredness too.

This shows. The SPM omits that better cultivars and improved irrigation increase crop yields. It shows the impact of sea level rise on the most vulnerable country, but does not mention the average. It emphasize the impacts of increased heat stress but downplays reduced cold stress. It warns about poverty traps, violent conflict and mass migration without much support in the literature. The media, of course, exaggerated further.

Alarmism feeds polarization. Climate zealots want to burn heretics of global warming on a stick. Others only see incompetence and conspiracy in climate research, and nepotism in climate policy. A polarized debate is not conducive to enlightened policy in an area as complex as climate change – although we only need a carbon tax, and a carbon tax only, that applies to all emissions and gradually and predictably rises over time. The IPCC missed an opportunity to restore itself as a sober authority, accepted (perhaps only grudgingly) by most.

The IPCC does not guard itself against selection bias and group think. Academics who worry about climate change are more likely to publish about it, and more likely to get into the IPCC. Groups of like-minded people reinforce their beliefs. The environment agencies that comment on the draft IPCC report will not argue that their department is obsolete. The IPCC should therefore be taken out of the hands of the climate bureaucracy and transferred to the academic authorities.



This statement by Tol pretty well sums up the IPCC:

Many of the more worrying impacts of climate change really are symptoms of mismanagement and underdevelopment.

That’s systemic culture in the U.N. so it is no surprise to me.

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