Sunday, April 08, 2007

Behind the scenes for the latest IPCC climate change report

There is an interesting Associated Press article by Seth Borenstein with the somewhat misleading title of Last word on climate is ours, scientists say which does in fact clue us in as to some of the behind the scenes give and take that went on to produce the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Working Group II Contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2007: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers.

In fact, he lets the cat out of the bag and tells us that a detailed, uncensored 79-page "technical summary" will eventually be released to the public and will not be edited "by diplomats" and will contain "the real facts." This is what he means by suggesting that scientists will have the last word.

Great. In other words the summary which was just released and touted as having very high confidence, has been so heavily edited as to be next to worthless. In fact, the version on the IPCC web site still says "This version has yet to be copy-edited."

The beginning of the AP article tells us that "An inside look at the last few hours of tense negotiations at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meeting reveals how diplomats won at the end, thanks to persistence and deadlines", but later tells us that the scientists "won" since that uncensored 79-page report will come out. Sorry guys, but other than a few people like me, very few people, especially policymakers will read that 79 pages of fine print. As far as the media goes, it will be "yesterday's news." So, the reality is that the foot-dragging, hardball bureaucrats "won."

The AP article has some eyebrow-raising revelations:

  • "The language in the report had to be approved unanimously by governments." - so much for science.
  • "In the past, scientists at these meetings believed that their warnings were conveyed, albeit slightly edited down. But several left Friday with the sense that they had lost control of their document." - science loses again.
  • "'There was no split in the science; they were all mad,' said John Coequyt, who observed the closed-door negotiations for the environmental group Greenpeace." - I think he means the bureaucrats, but even if that is the case, the whole process does not inspire any great confidence.
  • "If it stayed the way scientists originally wrote it, some countries would not accept nor be bound by the science in the document." - That's great. In truth, the so-called "science" is now irrelevant since the whole thing has a social and political life of its own, independent of the science.
  • "those involved agree that the science is accurate and that global warming is changing the planet and projected to worsen significantly" - That only raises my level of skepticism. Global warming is now at the level of a rhetorical popularity contest. "Accuracy" is a very poor description of this form of "science", and so-called "projections" are probably worth less than the paper they are printed on.
  • "Interpreters had been sent home at 2 a.m. Friday due to financial issues. Some pages had not been discussed, and some of the most critical issues were not solved as small-group negotiations stalled." - Why such difficulty if the science is supposedly "settled" and "beyond challenge"?
  • "Panel co-chairman Martin Parry of the United Kingdom acknowledged that some parts of the document were eliminated 'because there was not enough time to work it through as well.'" - Again, it sounds as if the "science" is not as settled as Parry and others keep claiming it is.
  • "With such deadline problems, some countries — especially China, Saudi Arabia and at times Russia and the United States — were able to play hardball. China and Saudi Arabia wanted to lower the level of scientific confidence (from more than 90 to 80 percent) that the report had in a statement about current global-warming effects, and it looked as if they would win because they wouldn't accept the original wording. That's when Rosenzweig walked. But a U.S.-based compromise avoided mention of scientific confidence." - These so-called confidence levels appear to be 100% artificial, rhetorical artifacts than based on hard science. In fact, we would probably all be better off if all of the confidence level characterizations were dropped until there is a general consensus as to what the time-tested data and analytical studies really show. In other words, lets see where we are five and ten years from now.
  • "A comparison of the original document, written by scientists, and the finished paper showed major reductions in forecasts for hunger and flooding victims. Instead of 'hundreds of millions' of potential flood victims, the report said 'many millions.'" - If the scientists had hard data to back up their claims, why did they cave? I suspect that they didn't have hard data at all and that these "projections" were more in the way of "rhetorical flourishes."

Some of the points that are supposedly in the unreleased 79-page technical summary include:

  • "More than one-sixth of the world population live in glacier- or snowmelt-fed river basins and will be affected by decrease of water volume." And depending on how much fossil fuels are burned in the future, "262-983 million people are likely to move into the water-stressed category" by 2050.
  • Global warming could increase the number of hungry in 2080 by between 140 million and 1 billion, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted in coming decades.
  • "Overall, a two- to three-fold increase of population to be flooded is expected by 2080."
  • Malaria, diarrheal diseases, dengue fever, tick-borne diseases, heat-related deaths will all rise with global warming. But in the United Kingdom, the drop in cold-related deaths will be bigger than the increase in heatstroke-related deaths.
  • In eastern North America, depending on fossil-fuel emissions, smog will increase and there would be a 4.5 percent increase in smog-related deaths.
  • Because global warming will hurt the poor more, there will be more "social-equity" concerns and pressure for governments to do more.

Net net, reading this article only reduced my own level of confidence in the science of global warming and climate change.

My conclusion is that we need to give the scientists another five years to get their act together before we put too much faith in their "science." That extra five years of data will provide either a rock-solid confirmation of their forecasts, or tell us that the whole affair is a lot shakier than it even appears to be.

Trust me, five years will not make that big a difference.

-- Jack Krupansky

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