11 June 2010

IPCC: This Time Will be Different (Not), A Guest Post by Richard Tol

Much has been said about the procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But at the end of the day, everything comes down to people. The average IPCC author is smart enough to violate the spirit of any rule while complying with its every letter. The right group of people would produce a sound and honest report even if there were no rules at all.

That is why my submission to the review panel of the Inter Academy Council focuses on the selection of lead authors. The panel will announce its findings at the end of summer – and the IPCC will announce the authors for the Fifth Assessment Report next week.

This is very unfortunate. I think that the IPCC should suspend the AR5 process, fix the procedures for nominating and selecting authors, and postpone the report to 2015. I’d rather bet on New Zealand winning the world cup.

That said, the leaders of Working Group 2 are making an effort. I have been critical of the IPCC. I think that climate change is real, really caused by humans, and a problem that should be solved – but I also think that there are bigger, more urgent environmental problems (let alone other problems) and that the policies put forward by our dear leaders are ineffective, misdirected and needlessly expensive. Nonetheless, WG2 has put me forward as a convening lead author of one of the chapters in AR5.

I tentatively accepted, knowing that this would be a lot of difficult work under immense scrutiny.

Guess what? Although the Irish government nominated me, it will not financially support my participation – not even travel costs – because of … substantive differences over environmental policy.

Political interference in the IPCC continues.


  1. Richard, thanks for this. FYI, I was asked to serve as an LA for WG2, and I have declined the invitation.

  2. Just so I understand, the Irish government suggested to the IPCC that you would make a valuable contribution to its fifth assessment report (highly sensible and appropriate, given your long history with the IPCC and your frank, public criticisms of its shortcomings).

    Now that the IPCC has offered you a senior position, the Irish government has decided that you aren't such a good fit after all. If you wish to participate, you must find another way to fund your travel and other expenses since the Irish government is not prepared to do so. This, you believe, is due to the fact that some of your views differ from the Irish government's official stance?

    Donna Laframboise

  3. Roger, why did you decline?

    Richard, maybe Holland can pay your expenses :)


  4. Richard:

    Was there a change of government in the interim? (I should know that, but am too lazy to look it up). And is it possible it also has something to do with the fact that Ireland at the moment couldn't afford to rent a bike to let you ride to the conference? :-)

  5. Richard,

    What are the bigger, more urgent environmental problems that you feel should be addressed ahead of cliamte change?

    Further, on what basis would you suggest that you're qualified to determine which problems are bigger and more urgent?

  6. -4- Gerard
    No change in government. Ireland is still one of the richest countries in the world, spending large sums of money on climate policy.

  7. -6- Marlowe
    The number of people who die in 2010 due to conventional air pollution is greater than the number of people who are projected to die in 2100 due to climate change.

  8. Richard,

    Sorry but I'm with Ackerman on this one and don't particularly put much stock in your projections about about mortality effects in 2100 from climate change.

    "In a recent article in this journal, Francesco Bosello, Roberto Roson, and Richard Tol make the remarkable prediction that one degree of global warming will, on balance, save more than 800,000 lives annually by 2050. They introduce enormous, controversial monetary valuations of mortality and morbidity, varying with income; they then focus primarily on modeling the much smaller, indirect economic effects of the changes in health outcomes. Their calculations, large and small, are driven by the huge projected reduction in mortality — an estimate that Bosello et al. fail to substantiate. They rely on research that identifies a simple empirical relationship between temperature and mortality, but ignores the countervailing effect of human adaptation to gradual changes in average temperature. While focusing on small changes in average temperatures, they ignore the important health impacts of extreme weather events. They extrapolate the effects of small changes in average temperature far beyond the level that is apparently supported by their principal sources, and introduce arbitrary assumptions that may bias the result toward finding net health benefits from warming."

    Having said that, I assume then that you're a big believer in policies to reduce carbon black emissions (e.g. deployment of clean cooking stoves in LDCs, regulations of marine emissions, etc.)?

  9. -9- Marlowe
    You may want to read our rejoinder. Notably, the number cited by Ackerman is not due to Bosello et al., but taken from the epidemiological literature. A cursory glance at the data would show that, in temperate climates, more people die during cold weather than during hot weather.

  10. Regardless of the number of people who die in 2100 due to climate change, it's going to be less than the number who die of old age. It's not the size that matters, but what we can do about it. If it's global CO2 that's driving AGW, then the solution will depend on policies of China, over which we have no control and little influence.

    On the other hand, we can deliver clean drinking water and save lives. It's the difference between posturing and action.

  11. Richard - stop whinging, and stop making fake accusations of political interference. they nominated you, after all. You'll find the money without any great problem.

    Roger - well, at least when the next report comes out, you'll be able to say: "not my fault guv, I didn't do it". Of course, when they say "*why* didn't you do it" you'll not look so sensible.

  12. -12-Belette

    "stop whinging" -- what is good for the goose ... ;-)

    But you need not worry, I'm completely comfortable with the sensibility of my decision.

  13. -12- William Connolley
    Nominations were made by a low ranking official. Funding decisions were made further up the ranks.

    This is not about money. This is about an attempt to exert political influence on the IPCC. That attempt may fail, but it is still wrong to try.

  14. Richard, to be clear, are the Irish government agreeing to pay expenses of other nominees who are demonstrably more in line with government policy?

  15. I also believe climate change is real. And, I believe anthropogenic influences are overwhelmed by TSI, the same being on the waning phase of a 200-year cycle.

  16. The IPCC should be disbanded permanently. They and their minions have spent billions of dollars trying to prove something that isn't happening. Warming and cooloing cycles have nothing to do with carbon dioxide. The elephant in the room is theabsence of an expolaination of what causes ice ages every 100,000 years, and the short, by comparason, warm periods of about 10,000 years between. Even the more recent "little ice age", "Medieval warming" and "Roman warming" defy explaination. Some possibilities are direct and indirectd effect of soslar variations, the Pacific decadal oscillationsm which change weather patterns to can increase or decrease total cloud amounts. The Yellowstone super volcano, and meteor strikes undoubtedly also have major impacts.Still the planet endured. By comparason, Man's influence is a mere pin prick.
    Physicists have shown that carbon dioxide
    absorbs infrared radiation in small bands that only represent about 8% of the total spectrum. The first 50 ppm abgsorbs almost half the available radiation with each succeeding 50 ppm absorbing less and less untuil almost all the availableradiation is absorbed by the time it reaches 300 ppm. Amounts above that can do almost no further warming.
    With our present warm period lasting about 11,000 years so far, we are getting closer to the next ice age than any other climate change.

  17. -15- Roddy
    I'm not aware of other Irish residents who were shortlisted by the IPCC.

    I have now seen the list of WG3 authors: WG3, like WG2, is getting better.

  18. My thoughts: If we go by the commonly accepted atmospheric makeup, greenhouse gases constitute 1 - 2% of the atmosphere. Of that 1 - 2%, 3.62% is CO2. 95% is water vapor and 1.38% other trace gases. Of the CO2, the human contribution of carbon is 3.4%.

    Lets do the math: Assume 1.5% of atmosphere is greenhouse gas.

    1.5 x .0362= .0543 (The amount of carbon in atmosphere.)

    .0543 x .034 = .0018462% (The amount of manmade carbon in atmosphere.)

    .0018462 x .2 = .00036924% (20% potential reduction of carbon.)

    Remember, CO2 is a naturally occurring gas. Does any reasonable being support spending 100’s of billions of dollars and imposing dramatic, world wide job and industry crushing regulations on schemes that will have the overall potential of a net atmospheric reduction of 4 ten-thousandth of 1% ?

  19. New Zealand just might do it! :)

  20. On this thread, cyberianpan manages to draw out a number of presumed members of the Green Party to admit that the decision was political and argue that it is right to censor debate:

  21. Richard Tol said... 21

    'Green Party to admit that the decision was political and argue that it is right to censor debate:'

    Only a fool censors debate or suppresses dissent. It is orders of magnitude easier to deal with a 'visible enemy' then an 'invisible enemy'.

    Dissent is like a wet hay bale. One can leave it in the field for everyone to see or stuff it in the barn where it is hidden from sight.

    Left in the field it may eventually dry out or possibly spontaneously ignite and cause a grass fire.

    Placed in a barn it will eventually spontaneously ignite and burn the barn down.