18 November 2011

A Few Comments on the IPCC SREX Report

The IPCC SREX report came out today and there were no surprises in the report itself.  Here are a few thoughts on the report.

Most importantly, the IPCC should be congratulated for delivering a message that cannot have been comfortable to deliver.  The IPCC has accurately reflected  the scientific literature on the state of attribution with respect to extreme events -- it is not there yet, not even close, for events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, bushfires and on other topics there remain enormous uncertainties.  That is just the way that it is, so that is indeed what the IPCC should have reported.

The IPCC has already been criticized by those who apparently would have preferred a less accurate message that hyped up the science, such as Joe Romm and Stefan Rahmstorf. I do agree with Rahmstorf that the IPCC should release its full report at the same time as it releases the SPM, but he knows as well as I what the literature says on this subject.

More generally, the reaction to the report has fallen out perfectly predictably. Those wanting to hype the report focus exclusively on its predictions of the future whereas those wanting to downplay it focus on the uncertainties. There is something here for everyone!

There was one interesting change related to the statement on the state of attribution with respect to normalized disaster losses.  The draft said:
"Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change, particularly for cyclones and floods (medium evidence, high agreement)."
The final version took out the emphasis on cyclones and floods and put in a content free clause -- a good example of how the IPCC process can reduce information content:
“Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement).”
It is of course true that a role for climate change has not been excluded in attribution studies -- of course, the IPCC also did not exclude a role for solar influences, cosmic rays or for that matter, evil leprechauns.  What the draft said with respect to floods and cyclones remains the case, hiding it from view doesn't make it go away. What silliness.

Richard Klein, a colleague and a friend, is also a SREX lead author. He  left a comment at Joe Romm's blog soon after it was posted that  Joe has refused to post so far (as if anyone needed to learn more about how these guys operate):
Dear Joe, you know very well that the IPCC bases its findings on science, not on opinion polls of US Americans. Over the past week, while participating in the IPCC session in Kampala, I've been amazed to read the various opinions of 'experts' who weren't involved in the drafting process or even as a reviewer. While the summary of the report was still being discussed and had not yet been released (this will be done today at 1.30 pm local time in Kampala), these 'experts', either on their own accord or prompted by the media, chose to misrepresent both the report's findings and the process by which the IPCC arrived at these findings.

I have been impressed with the rigour with which my co-authors have assessed the climate science of both observations and projections of extreme weather and climate events. I am also impressed with the solid discussions that took place among governments and between governments and authors this week. The governments were keen to ensure an unbiased interpretation and presentation of the findings of the climate scientists, as well as those stemming from the assessment of experiences of disaster risk management at local, national and global levels, and of the opportunities to manage future climate extremes and reduce vulnerability.

Your reaction to the report's findings reflects badly on you and calls into question the sincerity of your previous enthusiastic defence of the IPCC.
Will better reporting of the science by the IPCC change anyone's opinion on climate change? Probably very few people.  But it may have allowed the IPCC to take an important step in the direction of renewed credibility.


  1. I'd never spent much time reading Joe Romm's stuff. He comes across as distinctly unhinged. "head-exploding and revisionist"? Good grief, hyperventilate much, Joe?

    I find it amusing that so many of the commenters think the NY Times is too conservative, and have abandoned it for more doom-laden forums.
    And for general scientific and numerical illiteracy, it's hard to choose between these and the WUWT comments.

  2. "...the IPCC also did not exclude a role for solar influences, cosmic rays or for that matter, evil leprechauns."

    It must be understood that the onus is on leprechaun-skeptics to prove that evil leprechauns are NOT influencing the climate. I propose this to be the new null-hypothesis.

  3. "Will better reporting of the science by the IPCC change anyone's opinion on climate change? Probably very few people. But it may have allowed the IPCC to take an important step in the direction of renewed credibility."

    Certainly there's a world of difference between the hype that accompanied the release of the SRREN SPM, and that of the SREX SPM. Which is not to say that that the dedicated activists and media mavens are not beyond hyping anyway:

    "Hotter, longer heat waves predicted

    "OTTAWA - An alarming report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts global warming will cause more frequent droughts and floods in the decades to come.

    "If you keep going five, six, seven decades out of continual warming, we're in real trouble," said Dr. Gordon McBean, president-elect of the International Council for Science.

    "The report says climate models lead the panel to be "virtually certain" of more extreme high-temperature days globally with longer heat waves, while it's "likely" the number of possibly destructive downpours will increase.

    "Higher latitudes like Canada would probably escape the worst.

    "Still, McBean says he hopes the report will push the federal government to improve disaster-response plans.


    If the IPCC was really interested in generating renewed credibility, they would have paid more attention to the report of the IAC (and in particular to the responses to the IAC questionnaire from their own insiders).

    They would also refrain from the misleading use of words regarding their process in their press releases (because some journalists, e.g. the Guardian's Damian Carrington, are too lazy to double-check).

    In IPCC-speak "approve" has a very specific meaning. Consequently, when their Press Release begins:

    "Kampala, 18 November 2011—The Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on
    Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation
    (SREX) was approved today by member governments of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

    They are deliberately misleading because, according to the IPCC's very own "rules", the Panel is required to "accept" the actions of the WGs 1 & II "plenary" (in which "governments" could participate) at which the SPM was "approved".

    It is worth noting that government representation at the WG plenary at which the SRREN was approved was less than 50%.

    At the very least the IPCC would have acknowledged the documented shortcomings as identified by (my fellow Canadian) Donna Laframboise in her recent exposé of the IPCC, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World's Top Climate Expert - a book your father has read and recommends :-)

    IMHO, considering the evidence of apathy on the part of the IPCC Panel (supposedly the "decision making body"), if we are ever going to see any significant and meaningful reform at the IPCC, it will not happen until (and unless) a critical mass of "experts" (now downgraded, according to the latest in Pachauri-speak, to "objective, transparent, inclusive talent") decide to "go on strike" - and refuse to do the work until the IPCC cleans up its act.

  4. I was positively surprised. After reading the IPCC Renewable Energy Report ( A Greenpeace Report by any other name), I concluded that the organization had become a mouthpiece of activists and NGOs.

    "Will better reporting of the science by the IPCC change anyone's opinion on climate change?"

    In the long run, I think yes. Better reporting would mean more accurate reporting which would lead to increase of trust. Which is now in tatters due to all the hype that turned out to be exaggerated.

  5. Roger, from an STS perspective:

    "worldwide scientific collaboration"
    "220 authors"
    "62 countries"
    "187848 review comments"

    is more credible than 1 author, 1 country, 0 review comments, isn't it!?

    it also means that ca. 140 countries are not included.


  6. From the New York Times:

    "U.N. Panel Finds Climate Change Behind Some Extreme Weather Events"

  7. -6-Mark B.

    Yes, that NYT article is pretty atrocious (it even manages to cite implicitly Kerry Emanuel against himself;-) ... but much of the media coverage of the SREX report is spin one way or the other.

  8. Funny:

    My posting of Klein's comment has prompted Romm to approve it belatedly, but Romm can't help but edit Klein's comment;-)


  9. Roger is congratulating the IPCC for moving a bit closer to reality, but he says they are not close yet. Why bother taking them seriously. Wouldn’t it make more sense to to dismiss them as crazy alarmists, or sinister bureaucrats with a hidden agenda?

    The methodology behind the IPCC predictions of the future is totally wrong. They average together climate models that disagree by wide margins about climate sensitivity and call the resulting mess a multi-model ensemble. The models are back fit to the 20th century but each model uses different forcings to force the model to fit the 20th century history. Then they start consulting the models to see if there will be more extreme events. But everyone knows that the models are bad at predicting local climates and extreme events are local.

    The emperor has no clothes and if he happens to put on socks there is no need to say how handsome his outfit is.

  10. Pielke Jr at Speigel:


    These folks are actually measuring their commentary on the topic - rare for any MSM.