31 January 2010

Robert Muir-Wood on the Stern Report

Robert Muir-Wood is quoted in today's Sunday Times on how the Stern Review Report used his work. Muir-Wood was a valuable participant in our 2006 Hohenkammer workshop. It is unfortunate that both IPCC and Stern chose to misuse his work, which has placed Muir-Wood in a difficult position. Here is what the Times reports today (emphasis added):
Robert Muir-Wood, head of research at Risk Management Solutions, a US-based consultancy, said the Stern report misquoted his work to suggest a firm link between global warming and the frequency and severity of disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

The Stern report, citing Muir-Wood, said: “New analysis based on insurance industry data has shown that weather-related catastrophe losses have increased by 2% each year since the 1970s over and above changes in wealth, inflation and population growth/movement.

“If this trend continued or intensified with rising global temperatures, losses from extreme weather could reach 0.5%-1% of world GDP by the middle of the century.”

Muir-Wood said his research showed no such thing and accused Stern of “going far beyond what was an acceptable extrapolation of the evidence”.

The criticism is among the strongest made of the Stern report, which, since its publication in 2006, has influenced policy, including green taxes.

Here is Stern's spokesman's odd response to Muir-Wood's comments:
A spokesman for Stern said: “Muir-Wood may have been deceived by his own observations.”
My published critique of Stern's dodgy disaster dossier can be found here:
Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2007. Mistreatment of the economic impacts of extreme events in the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 17, pp. 302-310.

30 January 2010

Pop Quiz -- Who Said What?

How well have you been following the climate debate?

Nature asked six climate change experts their views on the significance of the Copenhagen Accord. Before I provide the link, I've listed the experts below and a passage from each. Your job is to match the expert with the phrase. No cheating!

Feel free to enter your guesses as comments. I'll update this post with the answers after the weekend. Have fun guessing!
A- Mike Hulme, UEA
B- Jonathan Lash, WRI
C- Bill McKibben, 350.org
D- Roger Pielke, Jr., CU
E- John Shellnhuber, PIK
F- David Victor, Stanford

1 -“The US and China decided they didn't want these pesky [little] nations burdening the talks with their unreasonable demands for survival, so they cut their own pact. But in some sense, the US and China, having broken the UN process, also bought it.”

2 - “The Copenhagen Accord is a much bigger — and better — deal than many people realize.”

3- “If 'dangerous' is 2 °C, then I suspect we are toast. A lot of people will lament that, but one has to wonder whether this is not a failure of governments but rather a failure of people.”

4 - “It is often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. [Yet] many in the climate debate seem ready to put the Copenhagen experience out of their minds and gear up for doing it all over again in Mexico City. Insane!”

5 - “. . . we need to set near-term targets that are pragmatic and technology-based, and they should be achievable on the basis of credible social, technical and economic analysis, not aspirational targets driven by IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] science.”

6 - “. . . the many small countries were not the problem in Copenhagen; [the problem was] primarily the United States and China. If those two were willing to cooperate on climate protection then the UN system would also work fine.”
The Nature piece with the full comments from the six experts is here.

More Quiet Post-Publication Changes to the Stern Report

The Telegraph reports today that several sections of the Stern Review report were altered subsequent to its publication, with no formal notice given. Apparently, the quiet change of the hurricane loss error that I recently noted was one of a number of such changes.

The Stern Review on the economics of climate change, which was commissioned by the Treasury, was greeted with headlines worldwide when it was published in October 2006

It contained dire predictions about the impact of climate change in different parts of the world.

But it can be revealed that when the report was printed by Cambridge University Press in January 2007, some of these predictions had been watered down because the scientific evidence on which they were based could not be verified.

Among the claims that were removed in the later version of the report, which is now also available in its altered form online, were claims that North West Australia has been hit by stronger tropical typhoons in the past 30 years.

Another claim that southern regions in Australia have lost rainfall due to rising ocean temperatures and air currents pushing rain further south was also removed.

Claims that eucalyptus and savannah habitats in Australia would also become more common were also deleted.

The claims were highlighted in several Australian newspapers when the report was initially published, but the changes were never publicly announced.

A spokesman for Nicholas Stern explains the post-publication changes as follows:

A spokesman for Lord Stern, who headed the review and is now chair of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said that the changes to the statements about Australia were made following a quality control check before the report was printed by Cambridge University Press.

He said: "Statements were identified in the section on Australia for which the relevant scientific references could not be located.

They were therefore, as a precaution, omitted from the version published by Cambridge University Press and they were deleted from the electronic version on the HM Treasure website.

"These changes to the text had no implications for any other parts of the report.

"It is perhaps not surprising that in a report of more than 700 pages a few typographic errors and minor but necessary clarifications to the text were identified in November and December 2006 after its launch.

"However, none of these corrections and changes affected the analysis or conclusions in the Stern Review, which is rightly regarded as an important contribution on the economics of climate change."

The attention to accuracy is commendable. That such attention occurred post-publication and changes were then made retroactively and unannounced to the published report (which still has its original publication date on it) is -- as I am quoted in the story -- remarkable. Here are my comments:
"In any academic publication changes to published text to correct errors or to clarify require the subsequent publication of a formal erratum or corrigendum.

"This is to ensure the integrity of the literature and a paper trail, otherwise confusion would result if past work could be quietly rewritten.

"Such a practice is very much a whitewash of the historical record.

"One would assume – and expect – that studies designed to inform government (and international) policy would be held to at least these same standards if not higher standards."

Perhaps someone should ask Lord Stern for a comprehensive listing of changes made to the report since its publication. Better yet, the UK government might publish an "Errata page" detailing the various corrections in order to faithfully preserve the historical record. Too bad no one thought of that before.

29 January 2010

Rumble at the Ri: Ward vs. Pielke

Next Friday evening in London, I am going to debate Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute at LSE, at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The announcement has just been posted up, and you can see it below. Click here for background on the Royal Institution. Click here for more about the remarkable venue where the debate will be held.

Get your tickets here before they sell out!
Has Global Warming increased the toll of disasters?

No mainstream scientist would question that human activity has had an effect on the Earth’s climate. Few doubt that it is the major issue facing humanity in the 21st Century. Due to the magnitude of the problem and its consequences, it is no surprise that debate about the extent of its effects and the best solutions has become a hot topic in the media.

A report in The Sunday Times on 24 January claimed that the United Nations climate science panel (IPCC) wrongly linked global warming to an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Politicians took this message into the mainstream, with President Barack Obama, saying last autumn: ‘More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent.’, but was this based on sound science?

This debate has continued ever since, both in the media and online, with two climate experts coming head-to-head. Roger Pielke Junior, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, has attacked the IPCC for including in one of its reports a reference to an abstract in 2006, that indicated economic losses from disasters increased between 1970 and 2005. Bob Ward, policy and communications Director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, claims the link between extreme weather events and climate change is clear, and that criticisms about the evidence for an increase in disaster losses is nothing new and is merely a repetition of criticisms that date back to 2006 because the IPCC's procedures for reviewing scientific work is currently under the spotlight.

We are delighted that these two leading figures in this discussion have agreed to a debate at short notice here at the Royal Institution, so come along to join in the conversation about a key issue for the future of the planet.

Tickets cost £8 standard, £6 concessions, £4 Ri Members.

28 January 2010

Science has an extended interview with Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, that is quite revealing. Here are a few interesting excerpts.

Dr. Pachauri clearly indicates that he sees the job of the IPCC to be motivating political action on climate change:
I mean, let's face it, that the whole subject of climate change having become so important is largely driven by the work of the IPCC. If the IPCC wasn't there, why would anyone be worried about climate change? It's also certainly to be expected that there are some interests who would not want to take action against climate change. I mean, I don't want to name a country, but you know during the Copenhagen meeting there was one country that was saying that there should be no agreement simply because the IPCC, after the e-mails, the scandal of the hacking e-mails, the IPCC's report shouldn't be taken as a basis for any agreement. And you know what the motivation behind that statement was and where it was coming from? Are we going to fall prey to vested interests?
On his role as an advisor to companies that stand to benefit from his advice:
I don't see any conflict at all. Science has to be used for decision-making. IPCC's work is supposed to be very clearly policy relevant. How can I establish policy relevance if I shut myself in an ivory tower and say I will not say anything about climate change? I feel totally comfortable in the role of adviser to anybody.
On his freedom from conflicts of interest:
I see absolutely no conflict of interest since I am a salaried employee of TERI and if I provide advice to any organization. You must remember that TERI has been in research on climate change for a quarter century, almost a quarter century, and therefore as a paid employee of this organization, if I am doing work on behalf of TERI and on behalf of the time that I spend over there is something that I am being paid for through a salary, then I see absolutely no conflict of interest. . .

there is no private interest involved in this. This is as much public interest as doing work for the IPCC. I am working for an organization which is a not-for-profit organization, which is not only highly regarded, which abides by all the laws of this country, and it is serving the public interest, it has been set up in public interest. So I can see absolutely nothing which can be mixed up with private interest over here, so I am afraid I should get this absolutely right. There is no private interest involved over here. If I was working for a shareholder company and this was leading to the profits of some individuals, then you could say private interest. We are as much a public-sector organization and an organization working for the public good as any other. So you know there is no conflict of interest.
And then there is this odd ending:

Q: So will the world have a solution to climate change soon thanks to you?

R.K.P.: Well, it's a long haul, it's going to be a tough job, and I took it because it's a tough job and I am doing it because it's a tough job. And somebody has to do it. I have that responsibility: I will do it. And I am certainly not going to relent in these efforts, I can assure you.

Q: Pleasure speaking to you. Thank You.

R.K.P.: I have to hug you! [Gives interviewer a bear hug.]

27 January 2010

Karen Clark on Short-Term Hurricane Loss Predictions

Karen Clark and Co. have an interesting new report out which evaluates the performance of short-term hurricane predictions issued by the catastrophe modeling industry. In short, they are not doing so well, as the image above indicates, with predicted losses far exceeding actual losses. Here is an excerpt from the report:
Given all of the uncertainties, near term projections do not have sufficient credibility to be used for important insurance applications such as product pricing and establishing solvency standards. In the case of pricing catastrophe exposure, the insurer or reinsurer is faced with the challenge of settling on a specific price for a specified time period for an exposure that has a highly uncertain expected value. While the near term models might be a useful tool for adding insight with respect to the potential range of expected outcomes for the upcoming policy period, the actual results of the last four years indicate that relying exclusively on the near term models to determine a rate can bring an extra level of instability and volatility to an already challenging pricing exercise. Individual insurers and reinsurers should instead consider the complete range and likelihood of possible outcomes in determining product pricing, taking into account the need for both stability and responsiveness in setting a strategy for pricing their products.
The perspective expressed by Karen Clark and Co. is quite similar to my own views, expressed in a paper published in 2009. Our website remains down, due to a concerted attack to deny access, but for anyone interested I'd be happy to email a copy of the paper, the title and abstract appear below.
United States hurricane landfalls and damages: Can one- to five-year predictions beat climatology?
Pielke, Roger A.
Environmental Hazards, Volume 8, Number 3, 2009 , pp. 187-200(14)

This paper asks whether one- to five-year predictions of United States hurricane landfalls and damages improve upon a baseline expectation derived from the climatological record. The paper argues that the large diversity of available predictions means that some predictions will improve upon climatology, but for decades if not longer it will be impossible to know whether these improvements were due to chance or actual skill. A review of efforts to predict hurricane landfalls and damage on timescales of one to five years does not lend much optimism to such efforts in any case. For decision makers, the recommendation is to use climatology as a baseline expectation and to clearly identify hedges away from this baseline, in order to clearly distinguish empirical from non-empirical justifications for judgements of risk.
Also, I participated in an AM Best roundtable discussion of catastrophe risk with insurance experts several weeks ago. The issue of catastrophe models was a part of the conversation. You can read a transcript of the discussion here. That is me below at the roundtable, talking about continued growth of losses based on our work.

26 January 2010

Hot on the Trail of the IPCC Mystery Graph


I think I have figured it out.

1. The Figure above does not appear in Muir-Wood.

2. A different figure, 1.5 from the SOD, was criticized by reviewers. Figure 1.5 was a scatter plot of temperature anomaly and normalized damage 1950-2005, shown below.

3. In response, the IPCC instead chose to make its own Figure SM 1-1 above at the top of this post, which plotted only 1970-2005 and smoothed the data.

4. The original Figure 1.5 from the SOD is ultimately included in the published version of Muir-Wood et al. in 2008, exactly as it appeared in the SOD, with this explanation:
Without fully controlling for other factors that could affect the trend in losses, we can not draw any firm conclusions about the role of climate change in loss trends. In addition, any conclusions about a relationship between global warming and disaster losses are complicated by the sensitivity of statistical results to a few high-loss data points, the short historical loss record, and the limitations of the normalization methodology.
Hypothesis: The IPCC created a graph that did not exist in the peer reviewed literature or in the grey literature to suggest a relationship between increasing temperatures and rising disaster costs.

In the comments Ian does some brilliant detective work to locate the origins of the above mysterious and misleading graph from the IPCC AR4 WGII Chapter 1.
I spent some time parsing through the FOD, SOD and related comments for this portion of Chapter 1 of the WGII report.

The graph that Hu McCulloch asks about, and which Roger criticizes above, initially appeared as part of the text in the SOD as figure 1.5. It was a scatter graph, with a “Fitted Values” trend line drawn in. At that point, the source was being cited as “Miller et al. 2006” rather than Muir-Wood; I assume, however, that it is the same source (the full reference was: “Miller, S., R. Muir-Wood, et al. 2006: Weather related catastrophe loss trends and the impact of climate change,. In lit. (to be circulated prior to publication).”) (See p. 91 of Ch. 1 of the SOD) [PIELKE COMMENT: YES]

The use of the “Miller” paper drew a number of comments from the expert reviewers. One of those experts was Annick Douguedroit of University de Provence, who commented (http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR4/SOD_COMMS/Ch01_SOD_Expert.pdf at p. 122)
“Fig 1,5 is not reliable from a statistical point of view because the significant trend is pulled upward by "outliers" (especially 3 points with losses >100000 ) which provoque a pseudo-significancy as it is suggested by the authors themselves in lines 18-21 [of the SOD] "Removing......entirely". So I propose "Since 1970 the global normalized results do not show any statically significant correlationn with global temperatures." and to remove the end of the paragraph and the figure 1,5 because it can mislead a reader not familiar with correlation."
The response from the “Writing Team” was:
“Figure moved to Supplementary Figure and employed a different plot that smoothes catastrophe losses and shows these alongside temperature. After smoothing (that thereby removes the peaks noted) the correlation remains. The text now provides a balanced commentary on this.”
So, it is clear that the graph seen in the supplementary materials to Chapter 1 of WGII, was the creation of “Writing Team”. Perhaps Roger can answer whether the original graph (as shown in the SOD) was the work of Muir-Wood. [PIELKE RESPONSE: SEE UPDATE ABOVE. I FIGURED IT OUT.]

Concerns were also raised by Indur Goklany (US Dept of the Interior), Francis Zwiers (Can. Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis) and Nathan Gillet (University of East Anglia).

Zwiers commented (pp. 121-22):
“I’m wondering if too much space is devoted to Miller, given the inference one draws from Fig 1.5 is senstive to the inclusion of individual outliers (as pointed out in the text) and that it is acknowledged that early data are incomplete. Some additional comment on data quality, beyond just completeness, is probably in order (I'm not expert, but this type of data would presumably be influenced by all kinds of factors, including varying political influences and changes in reporting practices, that might confound any climate signal)."
To which the response was:
“Agreed – will restate the conclusions of this work judiciously to summarize what is revealed and what is uncertain.”
Gillett was concerned about the statistical underpinnings (p. 122):
“Is the statistically significant correlation purely a result of the trend in both series? Does the correlation remain statistically significant if both are de-trended? If not, then this merely tells us that both series contain a trend. More fundamentally, why correlate losses with global temperature? Some justification is needed.”
To this, the Writing Team responded:
“Losses can be correlated with year and also with global temperatures. The correlation with T is a function of both series containing trends with time over this period.”
I’ll leave it to the stats types to argue over whether the answer was actually responsive.

Bob Ward's Big Day

Bob Ward is at it again. It is interesting that no scholars have stepped up to defend the IPCC on the disasters and climate issue, leaving the task to Lord Stern's spokesman. Below is a piece that he had on the Guardian site today, defending the IPCC against claims that it had sexed up its sections on disasters and climate change. Bob is a PR pro, and while there is enough spin in his piece to make anyone dizzy, the piece is remarkable for how little there is in it to contradict my claims. Ward seems to rest his critique on the notion that this is old news.

Below I unpack the key parts of the piece.

The trouble with Pielke's argument is that the work of Muir-Wood and his colleagues was eventually published as a peer-reviewed paper in 2008 (and included as chapter 12 of the book Climate Extremes of Society) and included the same conclusion. It remains the only paper to assess global economic losses from all types of extreme weather events, not just a single source of hazard in one region.

Interestingly, Bob Ward neglects to mention this statement which appeared in the published version of Muir-Wood et al.: "We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses." Maybe that was just an oversight on Ward's part.

Ward also neglects to mention this comment by Muir-Wood from the Times article on Sunday, speaking of his 2006 article: ""The idea that catastrophes are rising in cost partly because of climate change is completely misleading. We could not tell if it was just an association or cause and effect." Maybe that also was just an oversight on Ward's part.

Ward does not mention that the IPCC violated its own procedures for citing grey literature, or that IPCC reviewers had made up stuff, or been ignored. Maybe including these details was just an oversight on Ward's part.

Pielke is right that an increase in the number of valuable properties in high-risk areas is overwhelmingly the primary cause of increased financial losses from extreme weather events over the past few decades.

So I am right. If I am right then when the IPCC links increasing losses to increasing temperatures, it must be . . . ? What?
That in itself is a worrying conclusion given that climate change is expected to lead to changes in the occurrence and severity of such events. Indeed, only last week a paper in the journal Science by researchers at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projected nearly a doubling in the frequency of the most severe hurricanes in the Atlantic by the end of this century.

But it is difficult to tell to what extent, if any, climate change has also already affected past disaster losses around the world. Extreme weather events are rare, so identifying small trends is difficult when losses vary so much from year to year, creating a lot of "noise" in the dataset, and many competing factors contribute to the overall pattern.

The absence of a "statistically significant" trend may indicate that no trend exists, or instead that a trend exists but cannot be definitively detected until a longer period of losses is available.

Right. It is difficult to identify a trend. That is why the IPCC should not have sexed up its report. Statisticians have a phrase to describe a a trend that exists but cannot be detected -- "not a trend." If a trend cannot now be detected, then lets just say that. It is honest, it is supported by the scientific literature. Don't sex it up. Seems obvious? Why can't Ward bring himself to say that?
What is clear is that it would be wrong to think of this as another mistake by climate researchers. In fact it looks more like a blatant attempt to dig up an old academic row in order to create the impression of an IPCC under siege.

Old academic row. Cute. Given that Bob had very little time to write this, he probably couldn't come up with anything better. He should get some credit for staying away from the "denier" label.

Bob betrays his recent foray into academia by calling a debate since 2006 an "old academic row." When I was in grad school -- nearly 2 decades ago -- people were debating climate change and disasters. And they will still be when I retire in a few decades.

Only in the up-is-down world of the climate debate is serious academic debate and scholarship derided in the manner that Ward has done. He should be glad that people are looking carefully for the signal of GHGs in the disaster record. Or would he prefer that people just make stuff up?

Lord Stern's Spokesperson Responds

Bob Ward, Policy and Communications Director at the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics, where Nicholas Stern in the Chair, has kindly written in to the comments, responding to my post on how the Stern Review Report misused the Robert Muir-Woods paper and quietly altered a typo that revealed the fuzzy math. Bob's comments are below, with my responses in the inset boxes, with a black line around them. I thank Bob for his engagement.

I see you have taken advantage of the media frenzy around the IPCC to gain more coverage for your gripes on disaster losses. However, I’m afraid there are some serious errors in your public statements.
I am happy to see that we both share an interest in correcting errors. If my statements are in error, then I will correct them.
As you know, I formerly worked with Robert Muir-Wood at Risk Management Solutions and I now work with several of the people who prepared the Stern Review, so I have had the chance to speak to them about your comments. I am providing my comments in multiple entries on your blog as it will not allow them to be all posted at once.
I am happy to give your comments top line billing, as all views are welcome here. Based on these comments, I assume that you are writing as the representative of Nicholas Stern.
First, let me clarify a few points about the Stern Review. You are quite right, and as the UK Government acknowledged, there was a typographic error in Table 5.2 of the version of the Stern Review that was published on the Government’s website in October 2006 –the increased costs, as a percentage of GDP, from US hurricanes was inaccurately printed as 1.3% and 0.6%, instead of 0.13% and 0.06%. The error was picked up by members of the team and corrected before the report was printed by Cambridge University Press for publication in January 2007. The error had not other significance for the report other than in Table 5.2. There was no conspiracy and no attempt to deceive – it was a straightforward typo which was corrected very soon after the Review appeared.
The FAQ page for the report says that an Errata was to be prepared explaining why there were multiple versions of the report available. Can you point me to this errata? The problem of course with multiple versions of the report is that it can cause some confusion, as my peer reviewed critique of the report relied on the older version. Surely the Stern Review should adhere to the same standards as a normal academic publication?
Second, you are also right that the costs of extreme weather events globally calculated as 0.5-1.0% of GDP, and presented in Table 5.2 was based on the 2% trend published in the six-page paper by Muir-Wood, Miller and Boissonnade from the Hohenkammer workshop in 2006.
Table 5.2 explains that the results are for the developed world. So far you have explained that I am correct about 2 of my assertions. I'm still waiting for the errors.
However, it is completely wrong to suggest that “as much as 40% of the Stern Review projections for the global costs of unmitigated climate change derive from its misuse of the Muir-Wood et al. paper”. In fact, the modelling of the macroeconomic costs of the impacts of unabated climate change did not make use of the Muir-Wood et al. (2006) abstract – the costs were projected using the PAGE2002 integrated assessment model, as described in Chapter 6 of the Review. The PAGE2002 model drew upon three major sources of estimates of the impacts of climate change (Mendelsohn et al. (1998), Nordhaus and Boyer (2000) and Tol (2002)) – this is explained in Chapter 6 of the Review and also in this 2007 paper from ‘World Economics’ (see particularly Figure 2): http://www.occ.gov.uk/activities/stern_papers/World_Economics1.pdf
If the lower bound of Stern Review cost estimates is 5% of global GDP and disasters are responsible for 2% of that total then, that is 2/5 = 40%. Are you now saying that the damage costs of climate change are insensitive to disaster costs? That is, the disaster costs do not matter in the Stern Review's cost estimates? This would be remarkable if so.
Further, the Stern Review points out on page 170: “Extreme weather events are not fully captured in most existing IAMs; the latest science suggests that extreme events will increase in frequency and severity with climate change.” This statement references a technical paper by Rachel Warren and co-authors (including Richard Tol) which was prepared for the Review. It points out on page 5: “Most models do not take into account the influences of extreme weather events which are likely to contribute very strongly to economic impacts; however the top end of the PAGE input ranges do include them as far as the literature allows, albeit that literature on potential changes in the frequency and intensity extreme [sic] events is in its infancy”: http://www.dfld.de/Presse/PMitt/2006/061030c4.pdf
Again, what have you said here? The Stern Review estimates for the damage costs of climate change do, or do not, include the costs of disasters?
You also complain that the Stern Review should not have cited the Muir-Wood et al. (2006) workshop paper because it was not peer-reviewed.
No. The citation is not a problem. The fact that it was not peer reviewed should have led to some caution. The problem is that the Stern Review grossly misused the Muir-Wood paper to imply a relationship of increasing greenhouse gases and rising disaster costs. Further, the Stern Review went beyond its misuse of Muir-Wood et al. to invent from whole cloth accelerating disaster costs, based on absolutly no scientific foundation.
The abstract of the paper states:

“After 1970 when the global record becomes more comprehensive we find evidence of an annual upward trend for normalized losses of 2% per year that corresponds with a period of rising global temperatures. However over this same period, in some regions, including Australia, India and the Philippines normalized losses have declined. The significance of the trend in global normalized losses is dominated by the affect [sic] of the 2004 and 2005 Atlantic hurricane seasons as well as by the bias in US wealth relative to other developing regions.”

The abstract also states:

“What is presented here provides a short summary of the global results of this study. Full results are in course of publication also covering individual peril regions and the exploration of correlations with global temperatures.”

As you know, these results were published in 2008 as a peer-reviewed paper by Miller, Muir-Wood and Boissonnade in the volume on ‘Climate Extremes and Society’. The paper reached the same main conclusions as the workshop presentation: “After 1970, when the global record becomes more comprehensive, we find evidence of an annual upward trend for normalized losses of 2% per year.” A sensitivity analysis revealed that there was no statistically significant trend between 1970 and 2005 if the losses from the 2004 and 2005 US hurricane seasons were removed. The paper concluded: “In sum, we found statistical evidence of an upward trend in normalized losses from 1970 through 2005 and insufficient evidence to claim a firm link between global warming and disaster losses.”
Did you read that last part Bob? The paper states clearly: "We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses."

With hindsight, at the very least, it should be clear that the use of the Muir-Wood paper as it was by Stern was simply incorrect.

Further, elsewhere I've seen you complaining about cherrypicking starting dates for assessing global temperature trends, such as when people claim that global warming stopped in 1998. You are engaged in your own cherrypicking here, when you focus on 1970-2005. There are no residual trends 1950-2005, and you can bet 1950-2009.
The paper also noted several factors that should be taken into account when interpreting the results, including “changing vulnerability over time”. This means that losses from US hurricanes and other extreme weather events did not separate out the impacts of changing building standards between 1970 and 2005, which of course, would tend to obscure any trend towards increasing losses from an increase in hazard (ie frequency and/or intensity of weather events).

Of course this limitation also applies to your paper with other co-authors in 2008 on normalized losses from US hurricanes, which simply states: “As strong codes have only been implemented in recent years (and in some cases vary significantly on a county-by-county basis), their effect on overall losses is unlikely to be large, but in future years efforts to improve building practices and encourage retrofit of existing structures could have a large impact on losses”. Although you dismiss any potential impact from improvements in building standards, and so do not take it into account, you will no doubt know that these standards improved after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and their impact on reducing damage has been documented, for instance, in this report by the University of Florida: http://www.dca.state.fl.us/FBC/Hurricane_Research_Advisory_Committee/Report_SurveyProject_Gurley_62005.pdf

It seems to me that your analysis may have missed the impact of changes in Atlantic hurricane activity on losses (such as the increase in frequency since 1995) due to reductions in vulnerability of US coastal properties. Surely, some research is required to justify the neglect of the impact of changing building standards? Certainly you would be advancing an important area if you were to investigate this issue more thoroughly.
I welcome your thoughts on our work. We have indeed explored the possible biases that might be introduced into the hurricane loss record, and we don't see any such biases. Trends in the damage record match up perfectly with trends in landfall frequencies and intensities -- there are no such trends! So while there may be an effect, it is not large enough to appear in our dataset.

But if you are not convinced, try out this experiment. Take our loss data for 1900-2009, which is readily available online. Simply assume that all Florida (or all US for that matter) hurricanes would have been 10%, 20% or whatever percent more damaging except for those really effective new building codes. (Engineers and planners, it is OK, this is a thought experiment, of course I know the building code effect would not be so large!) Then look for a trend in the dataset since 1900. You won't find one.
Similarly, your conclusion that increases in exposure and value at risk completely explain the trend in rising losses from hurricanes is not shared by other authors. For instance, this paper by Silvio Schmidt and co-authors on US hurricane losses, published last year in the journal ‘Environmental Impact Review’, concluded: “In the period 1971-2005, since the beginning of a trend towards increased intense cyclone activity, losses excluding socio-economic effects show an annual increase of 4% per annum. This increase must therefore be at least due to the impact of natural climate variability but, more likely than not, also due to anthropogenic forcings.”: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6V9G-4W6FNC4-1&_user=1177143&_coverDate=11%2F30%2F2009&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1180772824&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000051857&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=1177143&md5=2a2c466695839402c959b38b2ebfdcb0
What Silvio did, quite responsibly, is offer up a conditional, speculative statement. If GHGs are responsible for the increasing US landfalls since 1970, then yes, there is a GHG signal in the loss record. Unfortunately, attribution of US landfalls to GHGs remains unknown. As I wrote about in a recent paper on hurricanes, there have been no trends in landfalls, or in the region where landfalls occur, over the period of record. Silvio's recent papers and those I have been invovled in are in no way contradictory. It is fine to hypothesize or speculate about a GHG-disaster loss relationship. But the ultimate arbiter is the data.

Finally, you should be careful presenting only part of the story, as you will be found out. Here is what Silvio's paper actually says: "There is no evidence yet of any trend in tropical cyclone losses that can be attributed directly to anthropogenic climate change."
As I am sure you appreciate, it is important that public debate about climate change is well-informed with accurate information. Unfortunately, your inaccurate and misleading comments on your blog have now generated misleading coverage elsewhere. I urge you to exercise greater care in future to avoid making further mistakes similar to those I have outlined here.
What mistakes?
Best wishes,

Bob Ward
Thanks again.

IPCC Statement on Trends in Disaster Losses

The IPCC has issued a statement in response to the Sunday Times article on errors in the IPCC treatment of disaster losses and climate change. The IPCC statement (PDF) is a remarkable bit of spin and misinformation. Here it is with my comments:
Geneva, 25 January 2010


The January 24 Sunday Times ran a misleading and baseless story attacking the way the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC handled an important question concerning recent trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters. The article, entitled “UN Wrongly Linked Global Warming to Natural Disasters”, is by Jonathan Leake.

The Sunday Times article gets the story wrong on two key points. The first is that it incorrectly assumes that a brief section on trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters is everything the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) has to say about changes in extremes and disasters.
RESPONSE: This is pure misdirection and is irrelevant. The issue here is specific to how the IPCC handled the rising costs of disasters and its relationship to increasing temperature. It is not about the general theme of extremes.
In fact, the Fourth Assessment Report reaches many important conclusions, at many locations in the report, about the role of climate change in extreme events. The assessment addresses both observations of past changes and projections of future changes in sectors ranging from heat waves and precipitation to wildfires. Each of these is a careful assessment of the available evidence, with a thorough consideration of the confidence with which each conclusion can be drawn.
RESPONSE: All of this verbiage is irrelevant to the issue.
The second problem with the article in the Sunday Times is its baseless attack on the section of the report on trends in economic losses from disasters. This section of the IPCC report is a balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue.
RESPONSE: Asserting balance does not make it so. The facts here are what the IPCC should respond to: The IPCC report highlighted a single non-peer reviewed study to make a claim that (a) that study did not support, and (b) that was countered by the entirety of the peer reviewed literature (much of which went uncited). My work was misrepresented in the text and in the IPCC response to reviewers. The latter included an outright lie. The only balance that was achieved was between misrepresentation and error.
It clearly makes the point that one study detected an increase in economic losses, corrected for values at risk, but that other studies have not detected such a trend. The tone is balanced, and the section contains many important qualifiers.
RESPONSE: This statement is remarkable for its untruths. (1) The "one study" did not detect a trend over the full period of record, only a cherrypicked subset, and when that paper was published it explicitly stated that it could not find a signal of increasing temperatures in the loss record, (2) The IPCC report did not note that other studies had not found a trend, except when citing my work in passing, and then undercutting it in error by mistakenly citing the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons to suggest something different (and untrue). (3) The Chapter includes the following figure, which has absolutely no scientific support whatsoever:

In writing, reviewing, and editing this section, IPCC procedures were carefully followed to produce the policy-relevant assessment that is the IPCC mandate.
RESPONSE: Carefully followed procedures? Let's review: (a) The IPCC relied on an unpublished, non-peer reviewed source to produce its top line conclusions in this section, (b) when at least two reviewers complained about this section, the IPCC ignored their compalints and invented a response characterizing my views. (c) When the paper that this section relied on was eventually published it explicitly stated that it could not find a connection between rising temperatures and the costs of disasters.
This press release from the IPCC would have been a fine opportunity to set the scientific and procedural record straight and admit to what are obvious and major errors in content and process. Instead, it has decided to defend the indefensible, which any observer can easily see through. Of course there is no recourse here as the IPCC is unaccountable and there is no formal way to address errors in its report or its errors and misdirection via press release. Not a good showing by the IPCC.

Tol, Pielke and von Storch in Der Spiegel

Richard Tol, Hans von Storch and I have an op-ed in Der Spiegel on the troubled IPCC. Here is an excerpt:

It will take many electoral cycles and all major countries to address the problems associated with climate change. Partisan advice will be unpicked, sloppy research will be exposed. New observations and theory will change aspects of the current understanding. Sustaining a climate policy that is effective, acceptable and durable can only be based on sound and impartial advice from institutions that do their science sustainably over many decades. The IPCC was supposed to provide that advice, but its standards have slipped, its procedures have turned out to be insufficient and its credibility has been questioned.

Climate policy matters, and so too does the IPCC. Its importance means that reform is needed before the reputation of all of climate science is irreparably damaged.

Please have a look and feel free to come back and discuss.

So You Want Clive Spash's Old Job?

Well, according to CSIRO, the following characteristic would be desirable in the scholar selected to replace Clive Spash:
Demonstrated capacity to conceive and lead scientific investigations in socially or politically sensitive circumstances
Is that Australian-speak for "won't question the merits of cap and trade"? ;-) Sorry, couldn't resist.

25 January 2010

Beware the Zero Sum Game

Bill Gates appears to be getting more active in the climate debate, and from what he is writing, this looks like a good thing. In his second annual letter from the Gates Foundation (PDF) he discusses the uncomfortable implications of fungible aid commitments:
Deficits are not the only reason that aid budgets might change. Governments will also be increasing the money they spend to help reduce global warming. The final communiqué of the Copenhagen Summit, held last December, talks about mobilizing $10 billion per year in the next three years and $100 billion per year by 2020 for developing countries, which is over three quarters of all foreign aid now given by the richest countries.

I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health. If just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases.
Should funding for developing countries under climate policies be taken from already-existing aid? If not, should funding under climate policies be subject to a test of additionality? Obviously, 700,000 dead kids per $1 billion is a big, big number. What is climate policy worth to you in such terms?

Der Spiegel on IPCC and Disasters

Today, Der Spiegel in Germany has a lengthy article on the troubled IPCC. it includes a lengthy section on disasters and climate change. The original is auf Deutsche, so the excerpt below is courtesy Google translate, after the first sentence, the original German is followed by the translated English:
Roger Pielke, a leading expert in this field, criticized: "The allegations made in the IPCC report were not only wrong, but they are on a scientific basis, which simply does not exist."

Vertreter der Versicherungsbranche sehen das ganz anders - aber genau das ist für den Weltklimarat ein zusätzliches Problem.

Representatives of the insurance industry see things very differently - but that's an additional problem for the IPCC.

Rückversicherer, etwa die Münchner Rück, berechnen aufgrund von Risiken ihre Prämien; bei Geschäftsabschlüssen kann sich da eine Zunahme von Naturkatastrophen auszahlen.

Reinsurers, such as Munich Re, calculated on the basis of their risk premiums, may, when business deals are there to pay an increase of natural disasters.

"Wir sehen in unseren Datenbanken deutliche Belege für einen Zusammenhang zwischen Klimawandel und der Zunahme von Naturkatastrophen", bestätigt Ernst Rauch, Leiter des "Corporate Climate Centre" der Münchner Rück.

"We see in our databases significant evidence of a link between climate change and the increase in natural disasters," says Ernst Rauch, Head of the Corporate Climate Center of Munich Re.

Im Gegensatz zu Wissenschaftlern könne man auch nicht warten, bis alle Zweifel beseitigt seien.

Unlike scientists, they could not wait until all doubts are removed.

"Wir sind ein Wirtschaftsbetrieb, der heute handeln muss", sagt Rauch.

"We are a [for profit] company that needs to act now," says Rauch.

Im Übrigen sei sein Konzern mit den Aussagen des IPCC-Berichts "höchst zufrieden".

In addition, his group had the approach of the IPCC report "extremely satisfied".

Kein Wunder: Als Quelle für die warnenden IPCC-Prognosen dient auch ein Buch der Münchner Rück aus dem Jahr 2005.

No wonder: As a source for the warning IPCC projections is also a book of the Munich Re Group in 2005.

I don't think that it helps the IPCC when a company, even one as respected as Munich Re, explains that the needs of marketing quest for profits means that they cannot wait for the same certainties that science requires for proof. This is tantamount to admitting that the scientific case is not there. The decision to act in a certain way is a different issue than evaluating knowledge claims. Making educated guesses and taking risks is of course a fine approach to business and advocacy, especially when such guesses and risks are aligned with business and other interests. However, it is not a good way to operate a leading scientific assessment, which probably should adhere to conventional standards of scientific practice.

Munich Re seems to imply that precaution means shaping the knowledge to fit a desired course of action. Precaution actually means acting in the face of irreducible uncertainties. Turning precaution on its head can corrupt scientific advisory processes, when uncertainty is misrepresented as certainty.

It is worth noting that Munich Re has done some excellent scientific work on this subject which has been published in the peer reviewed literature. Like the rest of the peer reviewed literature on this subject, none of this work shows evidence for a link between increasing greenhouse gases and the rising costs of disasters.

24 January 2010

What a Tangled Web We Weave


There is another important story in involving the Muir-Wood et al. 2006 paper that was misrepresented by the IPCC as showing a linkage between increasing temperatures and rising damages from extreme weather events. The Stern Review Report of the UK government also relied on that paper as the sole basis for its projections of increasing damage from extreme events. In fact as much as 40% of the Stern Reivew projections for the global costs of unmitigated climate change derive from its misuse of the Muir-Wood et al. paper.

I documented this in a peer reviewed paper published in 2007, which you can see here in PDF. In that paper I wrote:
Furthermore, the Stern Review uses the Muir-Wood et al. (2006) as the sole basis for projecting future global losses from extreme events (see Table 5.2, p. 138). This means that the Stern Review’s conclusions on the costs of future extreme events under conditions of climate change are based almost entirely on projections of future hurricane losses, which Stern projects somewhat mysteriously will increase to 1.3% of global GDP or higher. Its reliance on estimate of tropical cyclones losses is both direct and indirect. Its summary Table 5.2 on p. 138 indicates that increasing losses from hurricanes are one or two orders of magnitude larger than other losses that it has examined. . . inexplicably, the Stern Review concludes that US tropical cyclone losses will increase from 0.6% of GDP today to 1.3% of GDP under 2[degrees] of warming (Table 5.2). Yet, on page 130 the Stern Review cites Nordhaus (2007) to suggest that 2–3[degrees] of warming could double tropical cyclone losses from 0.06% of GDP (2005 losses) to 0.13% (future losses). There is no justification provided for increasing the Nordhaus (2007) values by a factor of 10. This apparent error (simply a typo?) is consistent with the Stern Review’s overstatement of future economic losses from extreme weather events more generally.
As I was preparing this post, I accessed the Stern Review Report on the archive site of the UK government to capture an image of Table 5.2. Much to my surprise I learned that since the publication of my paper, Table 5.2 has mysteriously changed! Have a look at the figures below.

The figure immediately below shows Table 5.2 as it was originally published in the Stern Review (from a web archive in PDF), and I have circled in red the order-of-magnitude error in hurricane damage that I document in my paper (the values should instead be 10 times less).

Now, have a look at the figure below which shows Table 5.2 from the Stern Review Report as it now appears on the UK government archive (PDF), look carefully at the numbers circled in red:

There is no note, no acknowledgment, nothing indicating that the estimated damage for hurricanes was modified after publication by an order of magnitude. The report was quietly changed to make the error go away. Of course, even with the Table corrected, now the Stern Review math does not add up, as the total GDP impact from USA, UK and Europe does not come anywhere close to the 1% global total for developed country impacts (based on Muir-Wood), much less the higher values suggested as possible in the report's text, underscoring a key point of my 2007 paper.

Consequently, anyone wanting to understand or replicate my analysis from the original source would no doubt be confused because evidence of the error in Table 5.2 was quietly changed after the publication of my paper. Had they noted the error it would have obviously led to questions about the implications, and ultimately the bottom line estimates of the costs of unmitigated climate change. [SEE UPDATE BELOW. THERE WAS ANOTHER POSSIBILITY I DID NOT CONSIDER.] Rather than rewrite the report, apparently, it was decided instead to rewrite history. Fixing facts to fit a policy conclusion is not a good idea for any government, but to do so with the quiet participation of leading academic advisors is doubly bad. Once again, not good.

In the comments Phil Clarke points to an FAQ page on the UK Treasury site that has this interesting admission at number 20:

20. You state the cost of US hurricanes at temperatures of 3°C above pre-industrial levels as 0.13% and 1.3% of US GDP in different places in the report. Which is correct?

The correct figure is 0.13%. There is an error in Chapter 5, pg. 139, which cites the cost as 1.3%. An Errata page will be published to cover this and any other typographical errors.

The FAQ page is now in error, as Chapter 5 no longer cites the cost as 1.3%, because, as documented above, the error has been whitewashed away. I am unaware of any Errata page (readers?), however, it is now unnecessary as the report itself has been revised post-publication. Someone coming to the report would have no reason to suspect any problem. In the comments boballab writes:
The disturbing aspect is that someone checking the points in your paper would almost certainly checked the online copy of the Stern report. With the quite change with no attribution it would cast doubt over the conclusions in your paper and make it look like you did shoddy and/or dishonest work, thus damaging your credibility with the scientific community, policymakers and the public at large.
The issue is much deeper than a typo -- you can seen in my excerpt from my paper above that I had already assumed that it was a typo. The problem is that once the typo is corrected it then reveals that the numbers presented by Stern just do not add up.

23 January 2010

Welcome Sunday Times Readers

If you got here from the story in the Sunday Times looking to learn more about the IPCC and its claims about disasters and climate change, welcome.

For background, details and documentation of the issue, I suggest starting with these recent posts:
Please do note that links to my old blog, Prometheus, are dead due to some attacks on that site last week. If you are enterprising you can find the materials via Google's cache.

UPDATE 24 Jan: At the Telegraph Geoffry Lean misinterprets the significance of the disasters story, suggesting that it was about referencing a non-peer reviewed source. In fact it was about referencing a non-peer reviewed source to make a claim that was not true, and contrary to what the peer reviewed literature actually said (and what the non-peer reviewed source said when published).

Comments and questions are welcome, on this or other topics you find at the site.

IPCC Probability Estimates

Following the admission of the glacier errors in the IPCC report, I sure hope that the IPCC's calibration of climate change probabilities is better than this:

Rajendra Pachauri, who heads the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on Friday said the chances of the U.N. panel having made more errors in its benchmark 2007 report were “minimal if not non-existent”, while again admitting the “regrettable error” that has raised questions about its credibility. . .

The IPCC chief asserted that the possibility of there being more errors in its 2007 report “is minimal if not non-existent.” The IPCC has laid out well documented procedures on the use of literature both peer-reviewed and grey by way of which the scientists develop the reports, he said.

“The responsibility of assessing the quality of this literature and ensuring its availability for future use lies with the authors within the larger process. After the finalisation of the chapters by authors, there is a well-defined review process that is undertaken,” he said.

21 January 2010

Innovation, not Insulation

Bill Gates gets the challenge of decarbonization. Apparently he is a billionaire for good reason. Last week he wrote the following brilliant piece about climate policy:
People often present two timeframes that we should have as goals for CO2 reduction – 30% (off of some baseline) by 2025 and 80% by 2050.

I believe the key one to achieve is 80% by 2050.

But we tend to focus on the first one since it is much more concrete.

We don’t distinguish properly between things that put you on a path to making the 80% goal by 2050 and things that don’t really help.

To make the 80% goal by 2050 we are going to have to reduce emissions from transportation and electrical production in participating countries down to zero.

You will still have emissions from other activities including domestic animals, making fertilizer, and decay processes.

There will still be countries that are too poor to participate.

If the goal is to get the transportation and electrical sectors down to zero emissions you clearly need innovation that leads to entirely new approaches to generating power.

Should society spend a lot of time trying to insulate houses and telling people to turn off lights or should it spend time on accelerating innovation?

If addressing climate change only requires us to get to the 2025 goal, then efficiency would be the key thing.

But you can never insulate your way to anything close to zero no matter what advocates of resource efficiency say. You can never reduce consumerism to anything close to zero.

Because 2025 is too soon for innovation to be completed and widely deployed, behavior change still matters.

Still, the amount of CO2 avoided by these kinds of modest reduction efforts will not be the key to what happens with climate change in the long run.

In fact it is doubtful that any such efforts in the rich countries will even offset the increase coming from richer lifestyles in places like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.

Innovation in transportation and electricity will be the key factor.

One of the reasons I bring this up is that I hear a lot of climate change experts focus totally on 2025 or talk about how great it is that there is so much low hanging fruit that will make a difference.

This mostly focuses on saving a little bit of energy, which by itself is simply not enough. The need to get to zero emissions in key sectors almost never gets mentioned. The danger is people will think they just need to do a little bit and things will be fine.

If CO2 reduction is important, we need to make it clear to people what really matters – getting to zero.

With that kind of clarity, people will understand the need to get to zero and begin to grasp the scope and scale of innovation that is needed.

However all the talk about renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade tends to obscure the specific things that need to be done.

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key. There just isn’t enough work going on today to get us to where we need to go.

The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way.

Castles Built on Sand

There is another aspect of the IPCC WGII report's misrepresentation of disasters and climate change that is worth relating. Earlier I documented how the IPCC selectively used a background paper prepared for a workshop that I organized in partnership with Munich Reinsurance in 2006 to argue that there was a relationship between human-caused climate change and the growing toll of disaster losses. The IPCC showed that relationship quite explcitly in its Figure TS 1-1, shown below.

The reference in the figure caption is to Muir-Wood et al. 2006 (the background paper to our workshop is here in PDF). That paper was not published by the IPCC deadline for inclusion, nor was it peer reviewed, nor did it include the graph shown above, nor did it strongly support the claims being made. But it was highlighted anyway.

To finish the story, a revision of the Muir-Wood paper was eventually published as a book chapter in 2008, as
Miller, S., R. Muir-Wood, and A. Boissonnade, 2008. An exploration of trends in normalized weather-related catastrophe losses, Chapter 12, pp. 225-247, in Climate Extremes and Society, edited by H. F. Diaz and R. J. Murnane. Cambridge University Press. (Google has it here)
Miller et al. 2008 was substantially and it looks, carefully, revised from Muir-Wood et al. 2006 (it is unclear to me if the chapter was ever peer reviewed, I have heard conflicting claims, but this is a small point). Most notably Miller et al. concluded the abstract with the following remarkable conclusion:
We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses.
The full text states:
In sum, we found limited statistical evidence of an upward trend in normalized losses from 1970 through 2005 and insufficient evidence to claim a firm link between global warming and disaster losses.
So to summarize: Contrary to its procedures the IPCC chose to emphasize a paper that was not peer reviewed to support claims that were contrary to all of the peer reviewed literature on this topic. The IPCC created (or had others create) a graph that appeared nowhere in the literature and was highly misleading. When the paper was eventually published several years later as a book chapter, it was revised in such a substantial fashion so as to eliminate unambiguously any basis for the claims that had been made by the IPCC justified by the earlier version of the paper.

The claims made by the IPCC about the relationship of disasters and climate change, expressed most clearly in the figure above, were not simply made in violation of IPCC procedures. The claims were not just wrong. The claims were based on knowledge that just doesn't exist. Again, not good.

A Primer on Egregious Errors in IPCC WG2 on Disasters

In response to Lauren Morello's Greenwire article today, which also was published at NYTimes.com I've had a few requests for information about the following:

Roger Pielke, Jr., a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, said scientists make mistakes all the time "and it isn't a big deal."

But Pielke also said he was concerned that, in this case, "a non-peer reviewed source [was] elevated to a finding by the IPCC," especially given Austrian glaciologist -- and IPCC Working Group I author -- Georg Kaser's recent assertion that he warned Working Group II of the error in 2006, and was ignored. That suggests "a breakdown in the peer-review process," Pielke said.

Pielke said his concern is heightened because he believes Working Group II also misrepresented his research about the link between climate change and monetary damages of natural disasters, highlighting a white paper produced for a conference he organized -- when ultimately, attendees at the conference "came up with a contrary conclusion to what the background paper said."

So for those interested in the details or following up, here are a few pointers.

1. An overview of the systematic misrepresentation of the science of disasters and climate change.

2. What I said when the IPCC report was released in 2007:
Can anyone point to any other area in the IPCC where one non-peer-reviewed study is used to overturn the robust conclusions of an entire literature?
Details here.

3. The figure at the top of this post was included in the WGII report and purports to show a relationship between rising temperatures and economic losses from weather disasters. It is extremely misleading. When it was released I had this t0 say about it:
I am shocked to see such a figure in the IPCC of all places, purporting to show something meaningful and scientifically vetted. Sorry to be harsh, but this figure is neither. . . I am amazed that this figure made it past review of any sort, but especially given what the broader literature on this subject actually says. I have generally been a supporter of the IPCC, but I do have to admit that if it is this sloppy and irresponsible in an area of climate change where I have expertise, why should I have confidence in the areas where I am not an expert?
4. A reviewer of WGII, Laurens Bouwer, had this to say when the report was released:

As reviewer for WG2 I have repeatedly (3 times) asked to put a clear statement in the SPM that is in line with the general literature, and underlying WG2 chapters. In my view, WG2 has not succeeded in adequately quoting and discussing all relevant recent papers that have come out on this topic — see above-mentioned chapters.

Initial drafts of the SPM had relatively nuanced statements such as: “Global economic losses from weather-related disasters have risen substantially since the 1970s. During the same period, global temperatures have risen and the magnitude of some extremes, such as the intensity of tropical cyclones, has increased. However, because of increases in exposed values …, the contribution of these weather-related trends to increased losses is at present not known.”

For unknown reasons, this statement (which seems to implicitly acknowledge Roger’s and the May 2006 workshop conclusion that societal factors dominate) was dropped from the final SPM. Now the SPM has no statement on the attribution of disaster losses, and we do not know what is the ‘consensus’ here.

5. Just this week I learned that the IPCC simply made up a false response about my views when directly queried on this subject by an expert reviewer.

The IPCC treatment of the science of disasters and climate change is an even worse breech of scientific standards than the errors associated with Himalayan glaciers.

20 January 2010

More Laundered Literature: A Guest Post by Ben Pile

[This is a guest post by Ben Pile.]

In September 2008, Oxfam published a report called “Climate Wrongs and Human Rights: Putting people at the heart of climate-change policy”. At our UK-based blog Climate Resistance, we were unconvinced already. Humans, by definition, cannot be at the heart of any eco-centric view of the world. Moreover, the climate issue has been adopted by one-time development agencies to instead emphasise not developing as the most ‘progressive’ course of action for the world’s poorest people.
In failing to tackle global warming with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people. Continued excessive greenhouse-gas emissions primarily from industrialised nations are – with scientific certainty – creating floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability. The result is failed harvests, disappearing islands, destroyed homes, water scarcity, and deepening health crises, which are undermining millions of peoples’ rights to life, security, food, water, health, shelter, and culture. Such rights violations could never truly be remedied in courts of law. Human-rights principles must be put at the heart of international climate change policy making now, in order to stop this irreversible damage to humanity’s future.
We began looking at the claims made in the report, and tried to establish where they had come from. For a part-time, unfunded project such as the Climate-Resistance blog, this proved to be simply far too time-consuming, and other things were happening, such as the UK’s Climate Change Bill, which was going (being shoved) through Parliament.

We began compiling a list of the claims made by Oxfam, with the intention of asking them what their bases had been. For instance, in the quote above, Oxfam say that scientific certainty exists about the relationship between the carbon emissions of industrialised countries and floods, droughts, hurricanes, sea-level rise, and seasonal unpredictability that they have, allegedly, produced. We didn’t think that this was an appropriate emphasis of “scientific certainty”. Where had it come from?

What attracted our attention most, however, was this claim
According to the IPCC, climate change could halve yields from rain-fed crops in parts of Africa as early as 2020, and put 50 million more people worldwide at risk of hunger. [Pg. 2]
We looked to see if it was true. All we could find in the IPCC report was this.
In other [African] countries, additional risks that could be exacerbated by climate change include greater erosion, deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture of up to 50% during the 2000-2020 period, and reductions in crop growth period (Agoumi, 2003). [IPCC WGII, Page 448. 9.4.4]
Oxfam cite the IPCC, but the citation belongs to Agoumi. The IPCC reference his study properly:

Agoumi, A., 2003: Vulnerability of North African countries to climatic changes: adaptation and implementation strategies for climatic change. Developing Perspectives on Climate Change: Issues and Analysis from Developing Countries and Countries with Economies in Transition. IISD/Climate Change Knowledge Network, 14 pp. (PDF).

There is only limited discussion of “deficiencies in yields from rain-fed agriculture” in that paper, and its focus is not ‘some’ African countries, but just three: Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. It is not climate research. It is a discussion about the possible effects of climate change. All that the report actually says in relation to the IPCC quote, is that,
Studies on the future of vital agriculture in the region have shown the following risks, which are linked to climate change:
• greater erosion, leading to widespread soil degradation;
• deficient yields from rain-based agriculture of up to 50 per cent during the 2000–2020 period;
• reduced crop growth period;
Most interestingly, the study was not simply produced by some academic working in some academic department, for publication in some peer-reviewed journal. Instead, it was published by The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). According to the report itself,
The International Institute for Sustainable Development contributes to sustainable development by advancing policy recommendations on international trade and investment, economic policy, climate change, measurement and indicators, and natural resource management. By using Internet communications, we report on international negotiations and broker knowledge gained through collaborative projects with global partners, resulting in more rigorous research, capacity building in developing countries and better dialogue between North and South.
Oxfam takes its authority from the IPCC. The IPCC report seemingly takes its authority from a bullet point in a paper published by an organisation with a declared political interest in the sustainability agenda that was the brainchild of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1988. (Take note: Conservatives are often behind the advance of the sustainability agenda, in spite of claims that it’s a left-wing phenomenon).

That the IPCC is citing non-peer-reviewed, non-scientific research from quasi governmental semi-independent sustainability advocacy organisations must say something about the dearth of scientific or empirical research. The paper in question barely provides any references for its own claims, yet by virtue of merely appearing in the IPCC’s 2007 AR4 report, a single study, put together by a single researcher, becomes “consensus science”.

The situation is simply insane. The IPCC are cited as producers of official science, yet they often appear to take as many liberties with the sources they cite, as those who cite the IPCC – such as Oxfam – go on to do. To ask questions about this process is to stand against ‘the consensus’, to be a ‘denier’, and to be willingly jeopardising the future of millions of people, and inviting the end of the world.

The popular view of the climate debate and politics is that the IPCC and scientists produce the science, which politicians and policymakers respond to, encouraged by NGOs, all reported on by journalists. But as the seemingly unfounded claims about the Himalayan glaciers and the North African water shortages show, this is a misconception. Science, the media, government, NGOs and supra-national political organisations do not exist as sharply distinct institutions. They are nebulous and porous. They merge, and each influences the interpretation and substance of the next iteration of their own product. The distinction between science and politics breaks down in the miasma.

If this process could be mapped, it would be no surprise if it was discovered that the IPCC was found to be citing itself through citing NGOs and Quasi-NGOs, and other non-peer-reviewed, not scientific literature. This is the real climate feedback mechanism. Sadly, we have no time and no resources to undertake such a survey, as much as we’d like to.

But would it even be necessary to ‘debunk’ the IPCC in this way? Maybe not. We can deal with the arguments on their own terms, after all. We have argued on Climate Resistance that whatever the evidence or strength of the science with respect to the claim that “climate change is happening”, the political argument about how to respond to climate change depends far too much on the claim that “failure to act” is equivalent to producing a disaster.

The problem with much of the argument emerging from the sustainability camp of this kind is that its premise is political, not scientific. That is to say that the ‘politics is prior’ to the science. It may well be the case that the region that the IISD study focussed on faces increased droughts, and that, historically, agricultural output in those regions vary as rainfall varies, and that rainfall is declining. But this is not the whole story.

If they are at all true, the claims made in the reports from the IISD and Oxfam, and perhaps the IPCC, are only significant if we assume that mankind is impotent to address the water problems they describe. But the North African region covered by the study has a coast, lots of sunshine, and a lot of land. Indeed, the same area is being considered for a huge solar-energy project that could power much of Europe and the region, and so its water problems could be answered by the development of large-scale desalination infrastructure. The only problem is capital. So it is somewhat ironic that the lack of capital available to provide such a project with momentum is not the subject of Oxfam’s report.