25 January 2010

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.