21 January 2010

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.