18 January 2010

Richard Tol on Climate Science and IPCC

Richard Tol, climate change polymath, has an op-ed in The Irish Times on the recent problems faced by the climate community and the IPCC. Here is an excerpt:

IT HAS been a bad winter for the environmental movement. It started with climategate. Hacked or leaked e-mails from prominent climate scientists revealed a clique of academics who were sloppy with the science, tried to hide from outside scrutiny and worked hard to suppress contradictory evidence.

These scientists had made only minor contributions to the science of climate change. Climate change is as real now as it was before climategate. At the same time, these people were prominent in the public image of climate change and so climategate has shaken the public confidence in the impartiality of academics and the reality of climate change. A few months ago, one would rather admit to eating babies for breakfast than to any doubt about global warming or the need for drastic emission reduction. Climategate has changed all that. Climate doubt has become fashionable.

Climategate was followed by Copenhagen. Hopes for swift and drastic multilateral action on emissions reduction shattered on the rocks of realpolitik. But Copenhagen was more than the usual slow going of the United Nations. The US seemed to walk away from the UN and really talked with the other big boys only. While South Africa sat at that table, the EU did not. The self-proclaimed leader of international climate policy had put all its cards on the table months before the negotiations started – and was largely ignored as a result. European environmentalists were irrelevant in Copenhagen and will lose influence in Brussels as a result.

In the wake of Copenhagen, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was accused of conflicts of interest.

The IPCC summarises the science of climate change, its impacts, and possible countermeasures. It enables politicians to make informed decisions. The IPCC is not allowed to recommend any course of action. Dr Pachauri has increasingly used the platform he was given as the chairman of the IPCC to act as an advocate for climate policy.

This is deplorable. It degrades the IPCC from an honest broker of the scientific facts to yet another advocacy. Climate policy creates very substantial business opportunities for new energy companies. If the allegations of a conflict of interest are true, Dr Pachauri’s relationship with such companies is too cosy to be appropriate.