As the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – a body comprising thousands of the world’s most distinguished experts on climate change – publishes the first volume of it 5th Assessment report, the denial lobby have been slinging mud thick and fast. It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed. Thankfully, Chair of the Global Warming Policy Foundation Nigel Lawson has done us all a tremendous service by packing every climate myth he can think of into one snappy, fifteen-hundred-word Telegraph article.
It’s odd that a “scientifically neutral”, “policy-focused”, “educational charity” like Lawson’s GWPF should produce such regular, off-the-wall tirades against mainstream science. Odder still that Lawson should attack the IPCC’s policy proposals – when it hasn’t made any. Its latest report examines only the “physical science” of climate change; its policy options report is not due until April. Even then, it will make no recommendations, because it never does: the IPCC’s mandate is to be “policy-neutral”. Still, Lawson need not concern himself with such trivia. The image of the IPCC in his readers’ minds does his work for him.
Most of his claims are tediously predictable, bog-standard climate denial myths. The most outrageous, however, are new (even if many seem to have been cribbed from Canadian photographer and crank Donna Laframboise). Lawson plagiarises a fabrication; rewrites history; inverts facts; promotes outlandish conspiracy theories; and fabricates figures. It is an object lesson in the denial lobby’s methods: flagrant lying passed off as reasoned debate. In what follows, I examine several of his most extraordinary claims in more detail.
By 2100, the world will likely become 3.2°C to 5.4°C hotter than in pre-industrial times. Lawson makes up a fake, low-ball figure.
The IPCC’s “new report”, Lawson writes,
“suggest[s] that the global warming we can expect by the end of this century is probably rather less than the IPCC had previously predicted: perhaps some 35F (1.5C)”.
“Rather less”? The IPCC’s previous “best estimates” were that temperatures would rise another 1.8°C to 4.0°C by 2100. We’re supposed to believe its new figure is lower than the last report’s entire range? Probably the story of the decade. Funny that no-one’s mentioned it.
In reality, the new “best estimates” range from 1°C to 3.7°C (3.2°C to 5.4°C above pre-industrial temperatures); but the lower figure is plausible only if we cut emissions aggressively. Does Lawson think we will? No. He thinks “the world is unlikely to take the slightest notice of the new IPCC report.” His 1.5°C figure is simply a lie.
The rich caused climate change. Lawson claims it was the poor.
Who’s to blame for climate change? The poor, of course!
“… the amount of carbon dioxide in the world’s atmosphere is indeed steadily increasing, as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, particularly in the faster-growing countries of the developing world, notably China.”
Here’s some recent IMF data on the world’s fastest-growing economies:
And here’s a map of the world’s highest and lowest per capita emitters:
But it’s not only emissions today that matter. Here’s a map of global population:
And of historic emissions (by country):
Lawson calls carbon cuts “morally outrageous” – while blaming the poor for a problem they did least to create.
A recent review praised the IPCC and offered constructive criticism. Lawson claims it discredited the entire organisation.
The IPCC’s “previous report, in 2007”, Lawson claims,
“was so grotesquely flawed that the leading scientific body in the United States, the InterAcademy Council, decided that an investigation was warranted.”
This is a false history. The InterAcademy Council “decided” nothing: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Rajendra Pachauri – the IPCC’s Chair – requested the review, obviously indicating a high standard of accountability. Did they do so because the IPCC’s last report was “grotesquely flawed”? Unlikely, since that judgment would predetermine the review’s conclusions and render it unnecessary. In fact, the IAC states it acted “[i]n response to some sustained criticism and a heightened level of public scrutiny”:
“amid an increasingly intense public debate over the audience, impacts and cost of climate change, the IPCC has come under heightened scrutiny about its impartiality with respect to climate policy and about the accuracy and balance of its reports. In response, the United Nations and the IPCC commissioned the InterAcademy Council to convene a Committee to review the processes and procedures of the IPCC.”
Was its report “grotesquely flawed”? Quite the reverse. The IAC’s Chair announced that
“All the key recommendations that are really important are well supported by the scientific evidence.”
The report concludes “the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well”, providing a “very valuable resource”. It praises the IPCC’s “many important accomplishments”; “significant contributions”; “considerable achievement” and “truly authoritative assessments”.
To indict the IPCC, Lawson plagiarises a fabrication.
Lawson cites the IAC report directly:
“The IAC … concluded that there were “significant shortcomings in each major step of [the] IPCC’s assessment process”, and that “significant improvements” were needed. It also chastised the IPCC for claiming to have “high confidence in some statements for which there is little evidence”.”
Here are those first two quotes in their original context:
“This chapter identifies and recommends ways to address the most significant shortcomings in each major step of IPCC’s assessment process”.
“The overall structure of the IPCC assessment process appears to be sound, although significant improvements are both possible and necessary for the fifth assessment and beyond.” (Emphases mine.)
This is fabrication by omission. Lawson presents relative and equivocal criticisms as absolute and unequivocal. Only his third quotation – which criticises the IPCC for claiming “high confidence in some statements for which there is little evidence” – is honest (though all three appear to have been plagiarised from a Wall Street Journal article by Donna Laframboise.)
The InterAcademy Council – the IPCC’s reviewers – thanked it for reforming its practices. Lawson suggests nothing’s changed.
Lawson uses the IAC’s critical praise to demolish AR5, even before it has been fully released. Since the IAC review, he tells us, “little seems to have changed, and the latest report is flawed like its predecessor.”
Does the IAC concur? Not a bit of it. It has stated:
“we are pleased that so many of our report’s recommendations were adopted today by the IPCC … We are grateful to the U.N. and IPCC … for acting on our report.”
And it praised the 5th IPCC report:
“By again bringing together so many experts from across the globe to synthesize current scientific understanding of climate change, the IPCC has demonstrated its on-going value to society. The InterAcademy Council (IAC) congratulates the IPCC on this accomplishment and expresses its gratitude to the hundreds of experts from developed and developing countries alike who volunteered their time and knowledge to this unique scientific endeavour. Their effort provides a scientific basis for decisions that policymakers around the world are making about how best to mitigate and adapt to climate change – one of the most critical challenges facing humankind.”
The IPCC is a bureaucratic review body. Lawson claims it’s a vast conspiracy.
The IPCC’s growing confidence in climate change, Lawson claims, is really propaganda aimed at “credulous politicians and journalists” – an extraordinarily grave allegation. As Kevin Trenberth, a Lead Author on three IPCC reports, notes:
“Two major reviews are carried out in producing the report. … Climate “sceptics” can and do participate, some as authors. All comments are responded to in writing and result in many changes in the report. … rules require a unanimous consensus to be sought. Negotiations occur over wording to ensure accuracy, balance, clarity of message, and relevance … The strength is that it is a consensus report but the process also makes it a conservative report. … Huge numbers of scientists are involved … The effort is huge, cumbersome and burdensome.”
How could the IPCC’s many contending authors and extensive review process have confected such propaganda except through deliberate, co-ordinated and covert action – in other words, through conspiracy? Yet this conspiracy theory is superfluous, because the IPCC’s conclusion matches the scientific literature and opinion. And it’s unsubstantiated, because Lawson provides no evidence to support it.
Still, one can never be too careful around NASA and friends. They faked the moon landings, after all.
The IPCC is highly collaborative. Lawson implies it’s an autocracy.
An off-hand remark soon has Lawson scenting conspiracy again:
“as long ago as 2009, the IPCC chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri … predicted that “when the IPCC’s fifth assessment comes out in 2013 or 2014, there will be a major revival of interest in action that has to be taken. People are going to say: ‘My God, we are going to have to take action much faster than we had planned.’” This was well before the scientific investigation on which the latest report is allegedly based had even begun. So much for the scientific method.”
Lawson (again aping Laframboise) implies that Pachauri is powerful enough to “rig” the entire report. If anything, however, the IAC suggest the opposite:
“an ad hoc Executive Team—comprising the IPCC Chair, Vice Chairs, Working Group Co-chairs, Secretary, and the heads of the Technical Support Units … lacks authority, and its decisions are sometimes ignored or overturned … A more powerful group is needed to look after the interests of the organization and to respond to issues as they arise.”
Rather, the problem is one of perception:
“The IPCC Chair is the most visible public face and most often quoted representative of the IPCC. Relying so heavily on one person carries the risk that audiences will not appreciate the collaborative process involved in developing IPCC positions.”
The IPCC’s Chair does not write the reports by himself. Nor does he dictate their content:
“Governments determine the most important policy-relevant topics and the report outline, and then a writing team—led by the IPCC Chair and including Coordinating Lead Authors of the Working Group reports and other experts—drafts the report. The draft report is reviewed by experts and governments, whose responsibilities include checking for consistency between the Synthesis Report and the Working Group reports. The Summary for Policymakers is approved line by line, and the synthesis is approved section by section by the Panel in Plenary session. …
“the Working Group Co-chairs and Lead Authors exercise the authority to reject proposed revisions they believe are not consistent with their underlying Working Group report.”
Nor does the Chair conduct or write up the research that underpins the reports. The IPCC does not conduct original research: it collates and reviews existing papers – successfully, according to the IAC (which, remember, Lawson calls “the leading scientific body in the United States”).
Still, if you didn’t know any of the above, that quote might make Lawson’s theory seem, well, fractionally less unconvincing. In case you’re the paranoid type, here it is in its original context (via Donna Laframboise, again):
“Dr. Pachauri also said he expects that whatever its outcome, the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December was unlikely to be the final word on the subject.”
Again, this is distortion by omission. As the original quotation makes clear, Pachauri is expressing an expectation based on perceived likelihood. And there are good reasons to hold that expectation. Kevin Anderson, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, outlined some of them in Parliament in 2009:
“Anyone who plots a learning curve, and we have all been plotting these things for years, would be able to tell you that whatever we think was fairly good before becomes bad now. The situation gets worse and worse. … All the time we underestimate the scale of the problem … We get burned every time and we put our hand back in the fire again and we will no doubt do it again.”
Moreover, the more we emit now, the further we run down our “carbon budget”, and the less we can emit in future. In the IPCC’s words:
“Delayed emission reductions significantly constrain the opportunities to achieve lower stabilisation levels and increase the risk of more severe climate change impacts.”
The later emissions peak, then, the faster they must come down. Those who spy conspiracy in that suggestion probably need to sit down and blow into a paper bag.