Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Climate Change and the IPCC - The Durban Boondoggle

Later this month (28th November – 9th December) the world’s climate change ambassadors, crusaders and hangers on will meet in Durban for COP17 – the seventeenth gathering of the wise and passionate meeting with the intent on preventing what Al Gore calls the “climate change catastrophe”. The gathering is titled “Saving Tomorrow, Today”. They had hoped to agree the extension of the Kyoto Protocol and the development of the mechanisms agreed in Copenhagen at COP15. The omens do not look good.

First, the International Panel on Climate Change briefing document under preparation for this summit retreats from the audacious and largely unproven claims made hitherto. The draft document, now being “edited” (meaning expect significant change in its substance and claims) suggests that there will be no significant warming in the next 20-30 years. This is “because the man-made signal is negligible relatively to the natural variability and that we only have low or medium confidence on whether or not the frequency of extreme events is changing and whether or not the greenhouse gases are behind these changes if any”. This is quite a change from previous statements from the IPCC. But it gets better.

The draft document also states: “Long-term trends in normalized economic disaster losses cannot be reliably attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change”. It goes on to state “"increasing exposure of people and economic assets is the major cause of the long-term changes in economic disaster losses (high confidence)" – something most scientists who focus on natural disasters have been saying for sometime, quite the opposite of what the IPCC normally claims.

This will come as a shock to delegates, who have based all of their work in the past on the imminent danger and catastrophic scenarios presented by the IPCC (the IPCC claims it doesn’t make predictions) – assuming that the draft document survives the editing process without being unduly changed.

The second challenge delegates will have at COP17 is that the world has changed. Governments now no longer see climate change as the most pressing issue of the century: jobs, hunger, poverty and economic conditions are. As Roger Pielke Jnr. makes clear in his excellent book The Climate Fix – economics trumps climate change mitigation every time.

The US wants an agreement on 'symmetry' of international commitments for developing and developed countries before it accepts the move for a new global climate compact. The US wants emerging economies to be on the same page based on current emission levels but does not accept responsibility for its or the rest of the developed world's historical emissions. It has instead asked for a 'graduation criteria' that would break the current distinction between rich and developing countries and set up a process of including emerging economies in the group that bears binding commitments.

The EU insists that it would sign on to Kyoto II only if emerging economies agreed to binding targets by 2015 and start talks for it right away - a substantial shift from its position a year ago. The attempt to formulate a 'coalition of the willing' seems doomed. Some countries had proposed that those who wish to sign on a new global compact should get on with it, leaving even major emitters like the US out if they are not willing. But this has not found buyers. The targets won’t be changed; they will no longer really be taken that seriously.

The BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China -- have already taken a position that any decision on climate change actions beyond 2020 must be based on the next report of UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which will be submitted in 2014, and a review of the fulfillment of commitments under the UN climate convention to be done in 2015.

The third challenge the delegates will deal with is downright dishonesty. Only 8% of the "fast-start finance" pledged in Copenhagen has actually found its way to recipients. Many who signed up to Kyoto have paid no attention to their obligations and continue to emit beyond the Kyoto targets – Canada being an example. The EU committed to a target of reducing carbon emissions by 20%, and establishing renewable energy as comprising 20% of energy supply, both by 2020 – the 20/20/20 “rule”. Its not going to happen, especially now that most major economies are in free fall and have backed out of feed-in tariffs and subsidies for the renewable energy sector (see my blog on Peak Renewables). Major counties cannot keep the promises they make.

The final challenge at Durban is the IPCC itself. A major review of the IPCC was called for by Environment Ministers. It concluded that some major changes were required, including changes in process and changes in leadership. Few, if any, of these have been made. Given the tawdry nature of their work and the growing critique of its processes (see the new and excellent book by Donna Laframboise (The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert. Toronto: Ivy Avenue Press), many are questioning the veracity and quality of the IPCC and are seeking deeper reforms as well as action on the reforms already called for.

One study, for example, found serious issues with the last IPCC report. Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Jason Johnston researched the IPCC had conclusions on climate change and compared their findings with the peer-reviewed climate science literature. He discovered that "on virtually every major issue in climate change science" IPCC reports "systematically conceal or minimize what appear to be fundamental scientific uncertainties." Put simply – the IPCC exaggerates.

Some three thousand delegates will descend on Durban and they will achieve little, if anything. One thing we could do to lower emissions is to cancel these events. You also need to be careful in following descriptions of these events, especially from the BBC. A BBC World documentary about climate change was sponsored by green crusaders Envirotrade. And of course “Envirotrade was featured in a positive light in the programme but viewers were unaware that there was a funding arrangement in place.” The BBC itself has ruled “that commercial, financial or other interests may have influenced the editorial judgments in these programmes.” So no bias there then. If they are seeking additional funds for new programs, who knows what they will do to secure them.

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