This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admitted it was completely wrong in claiming that climate change would lead to the disappearance of all ice in the Himalayas by 2035. It had previously claimed, based on a magazine interview with a single scientist, that this claim was 90% reliable. Now it admits it was 100% wrong. Its not the only thing they are going to have to back-track on.
One of the leading scientists working on understanding natural disasters in Roger Pielke Jnr. He is a Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado and he has done extensive studies of the link between climate change and the cost and frequency of natural disasters, concluding that there is no link.
In 2001 the IPCC Third Assessment Working Group II report cautiously claimed in its Chapter 8 that the upward trend in the costs of disasters had a climate component, and supported this assertion by referencing a non-peer reviewed published in 2000. That Munich Re report compared disasters in the 1970s to the 1990s and only speculated on issues of attribution, focusing particularly on 1999. Pielke offered a critique of this paper, which was in any case speculative.
In 2006, the UK Stern Review report picked a single non-peer reviewed discussion paper from a workshop intended to generate an estimate of escalating damages due to greenhouse gas emissions. The Stern Review also mysteriously inflated the cost of damages due to natural disasters by a significant order of magnitude so as to make more dramatic its claim – just one of several inflations in the report. The Stern Review dramatically misrepresented the scientific literature and understandings so as to make a political point – it is, after all, a political report, not a scientific review.
In 2007 the IPCC released its Fourth Assessment Report and, and also relying in the same non peer reviewed paper used by Stern, reitterated the same claim. Further, the IPCC included a graph attempting to show how closely temperature anomalies match up with disaster losses, using a scaling of the axes to suggest a relationship where none has been shown in any of the peer-reviewed literature.
Here is what the IPCC says:
“Global losses reveal rapidly rising costs due to extreme weather-related events since the 1970s. One study has found that while the dominant signal remains that of the significant increases in the values of exposure at risk, once losses are normalised for exposure, there still remains an underlying rising trend”.
It is clear that in this report, the IPCC are reaching for whatever they can to support a conclusion that simply is not backed up in the broader literature: its another claim in the same status as the 2035 Himalaya claim and is also based on a non peer reviewed paper.
But this story gets worse. Before the release of the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) by the IPCC in 2007, one of the senior scientific reviewers said this about this claim:
“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.” (my emphasis)
“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.”
This did not prevent the claim being made, despite protests from scientific reviewers.
It gets worse. One reviewer suggested that there was a need to check the statement in the IPCC report with Roger Pielke Jnr, widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the world on this topic. The IPCC responded with a comment which Pielke now takes objection to. The IPCC said (dealing with the issue of adding 2004 and 2005 data to the analysis), in response to the reviewers suggestion:
"Pielke agrees that adding 2004 and 2005 has the potential to change his earlier conclusions – at least about the absence of a trend in US Cat[astrophic] losses."
In fact, Pielke was never asked and, if he were, would have taken a very different position. He makes it clear that the IPCC simply made up a misleading and false response about his views.
The UN IPCC, in defending itself against criticisms from the scientific community, frequently makes two points. First, all of its conclusions are based on peer reviewed science. Second, the process of developing their assessments is both rigorous and has a high integrity. These two points, they claim, ensure that there is thorough due diligence.
It is not clear that the IPCC in two matters – Himalayas and 2035 and the link between climate change and the costs of natural disasters – that it did not use peer reviewed literature, that it exaggerated the science in a very misleading way and that it is willing to use untruths in order to justify its work.
The IPCC is a problem organization. One which claims that the science is settled, even though scientists, like Roger Pielke, disagree.