Politicians and Scientists at the IPCC

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by Ian Angus

Information emerging from last week’s meeting of IPCC Working Group II tends to confirm my argument in The IPCC and the Conservatism of Consensus. This time, representatives of several governments opposed to doing anything about climate change tried harder to win changes, but the scientists fought back and won most (not all) of the battles.

It’s important to bear in mind that the fight was over the 23-page Summary for Policymakers, not the actual 1400-page report, which hasn’t been released yet. Perhaps the politicos believe that only the Summary will be widely read.

However, there is another Summary coming from Working Group II, a 79-page document that the diplomats won’t be allowed to touch. The Associated Press reports that this Technical Summary includes much that is not in last week’s paper, including:

• “More than one sixth of the world population live in glacier- or snowmelt-fed river basins and will be affected by decrease of water volume.”

• And depending on how much fossil fuels are burned in the future, “262-983 million people are likely to move into the water stressed-category” by 2050.

• Global warming could increase the number of hungry in the world in 2080 by anywhere between 140 million and 1 billion, depending on how much greenhouse gas is emitted over the next few decades.

• “Overall a 2- to 3-fold increase of population to be flooded is expected by 2080.”

• Malaria, diarrhea diseases, dengue fever, tick-borne diseases, heat-related deaths will all rise with global warming.

• In eastern North America, depending on fossil fuel emissions, smog will increase and there would be a 4.5 percent increase in smog-related deaths.

Le Monde reports that the United States successfully objected to a a paragraph saying that North America “devrait être localement confrontée à de graves dommages économiques et à des perturbations substantielles de son système socio-éconmique et culturel.” If such a statement had appeared in the final version, it would have beeen the strongest social/political statement yet made by any IPCC report.

A Unique Insight into the IPCC Process, by Andrew Dressler, discusses what happened at the meeting in Belgium. It concludes:

“The bottom line is that the IPCC’s SPMs are ‘consensus documents,’ meaning that all member governments need to agree to the science described in them. Countries that want to do nothing about climate change have incentives to water down the SPMs, while countries that want strong responses have incentives to highlight potential disasters.

“And the scientists have an important veto: they can walk out and declare that one side or another is trying to subvert the science. All countries have incentives to be seen as credible on this issue, and so cannot afford to be designated as anti-science.

“In the end, it looks like the Working Group II SPM was slightly watered down by those opposed to action. But competing pressures from other groups kept out major changes. In the end, most climate scientists would agree that the SPM fairly reflects the science of climate change.”

And this article from the April 7 New York Times shows that the final changes weren’t all in one direction.

Late Changes Made Report More Dire, and Less

By Andrew C. Revkin

Since it was created in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been criticized from all sides at one time or another.

Some scientists and industry representatives contend that it has played up dire findings; earlier this year, other scientists and environmental campaigners complained that its forecasts for rising seas in a warming world were far too conservative.

The summaries of the panel’s voluminous reports are fought over with particular vigor, especially at the point when they must pass muster with governments before they are officially approved.

In final work among authors and a late-night showdown between authors and government officials, the wording of the latest report was adjusted in some cases to play up uncertainty and in others to spell out the downside of climate-related trends. In at least one section, on climate impacts in Europe, those with a more dire view clearly had their way.

From the final draft of the summary of the report, “Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability,” as it existed early this week:

“In Southern Europe, climate change is very likely to have negative impacts by increasing risk to health due to more frequent heat waves, reducing water availability and hydropower, endangering crop production, and increasing the frequency of wildfires.“In Northern Europe, climate change is likely to bring benefits in the form of reduced exposure to cold periods, increased crop yields, increased forest and Atlantic waters productivity, and augmented hydropower potential.”

From the final summary released on Friday:

“In Southern Europe, climate change is projected to worsen conditions (high temperatures and drought) in a region already vulnerable to climate variability, and to reduce water availability, hydropower potential, summer tourism, and in general, crop productivity. It is also projected to increase health risks due to heat waves and the frequency of wildfires.

“In Central and Eastern Europe, summer precipitation is projected to decrease, causing higher water stress.

“Health risks due to heat waves are projected to increase. Forest productivity is expected to decline and the frequency of peatland fires to increase.

“In Northern Europe, climate change is initially projected to bring mixed effects, including some benefits such as reduced demand for heating, increased crop yields and increased forest growth. However, as climate change continues, its negative impacts (including more frequent winter floods, endangered ecosystems and increasing ground instability) are likely to outweigh its benefits.”

At the same time, under pressure from government representatives, one passage in the final draft from early in the week was altered to lessen the sense of danger, according to several authors.

This is the original version:

“Hundreds of millions of people are vulnerable to flooding due to sea-level rise, especially in densely populated and low-lying settlements where adaptive capacity is relatively low and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence.”

This is the final version:

“Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk.”

As I wrote a couple of days ago:

“The IPCC is what it is. It isn’t an activist organization, and it doesn’t include the full range of climate change possibilities in its reports. It produces summaries of the scientific consensus about global warming – and it is a profound commentary on how badly capitalism has damaged our world that the IPCC’s conservative statements of fact constitute a powerful indictment of the capitalist system.

“For that reason alone, ecosocialists should publicize its work as widely as possible – and make up for its shortcomings through our own efforts.”