Global Climate Change Report Leaked
Dec. 14, 11:00 a.m. | Updates below |
A WikiLeaks-style Web dump of drafts of the 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides fresh evidence that the organization’s policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.
The documents were posted Thursday at Stopgreensuicide.com, a Web site launched by Alec Rawls, a passionate foe of restrictions on greenhouse gases (with a very quirky pedigree) who signed up — like almost anyone could — to be one of 800 reviewers offering more than 30,000 comments on this draft report, which focuses on the basic science examining the extent of the human influence on the climate system.
[Dec. 14, 10:55 a.m. | Update | The climate panel has issued a statement on what it described as the “regrettable” posting of the documents by a reviewer who had agreed to confidentiality. Here’s an excerpt and link:
The unauthorized and premature posting of the drafts of the WGI AR5, which are works in progress, may lead to confusion because the text will necessarily change in some respects once all the review comments have been addressed. It should also be noted that the cut-off date for peer-reviewed published literature to be included and assessed in the final draft lies in the future (15 March 2013). The text that has been posted is thus not the final report.]
The posted drafts, on everything from the quality of climate models to measurements of sea level rise and Arctic ice loss, have plenty for anyone with an agenda related to global warming. Critics of aggressive action to cut greenhouse gases, Rawls included, are focusing on language relating to solar influences on climate. [Dec. 13, 10:19 p.m. | Updated The Web site Skeptical Science has deconstructed, and largely de-fanged, the idea there’s something big here.]
But there’s plenty of language for those pressing the case for action, including the new capstone statement on the role of greenhouse gases in driving warming since 1950:
It is extremely likely* that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature since the 1950s. There is high confidence that this has caused large-scale changes in the ocean, in the cryosphere, and in sea level in the second half of the 20th century. Some extreme events have changed as a result of anthropogenic influence. [*In panel terminology, “extremely likely” denotes a 95-percent likelihood.]
I’ve appended links to the sections of the draft report below.
It’s important, before anyone attacks Rawls for posting the drafts (this is distinct from his views on their contents), to consider that panel report drafts at various stages of preparation have been leaked in the past by people with entirely different points of view.
That was the case in 2000, when I was leaked a final draft of the summary for policy makers of the second science report from the panel ahead of that year’s round of climate treaty negotiations. As I explained in the resulting news story, “A copy of the summary was obtained by The New York Times from someone who was eager to have the findings disseminated before the meetings in The Hague.”
Here’s a question I sent tonight to a variety of analysts of the panel’s workings over the years:
The leaker, Alec Rawls, clearly has a spin. But I’ve long thought that I.P.C.C. was in a weird losing game in trying to boost credibility through more semi-open review while trying to maintain confidentiality at same time. I’m sympathetic to the idea of having more of the I.P.C.C. process being fully open (a layered Public Library of Science-style approach to review can preserve the sanity of authors) in this age of enforced transparency (WikiLeaks being the most famous example).
I’ll post answers as they come in.
The climate panel is a remarkable 24-year-old experiment in funneling insights and advice across the is-ought divide between the worlds of climate science and policy. The institution was created in 1988 under United Nations auspices to offer periodic assessments of the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as possible responses.
But even as it has been heaped with accolades, including the 2007 Nobel Peace Price, the panel has been criticized from within and without for inconsistency across its three working groups (on basic science, impacts of climate change, and options for mitigating risk), for inadequate procedures for addressing errors and for glacially slow drafting processes that limit the utility and relevance of the process.
I’d love to think there’s a way for the countries that created the organization to come up with the technical and financial support it would need for a fundamental re-boot.
8:33 p.m. Update
Paul Baer, a climate policy analyst at the Georgia Institute of Technology and contributing author to the panel’s next Working Group 3 report (on policy options), posted a comment that’s well worth elevating into the main post:
This is a problem I’ve been thinking about for many years, and in fact I presented a talk at AGU last week on one aspect, the creation of “traceable accounts” of the justification for the probability judgments that are ubiquitous in the reports.
The problem has several different aspects, but at its heart, it really depends on the question of whose opinion counts. At the moment, the process is “managed” by the selection of chapter authors by the IPCC. If you’re a chapter author, your voice will be counted in any discussion of what level of uncertainty to apply to a “finding” in that chapter; if you’re a reviewer, not so much.
There is an alternative, web-based model, in which participation is open – at least at some level – but in which opinions have to be justified, and evaluation is done by weighting opinions. This means, among other things, that different “users” of the results could weight the various opinions differently. But that in fact is what happens already; this would make it more transparent.
The process would separate the development of expert opinion on a particular question (how likely is it really that X?) from the overall assessment process; a single “finding” would be more like a Wikipedia page. It would not replace the IPCC process entirely, but it would offer a great deal more transparency to the subjective probability judgments that are the flashpoint for these debates.
Here are the sections to the report draft:
Summary for Policymakers
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface
Chapter 3: Observations: Ocean
Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere
Chapter 5: Information from Paleoclimate Archives
Chapter 6: Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles
Chapter 7: Clouds and Aerosols
Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing
Chapter 8 Supplement
Chapter 9: Evaluation of Climate Models
Chapter 10: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional
Chapter 11: Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability
Chapter 12: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility
Chapter 13: Sea Level Change
Chapter 14: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change
Chapter 14 Supplement
[10:11 p.m. | Addendum |The files above are available elsewhere on the Web, including here.]