The IPCC report does not justify climate scaremongering.
We should all be dead by now, thanks to overpopulation and resource depletion. The few of us remaining should be scavenging a landscape denuded of life by acid rains and UV rays. Thankfully, we are not. Also still standing are the scientific institutions and the global bureaucracies that predicted our premature demise. One of those is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The job of the IPCC is to provide a review of climate-change research to policymakers. The bulk of climate policymaking occurs under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which meets yearly to try to wrangle a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the 2015 UNFCCC meeting in Paris, a loose deal was struck. It aimed to limit global warming to 2°C, with a looser agreement to aim to limit it to 1.5°C. Subsequently, the UNFCCC asked the IPCC to compare global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C for a report to be published this year. So far, so boring.
But before the report was even published, it began to excite climate alarmists. In September, the Guardian reported leaked details from the report’s summary for policymakers, claiming that government interference had forced scientists to ‘water down’ their findings and ‘pull their punches’. The claim that ‘temperature rises of above 1.5°C could lead to increased migrations and conflict’ was cut from the final draft, it reported.
It is usually climate sceptics, not alarmists, who point out that the IPCC’s summaries are subject to political interference. These summaries tend to be much more alarmist than what the actual science says in the reports’ technical chapters. In 2014, for example, the summary for policymakers warned that climate change can increase the risks of conflict and migration. But this was totally unsupported by the technical parts of the document.
This year’s IPCC’s report has been a disappointment to many climate activists, including the apparent source of the leak, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) and the Grantham Research Institute (GRI). The GRI is named after its billionaire benefactor, Jeremy Grantham. Both the CCEP and the GRI are chaired by the world’s leading climate technocrat, Nick Stern, author of the UK government’s review of the economics of climate change in 2007.
The problem for Stern, his financial backers, researchers and PR men is that their political agenda depends on science identifying dramatic risks, which can act as a spur to action: catastrophic increases in the frequency and intensity of storms, flooding and drought, devastating changes to agricultural productivity, increases in diseases and poverty, impacts across society that could lead to civil conflict and war for resources. But so far, signs of these dramatic consequences have not materialised. As a result, these activists, researchers and technocrats are now at odds with the science.
That’s not to say that this year’s IPCC report gives nothing to alarmism. But it tells the alarmists that they will have to wait longer, that the apocalypse has been delayed. It also adds important caveats. Take, for example, the claim that ‘Any increase in global warming will affect human health… Risks from some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are projected to increase with warming from 1.5°C to 2°C.’ At face value, this appears to be a clear injunction from science that the 1.5°C target is preferable to the 2°C target. However, digging into the technical chapters of the report reveals that incorporating estimates of global adaptation to climate change into projections of its future trajectory ‘reduces the magnitude of risks’.
What this means is that these risks can be overcome by ‘adaptation’, even as the temperature rises. According to the two most authoritative estimates, the number of deaths caused by malaria has fallen dramatically in recent decades. While malaria has been eradicated from North America and Europe, it remains in Africa. Vulnerability to malaria remains strongly correlated with poverty, not meteorology. This ought to be read as an argument for development. It is ideology, not science, which turns the IPCC statement of risks into an argument for emissions reductions.
None of which is to say that global warming does not create risks. It does. But they are not the risks that climate technocrats have hoped to capitalise on. There are no immediate, looming catastrophes that can easily be detected in statistics which can provide unambiguous instruction to governments. Climate activists and technocrats need this threat of catastrophic risks to sustain their political arguments in lieu of any positive agenda. Though the most alarmist edges have been smoothed out of the IPCC’s output, it is still very much driven by ideology.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the UK’s contributors to the IPCC. For example, among the authors of the 1.5°C reports is Roz Pidcock, who prior to joining the IPCC was a campaigner for the Carbon Brief – a front organisation entirely funded by the European Climate Foundation, which in turn is entirely funded from various billionaires’ ‘philanthropic’ foundations. Similarly, the author of the summary for policymakers, Professor James Skea, is a climate technocrat from the UK Climate Change Committee, which sets the UK’s carbon budgets. At the top of the authors list is Professor Myles Allen, who moonlights as a strategist in litigation campaigns against energy companies. As the latest report itself states, the IPCC envisions doing more work with ‘non-state public and private actors, institutional investors [and] the banking system’ — that is, billionaires, states and technocrats.
It should be no surprise that an intergovernmental panel is technocratic, connected to the wealthy and draws all its members from a single political community. However, the IPCC’s contributors and output demonstrate clearly that it is not policy-neutral and led by science, as is often imagined.
The IPCC’s work regularly gives licence to hysteria, which it feels no need to correct. For instance, the meteorologist Eric Holthaus claimed that the IPCC suggested that, ‘The world’s top scientists just gave rigorous backing to systematically dismantle capitalism as a key requirement to maintaining civilisation’. In the same embrace, BBC climate activist Roger Harrabin reported that, ‘Scientists say we ought to eat much less meat’, and criticised the government for failing to force us to be vegetarians. ‘The battle over climate change will have to get personal’, he wrote.
Meanwhile, Harrabin’s colleagues Matt McGrath and David Shukman at the BBC kept changing the headline of their article on the IPCC report. It started as ‘Climate report: scientists politely urge “act now, idiots”’. Then it was changed to ‘Climate report: scientists urge deep rapid change to limit warming’, and finally it became ‘Final call to save the world from “climate catastrophe”’.
The problem for all three BBC journalists, however, is that they quoted no scientists and no science, but factoids, couched in claims that we have heard many times before. Every IPCC report has been the ‘final call’. Every UNFCCC meeting has been the ‘last chance’. Countless climate deadlines have passed but arctic ice still exists. The polar bears still exist. And most frustratingly of all for these environmentalists, the world’s human population is doing better than ever before. It is not the IPCC’s science that appeals to these vapid hacks – it is the cover it provides for their profoundly undemocratic impulses.
In the end, it was Donald Trump who had the last laugh. In the wake of the confected drama created by the report, he outraged climate advocates by claiming that changes in global temperatures might not be manmade, and ‘could very well go back’. To the alarmists, it sounded like anti-science. Indeed, it was the late Stephen Hawking who last year warned that Trump’s attitude to climate change could make Earth as hot as Venus. But Hawking – the celebrated cosmologist and theoretical physicist – clearly forgot that Venus’s atmosphere can reach temperatures of exceeding 460°C (compared with Earth’s average of 14°C) because its atmosphere is 90 times denser than ours. Even scientists often don’t have the kind of grasp on these issues that we expect them to have. That sometimes means that a celebrated scientist like Stephen Hawking can have substantially less understanding of the world than Donald Trump.
The IPCC is supposed to represent the scientific consensus on climate change. But its latest report, and the reactions to it, expose the fact that its work is driven by a political agenda, not a scientific one. Like earlier ecological scare stories, the most dramatic claims of climate alarmists, of catastrophic storms, pandemics and war, have lost their scientific foundation as they retreat into the distant future. The IPCC was asked to consider the 1.5°C target, not because a new scientific understanding demanded it, but because of the need for a new dose of urgency.
Ben Pile blogs at Climate Resistance.
Picture by: Getty.
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