IPCC: Beyond the Himalayas

(Feb. 7, 2010) Climategate is one of many known failings by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Two years ago, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was the world’s most celebrated organization, guardian of the world against the peril of climate change and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for “its outstanding scientific work!”

Today, the IPCC stands among the world’s most infamous organizations, its reputation in tatters, unable to respond to a growing chorus of critics because the critics now include many of its once-fiercest champions, among them its own scientists, and because its chairman and chief spokesman, India’s Rajendra Pachauri, is himself thoroughly disgraced. “The IPCC needs to regain credibility. Is that going to happen with Pachauri?,” asks John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, “I don’t think so.”

What caused a fall from grace so sudden that IPCC’s insiders now demand Pachauri’s ouster, and that leads the Indian government to set up an “Indian IPCC” as a national alternative to the IPCC, declaring that it “cannot rely” any longer on the organization that its own representative heads?

One answer is Climategate — the unauthorized release of emails in November that showed the duplicity of scientists associated with the IPCC. Unquestionably, Climategate opened the floodgates to the torrent of scandals that have since poured out, seemingly without end. Many of the new scandals, some of them sporting “-gate” as a suffix, were little known before the Climategate emails were released; many were well known, but not publicized by a compliant press. Their sheer number deserves cataloguing.

Glaciergate: The post-Climategate scandal with the greatest repercussions involves a scientifically impossible yet much-touted IPCC claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt by the year 2035. This claim originated in a conversation in 1999 between a UK journalist and an Indian glaciologist, who made an off-hand remark about India’s glaciers disappearing. The World Wildlife Fund then cited this glaciologist’s speculation in a fundraising and advocacy campaign in 2005. Then the IPCC cited the World Wildlife Fund’s campaign material as the source for the imminent end of the Himalayan glaciers.

At no point did the IPCC require anything remotely resembling peer-review to test the speculation that the end of the Himalayan glaciers was nigh, and this was deliberate. As Murari Lal, the IPCC’s coordinating lead author for the glacier chapter explained, he knew the work hadn’t been verified but felt scary scenarios were needed to rouse public concern: “We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”

More WWF: The IPCC’s reliance on the World Wildlife Fund as an authority in Glaciergate was no anomaly. Blogger Donna Laframboise thought to do a search on the IPCC’s own site of “WWF” and found it turned up dozens of times, and was a source on everything from mudflows and avalanches to fish in the Mesoamerican reef.

Greenpeace et al.: Ms. Framboise then checked out Greenpeace and found that this advocacy organization, too, was an IPCC source. For example, Greenpeace’s report, The Pacific in Peril, was the sole source for a claim that linked global warming to coral reef degradation. On a roll, she then found that members of other advocacy organizations, such as people from David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defense and Friends of the Earth were among the IPCC’s “expert reviewers.”

Ice-capped mountains: The IPCC relied on even sketchier sources in deciding that ice was disappearing from the world’s mountain tops. In blaming global warming for the loss of mountain ice in the Andes, Alps and Africa, the IPCC’s most recent 2007 report cited two papers as the basis for its conclusions. One was authored by a geography student and climate change campaigner who was trying for the equivalent of a master’s degree at Switzerland’s University of Berne. The student made his case on the basis of interviews with mountain guides in the Swiss Alps. The second paper was a popular article in Climbing, a magazine for mountain climbers that quoted mountaineers about the changes they had observed.

Sea-levels: This week, the Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency revealed that the IPCC blundered in its 2007 report in claiming that 55% of the Netherlands lay below sea-level. IPCC scientists who were evidently out of their depth had added the area of the Netherlands below sea-level to the area susceptible to flooding, not realizing that these areas overlap. To the embarrassment of the Dutch Environment Minister, her department then based Dutch environmental policy on the IPCC’s mangled stats of her country. The correct stat: 20% of The Netherlands is susceptible to flooding should global warming cause sea levels to rise.

Urban Warming: Also this week, the IPCC stands accused of relying on a bogus 20-year-old study that discounted a mountain of evidence that cities become reservoirs of heat, making them warmer than the surrounding countryside. The study that found this “urban heat island effect” to be minimal based its claim on a long series of temperature measurements from 84 Chinese weather stations, half in the countryside and half in cities. The co-author of this study, Phil Jones, director of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit of Climategate fame, for years resisted Freedom of Information requests by skeptics seeking to obtain the locations of the 42 rural stations. It now appears that the documents needed to validate the Jones study no longer exist.

Climategate USA: Last month, evidence emerged that the manipulation of weather data by the UK’s Climatic Research Unit had a no-less impressive counterpart on this side of the Atlantic. Two U.S. government agencies, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are implicated in a massive and unannounced re-do of data from weather stations around the world. In the 70s, these two agencies obtained their temperature data from 6,000 weather stations around the world. By 1990, they had discarded three-quarters of the weather stations, leaving but 1500. Most of the discarded stations were cold-weather stations. The remaining 1500 then acted as surrogates for the discarded 4500.

In Canada, for example, the U.S agencies discarded data from 565 of 600 stations, including most high up in the Rockies or in Canada’s northern territories. In Bolivia, a country in the Andes, every last weather station was discarded. To get Bolivian temperatures, NASA and NOAA used readings from 1200 miles away — from the Amazon and the beaches of Peru.

The Amazon Jungle: Last week, the IPCC came under fire for claiming that the entire Amazon was threatened by climate change, an exaggeration of a study that merely claimed that “up to 40% of Brazilian rainforest was extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall,” drying out the forests and making them susceptible to fires.

Not that the study the IPCC relied upon was itself unimpeachable. The report, A Global Review of Forest Fires, was co-authored by a freelance journalist and environmental activist who had worked for organizations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The other co-author was a WWF campaigner.

Stern Review: Another study that the IPCC relied upon – The Stern Review, written by a prominent former World Bank economist, commissioned by the UK Treasury, and published by Cambridge University Press — had all the trappings of authority. Yet its dire estimates of the financial costs of climate change were so extreme that it was castigated by some of the world’s leading climate change economists when it was initially published. Last week, more errors came to light that also point to an academic cover-up, designed to avoid embarrassment.

Between the time The Stern Review was first released in October 2006, and its publication in book form by Cambridge University Press in January 2007, various unsupportable claims were scrubbed, including claims that North West Australia had been hit by stronger tropical typhoons in the previous 30 years, that southern regions in Australia had lost rainfall due to rising ocean temperatures, that air currents adversely affected Australian rainfall, and that savannahs would increasingly take over Australian terrain. A typo that exaggerated the cost of hurricanes by a factor of 10 was also corrected.

Remarkably, a formal erratum or corrigendum — mandatory in academia when corrections or changes are made — was not published in the case of The Stern Review. “Such a practice is very much a whitewash of the historical record,” commented the University of Colorado’s Roger Pielke Jr, one of the many Stern Review critics. “One would assume — and expect — that studies designed to inform government (and international) policy would be held to at least these same standards if not higher standards.”

Post-Climategate, we are being deluged with a stream of scandals that utterly destroy the notion that the IPCC ever operated to high scientific standards. The evidence existed pre-Climategate too, even if we didn’t pay it much heed. We saw it in false claims that malaria and other vector-borne diseases would spread under a warming climate, that water shortages would stress Third World societies, that hurricanes and other extreme weather events would play havoc with our economies and our safety, with computer models that failed time and again to predict anything, whether the recent expansion of the Arctic ice mass or the cooling temperatures that we’ve seen over the last decade. Most famously, we saw it in the hockey stick, that discredited IPCC icon that purported to show that temperatures had been stable for most of the last millennium before shooting up in the last century. Fittingly, its shoddiness was reconfirmed by the Climategate emails, which revealed the desperate efforts made by the IPCC scientists to “hide the decline” in temperatures that the hockey stick’s proxy data actually showed.

The IPCC was no more credible then than we know it to be now. The Indians understand that they cannot rely on the IPCC any longer. The rest of the nations of the world need to be likewise enlightened.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of The Deniers: The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud.

Read the sources for this column.

Lawrence Solomon, Financial Post, Feb. 7, 2010

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