Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

That Silly Coal Speech

UN officials need to stop dressing up political arguments as science.


click to read the full speech

Christiana Figueres is a United Nations employee. To be precise, she’s an unelected bureaucrat. As Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC – which stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – her job is to keep that climate treaty alive.

She is appointed by the UN, takes direction from people more senior than her at the UN, and is paid by the UN to advance its objectives.

Last week, when she addressed a meeting of the World Coal Association in Warsaw, I was one of the journalists in attendance. Most of her remarks amount to unmitigated nonsense (see the full text of her speech here). For the moment, let’s examine five paragraphs in particular:

The science is clear. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report outlines our predicament. We are at unprecedented GHG concentrations in the atmosphere; our carbon budget is half spent. If we continue to meet energy needs as we have in the past, we will overshoot the internationally agreed goal to limit warming to less than two degree Celsius.

AR5 is not science fiction, it is science fact.

AR5 is the overwhelming consensus of 200 lead authors synthesizing the work of 600 scientists who analysed 9000 peer-reviewed publications. AR5 is arguably the most rigorous scientific report ever written. And, the findings of the AR5 have been endorsed by 195 governments, including all of those in which you operate.

There is no doubt that the science is a clarion call for the rapid transformation of the coal industry. Just this morning, more than 25 leading climate and energy scientists from around the world released a clear statement about the need to radically rethink coal’s place in our energy mix.

Considering that coal energy loads the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, competes for water and impacts public health, the call of science has already been answered by a wide gamut of stakeholders… [bold and font colour added]

AR5 is shorthand for the Fifth Assessment Report. It is, as Figueres suggests, a document produced by another UN body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). A draft of part one of AR5 was released in late September.

I am the author of two books about the IPCC. They explain how it routinely misleads the public, ignores its own rules, eschews transparency, and is led by a man whom a judge says has “suppressed material facts” and “sworn to false affidavits.” Nor is my harsh assessment the only one. In late 2010, an InterAcademy Council report found “significant shortcomings in each major step of [the] IPCC’s assessment process.”

I wouldn’t buy a used car on the advice of the IPCC. But according to Figueres, AR5 may be the most rigorous scientific report ever written.

Since fully two thirds of that report has yet to be finalized and released, how does she know this? The obvious answer is that she doesn’t. She’s making it up. As a UN employee it’s her job to say nice things about reports written by other UN bodies.

While Figueres herself possesses no scientific credentials (she has a masters degree in anthropology), she’s happy to use the idea of Science – with a capital S – as a rhetorical device. Repeatedly, she implies that scientists are infallible.

The science is clear. AR5 is science fact. The science is a clarion call. The call of science. She says all of those things, and more. Overwhelming consensus. Peer-reviewed. There is no doubt. You must believe me, science itself is on my side.

Too bad her arguments don’t withstand the slightest scrutiny. Just this morning, she tells her audience, 25 leading climate and energy scientists released a statement about coal.

Let us take a look at that statement. It says the only acceptable coal plants are those equipped with carbon capture and storage technology. Since an affordable version of that technology doesn’t exist yet (see here, here, and here), this amounts to a blanket condemnation of a fuel source that currently supplies 40% of the world’s electricity.

By all means, let us be introduced to the self-righteous donkeys who authored such an unhelpful declaration. One of them is the activist economist Mark Jaccard. I’ve written about him – and the false claim that he is a Nobel laureate – more than once in recent months. Joining him is Nebojsa Nakicenovic – another economics professor. He’s an adviser to the UN’s Secretary General.

Also on the list is Michael MacCracken – who pals around with professional lobbyists from the World Wildlife Fund. MacCracken sits on a WWF panel, the express purpose of which is to increase the public’s sense of climate change urgency.

Then there’s Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber. Last year I described him as “the furthest thing from an objective, dispassionate scientist.” Since he thinks that using fossil fuels amounts to “a lifestyle of mass destruction” it’s hardly a surprise that he’s willing to sign an anti-coal statement.

What about Bert Metz? His paycheque comes from the European Climate Foundation – the primary purpose of which is to “greatly reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions.” So he’s hardly a disinterested party, either.

Then there’s engineering professor Ogunlade Davidson. This gentleman doesn’t spend his time pursuing scientific truth. Rather, he seems to be a UN bureaucrat in everything but name. According to an online bio, he has links to an eye-popping list of UN bodies:

And let us not overlook Peter Frumhoff. As the coal statement openly admits, he’s employed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). In the words of Mark Lynas – a journalist long sympathetic to climate change activism – that organization is “one of the most ideological of all the green groups.” In Lynas’ view, scientists who work for the UCS “leave their credentials at the door.”

Figueres tells us the people who signed this statement are leading climate scientists. But it takes no more than a few minutes to determine that many of them are unabashed activists – and that others have an uncomfortably close relationship with her own employer.

This coal document is, therefore, a political statement. It represents the philosophical opinions of a select group of individuals. It is an insult to our intelligence to pretend – as Figueres does – that it deserves our attention on scientific grounds.



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