This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
At the United Nations, science doesn’t speak for itself. It’s hammered out during secret, all-nighter negotiating sessions.
Two weeks from today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will hold a press conference. There, a document will be released that will purport to summarize the 30 chapters that comprise the Working Group 2 section of its latest climate report.
Although this document will be called the Summary for Policymakers, it could truthfully be described as something else – a Summary by Policymakers. IPCC personnel finished drafting it more than four months ago. A few days later, it became part of the public domain after it was leaked.
Yet the final version remains unwritten. That’s because the IPCC is about to hold a four-day, behind closed doors, barred-to-the-media meeting in which every line in this document will be projected onto huge screens and then haggled over.
The summary’s ultimate wording will be determined by a nakedly political process – a negotiation involving politicians and bureaucrats (aka policymakers) representing as many as 180 sovereign governments.
The IPCC, you see, is a United Nations body. And at the United Nations, science doesn’t speak for itself. It’s something that gets hammered out during secret, all-nighter horse-trading sessions.
Certain factions will demand that some parts of the summary be struck out. Others will insist that entirely new statements be inserted. Arguments will erupt over which ideas should receive increased emphasis.
When it’s all over, IPCC officials will tell reporters attending the press conference that science has spoken and that these conclusions deserve to be taken seriously.
The current version of the Summary for Policymakers contains 15 pages of text and another 15 pages of tables and figures. At this point, some of the text is distinctly unalarming.
This document tells us, for example, that minimal warming will pose no more than moderate risks to the world’s economy:
Risks to the overall global economy…become moderate for warming between 1-2°C… [p. 8, bold added]
Since there’s no such thing as a risk-free world, what’s the big deal?
The summary says that perfectly ordinary social forces will impact the economy more significantly than will climate change:
For most economic sectors…changes in population, age structure, income, technology, relative prices, lifestyle, regulation and governance will be large relative to the impacts of climate change… [p.11, bold added]
It also says it’s entirely possible that minimal warming won’t cause much economic damage at all – and suggests we have little idea what would happen if temperatures increased dramatically:
Global mean temperature increase of 2.5°C above preindustrial levels may lead to global aggregate economic losses of 0.2 and 2.0% of income…Losses increase with greater warming, but little is known about aggregate economic impacts above 3°C. Impact estimates are incomplete and depend on a large number of assumptions, many of which are disputable… [p. 11, bold added]
Will these calm, careful statements survive the upcoming four days of IPCC politicking? Or will they disappear?