Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Manipulation of a Summary document makes the UN’s climate panel look like an overly-protective, hysterical mother.
A week ago, I reiterated that the draft of the all-important Summary for Policymakers finalized last October by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was far from official. That’s because the IPCC isn’t a place in which scientists have the last word.
Everyone involved understands that the summary of the Working Group 2 section of its new report is going to be re-written. This will happen during four days of a meeting now getting underway in Yokohama, Japan (more info on that strange, nakedly political process here).
Journalists are barred from attending this four-day meeting. Since the IPCC insists it is a transparent organization, this is outrageous. If nothing improper will be going on, why will the doors be locked? If the science is so cut-and-dried, so clear and unequivocal, why all the secrecy?
But now something unprecedented has happened. Another version of the summary – dated today – has leaked. In turns out that last October’s Final Draft won’t actually get discussed in Yokohama. Instead, it has already been extensively manipulated.
In this new version, many phrases have been struck out. Others have been added. On page 11, there used to be a paragraph that said this:
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 (medium evidence, medium agreement). 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, and aggregate impacts hide large differences between and within countries. The incremental economic impact of emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide lies between a few dollars and several hundreds of dollars per tonne of carbon (robust evidence, medium agreement). Estimates vary strongly with the assumed discount rate, with larger ranges for lower discount rates. [bold in the original]
The summary now says this, on page 14:
Global aggregate economic impacts from climate change are difficult to estimate. Impact estimates are incomplete and depend on a large number of assumptions, many of which are disputable, and they do not yet account for catastrophic changes, tipping points, and many other details. Aggregate impacts hide large differences between countries. Assessed estimates of global aggregate economic losses at global mean temperature increase of ~2.5°C above recent levels are between 0.2 and 2.0% of income (mean ± 1 standard deviation) (medium evidence, medium agreement). Losses increase with greater warming, but little is known about aggregate economic impacts above 3°C. The incremental economic impact of emitting carbon dioxide lies between a few dollars and several hundreds of dollars per tonne of carbon (robust evidence, medium agreement). Estimates vary strongly with the assumed damage function and discount rate, with larger ranges for lower discount rates.
While the historical moment from which temperature increases are calculated has shifted – from a preindustrial to a contemporary time frame – in both versions we’re told that the economic losses may be utterly trivial – 0.2% of income – or moderate (2% of income).
In both instances, we read that the economic harm associated with emitting a tonne of carbon dioxide could be “several hundreds of dollars.” But it could also be an insignificant “few dollars.” So far, so good. The message is balanced. Both ends of the spectrum are acknowledged.
But the people manipulating this document behind the scenes couldn’t resist inserting some scary language. After admitting that future economic harm is difficult to quantify because estimates depend on a host of debatable assumptions, the summary now talks about catastrophic changes and tipping points.
In other words, although economists have little idea what might happen, let’s remind everyone that really bad things are possible. This is the equivalent of a mother telling her daughter that, on her way to the high school dance, she might be kidnapped and sexually assaulted.
Who inserted this drama queen language? We have a right to know their names.
Elsewhere, the two paragraphs that deal with food security have undergone a total rewrite. Here’s how they used to look:
Here’s how they look now:
In both versions, the first sentence contains a crucial phrase: “without adaptation.” In other words, the IPCC is telling us that if farmers don’t adapt to changing circumstances, food production will be adversely affected.
Duh. Of course it will. But humanity’s big strength has always been our ability to adapt. To wet seasons and dry, to chilly summers and scorching ones. Continuing our mother and daughter analogy, this is the equivalent of a mom telling her daughter that, if she doesn’t wear a winter coat while away at college, she’ll get ill.
The IPCC only has space for two paragraphs in its Summary for Policymakers to talk about humanity’s food supply, and this banal observation is the best it can do?
Last October’s version of the summary tells us (see line 30 above), that both positive and negative impacts on crop yields have been projected (a softer, more nebulous word than ‘predicted’). The version leaked today strikes out that sentence (see lines 40-41). Now the IPCC is declaring that:
negative yield impacts and potentially negative impacts on non-production elements of the food system…
could be associated with a “4°C or more above late-20th-century levels.”
But a rise of 4°C from today’s global average temperature is highly improbable. No one expects anything like that to happen anytime soon. This is mom telling daughter that, should an earthquake be followed by a nuclear war, food might be hard to come by.
Honestly. What rubbish.
Paul Matthews has noticed other bits of alarmist language in the newly leaked summary that weren’t there earlier – read about them here