This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
We teach children that a summary should accurately reflect a longer document. But that’s not what happens at the world’s most important climate body.
A week ago, Agence France Press (AFP) published a news story about a UN organization known as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). That story has since been reproduced by media outlets in the UK, India, and the Middle East.
The story is headlined Oceans turning from friend to foe, warns landmark UN climate report. It begins this way:
The same oceans that nourished human evolution are poised to unleash misery on a global scale unless the carbon pollution destabilising Earth’s marine environment is brought to heel, warns a draft UN report obtained by AFP.
Destructive changes already set in motion could see a steady decline in fish stocks, a hundred-fold or more increase in the damages caused by superstorms, and hundreds of millions of people displaced by rising seas, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “special report” on oceans and Earth’s frozen zones…
As the author of two books about this UN body, I consider this story remarkable. To me, it sounds as though it was written by the IPCC’s own press officer.
Let’s start with the claim, in the headline, that there’s something special about this report, that this is a landmark event. Err, that’s how every IPCC report gets described.
In paragraph five, readers are informed that this is the “fourth such tome from the UN in less than a year.” The report released last October was similarly called a landmark report, so was the one released a few weeks ago. When the press tells you everything the IPCC does is a landmark, you know you’re being fed a line.
In its first sentence, this news story talks about carbon pollution. Excuse me? Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas the IPCC is most worried about. C02 is exhaled by each of us, including every newborn child.
Also known as plant food, without carbon dioxide all life on this planet would perish. Carbon dioxide is therefore not pollution in any normal sense of that word. When a journalist uses such language, they aren’t reporting. They’re propagandizing.
We’re advised in paragraphs two and four that really bad things could happen. So what? The UN has been predicting the apocalypse pretty much non-stop for decades:
It’s at this point that our run-of-the-mill news story turns decidedly strange. We’re told:
Governments meet in Monaco next month to vet the new report’s official summary. [bold added]
For years, I’ve been pointing out that the IPCC is, first and foremost, a political organization. That its membership is comprised of governments. That these governments do, indeed, vet IPCC documents before they’re officially made public.
Most journalists don’t realize this goes on. Or they completely overlook its significance. Yet here’s a major news agency talking about this. That’s progress. Bravo!
Except for what the news story says next:
While the underlying science – drawn from thousands of peer-reviewed studies – cannot be modified, diplomats with scientists at their elbow will tussle over how to frame the findings, and what to leave in or out. [bold added]
Here we see the AFP admitting that a tussle takes place between diplomats – political beasts – and scientists. Here we see the AFP admitting that this tussle determines how certain facts get framed (read: spun) for public consumption. Here we see the AFP admitting that political considerations determine what gets left in or taken out.
And here we see the AFP telling readers none of that matters. Because the underlying science cannot be modified.
This deserves 10 points for chutzpah. And another 10 for deceptively clever wording.
It’s irrelevant to declare that IPCC findings don’t alter published scientific work. What sane person would imagine that to be the case?
The IPCC asks scientists to read published research on its behalf and to decide what it means. IPCC reports are themselves not science. They are a series of interpretations and judgment calls.
HOW THE IPCC WORKS
Scientists are invited to help write a certain chapter of a report. But they lack the power to even alter the title of their chapter. They’re given an outline and are expected to stick to it. They can’t ignore topics they consider unimportant, or discuss topics that haven’t been pre-approved.
Afterward, some of these scientists are tasked with writing a summary of the larger, overall report. If science ruled at the IPCC, that summary would be released directly to the public. Instead it gets rewritten by politicians, diplomats, and bureaucrats. During a multi-day meeting. The result is a politically negotiated summary that is then designated as the official truth. Everything bows down before it.
We teach children that a summary should accurately reflect a longer document. But things are topsy-turvy at the IPCC. The underlying report, the document written by scientists – the one that was supposedly being summarized – then gets modified. So that it conforms to the official, politically acceptable truth.
The IPCC calls these modifications trickle backs. After the summary of its recent report about climate change and land use was re-written at one of these meetings, 125 separate changes were made to the underlying report.
15 changes were made to Chapter 1. More than 30 changes were made to Chapter 5. Even definitions were tussled over. Political actors thought they knew better than scientists how to define terms such as C02 fertilization, vegetation greening, and vegetation browning.
This isn’t a mistake. It isn’t a misunderstanding. And it’s not a secret. This is how the IPCC operates.
So here we have Agence France Press distributing a news story that actively justifies and defends the political manipulation of scientific judgment calls.
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