Economist wants slice of IPCC pie…

Following on from Tim Lamberts post on Lindzens latest nonsense I found this from Henderson (as-in C+H). Its from the same conference.

Its stuffed full of misrepresentation and errors, so much so that you don’t get any points for spotting them. The main point seems to be: IPCC should have more economists on board. Of course it shouldn’t: its mostly about climate science and so it should be. If they feel like, the economists could develope their own future CO2 scenarios, and why don’t they ? (answer: SRES already spans the range and developing yet more is pointless). A secondary point is: the IPCC shouldn’t aim for consensus. This seems like a breathtakingly audacious attempt to get them to produce a report that says nothing and comes to no conclusions. Why they should wish to take this advice is unclear; happily there is of course no chance of it occurring.

Why is Henderson wasting his breath on this stuff? Perhaps for the last bit: trying to get up momentum for an unofficial counter-IPCC report. If they would do it properly it would be fun: the skeptics having to actually try to agree on a position amongst themselves (is the warming all caused by solar variation, or is there really no warming, or…; [[List of scientists opposing global warming consensus]] may be worth a browse, also its talk page…). Perhaps useful would be an informed critique of the report, even if it were only nit-picking; but I doubt they will rise to even that.

19 thoughts on “Economist wants slice of IPCC pie…”

  1. FWIW, my (very vague) understanding is that there is a significant push towards more integrated (by which I mean socioeconomic, not just carbon cycle!) modelling in future IPCC-related work. I’m sure it is not a done deal, but IMO it’s a thoroughly good idea. The time for climate scientists to hide behind the “policy relevant but actually not interacting with policy in any meaningful way” fig leaf is long past.

    [Not at all sure I agree with that – W]


  2. I strongly agree with James. For instance, I have searched high and low for some sort of socioeconomic study of the consequences of the loss of the Tibetan glaciers, but no luck so far despite what seems like the blatant topicality of the subject matter.

    OT: Sea ice in the news:,,1774815,00.html . There’s nothing official on the NSIDC site just now, but I assume there will be tomorrow. If I were a sea ice modeler with a blog, I’d do a post on this.

    [Hmmm, maybe I will. Though given Coby’s comment… -W]


  3. Coby, it is not trends that are going to convince (sway) people one way or another. The reply will always be what is 100 years of data in 6,000 years (if not 6 million or 13.7 billion).

    The relevance to children, grandchildren & sustainable life is water off a duck’s back to selfish, childless, hedonists, who are only concerned in pleasure today (or tonite) and sod tomorrow.

    Talk of holes in the Ozone layer, led to significant changes in fridge manufacturing.

    What is needed is incontroversial proof that greenhouse gases are accumulating higher up, where these gases proceed from and what are the likely effects.

    Granted people wait for disasters to happen before they react. Hitler had to invade Poland, Austria, and Checoslovaquia, before people took seriously any German Military threat.

    And whether you like it or not, people (not only US Americans) whether they believe in A God or not, have the inherent belief/faith that when they wake up the next day, the garbage collectors will remove the garbage, the rain will settle the dust (except where it doesn’t rain), and the winds (breeze) will remove the pollution & exhaust fumes.

    What they clearly fail to realise, is that just as the garbage has to end up somewhere, the CO2, pollution & greenhouse gases have to end up somewhere. They do not disappear. Even if we cannot see it.

    The Ostrich burying its head in the sand, in the false belief that if it cannot SEE the danger, the danger does not exist, is a fair analogy for Climate Change sceptics.



  4. Well, perhaps there was a certain amount of devil’s advocacy in my comment. But although some people can sit comfortably in the knowlege that their research will always be deemed politically important (if for no reason other than that the occupation of Antartica is strategically important), most of us will have to justify this mountain of money invested in climate reseach in terms of useful benefits to society, if not quite yet, at least eventually. And frankly, I want to do something useful – which is why I’m trying to focus on actually making credible forecasts, rather than just the hand-wringing “oh it might all be dreadful but we aren’t really making a prediction” stuff.

    [Ah, thats fair enough (I too want to do something useful)… but I’m fairly keen on it being a one-way process: climate forecasts as inputs to economic models. That still gives you/me something useful to do. The reason I’m not very keen on coupling econ to climate (which is what H is arguing for) is that there is so much uncertainty in the econ there seems to be little point -W]


  5. But the “scenarios” are the existing feedback from socioeconomics to climate, and they are…limited. I agree that this is a big problem – but simply refusing to touch it, insisting that it is someone else’s problem, is ducking the responsibility IMO. If credible answers are required, then someone has to produce them, and if not us and them together, then who?

    Furthermore, if these wonderfully skillful climate fforecasts cannot be used for credible planning, due the the limitations of the economic modelling, then what is the point of the climate science anyway? Sure, science has cultural value and should be funded anyway – but why such a focus on climate science, if the outputs are not actually useful?

    Have you noticed how keyoards start misbehaving after a few beers?

    [Ah its like that is it? I look forward to wild and unguarded comments 🙂

    From most of what I’ve seen, climate forecasts roughly scale to CO2 level. Its not totally true, there are non-linearities, but given all the other uncertainties I think that if you just write “CO2 level” on the x-axis instead of “Time” then you can do away with a lot of the problems. Once you’ve done that, you either ask the economics (and the bio feedback people) for their favourite CO2 to date conversion, or pick one at random, and hey presto: you have what you need. Without mixing the rather incommesurable cliamte science and economics -W]


  6. I have no desire to defend most of Mr. Henderson’s contentions, but I must respectfully disagree with your contention that the IPCC is and should be ‘mostly about climate science.’ Even the 1995 Second Assessment had only one of three volumes exclusively devoted to climate science; the other two were devoted to economic and social dimensions of the problem, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. As an economist who has worked on climate issues for 15 years I (obviously) strongly feel that the climate community could use a great deal more interaction between economists and climate scientists, on the model of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. The whole SRES process could certainly have benefitted from more input from economists, and in my opinion the failure to encourage that input unnecessarily contributed to the spawning of cranky critiques like Mr. Henderson’s. The fact that the SRES projections span the probable range does not obviate the need to develop a plausible probability range – something the SRES authors refused to attempt on the grounds that they had insufficient information to do so. In the meantime, researchers like the MIT group have provided just such probability ranges, and such work is likely to contribute to a better understanding of the trade-offs involved in mitigating and adapting to change. And although I have no desire to endorse Mr. Henderson’s views on most aspects of the climate problem, he is exactly correct to argue that experts in finance and economic ministries around the world need to be more closely involved in the IPCC process – not to interfere with it or suppress it, but to be able to integrate it into other international economic decision-making. It’s just common sense when you think about it: the international policy won’t make sensible decisions about climate if the most powerful bureaucracies involved don’t have staff who understand the issue inside and out.

    [Thanks for the comment. On the SRES, I have a slightly different perspective, which is that it was always a bit odd for the IPCC to be doing it – future economics scenarios are fairly obviously the province of economics. I guess SRES was started because there was nothing useful available; it would be very desirable to have the entire SRES stuff pretty well disconnected from the IPCC -W]


  7. But in that case (separating scenarios from climate) you are assuming the falsity of that which you (at least, many) are seeking to prove – that climate change may actually have a significant effect on society!

    [Not necessarily – we could all become sad but not affect our CO2 production. However, see next post -W]

    The “CO2 is all that matters” perspective also seems a rather limited one, and I can think of several people (including two with the initials RP) who would disagree strongly. What about land use changes, with their resultant (large) effects on the local climate?


  8. …and what if we have to irrigate ~.5M ha^2 or so of crops to feed 3B more people in 2050? What’s that going to do to the HOH cycle (and the N cycle, and the C cycle with the deforestation), presumably the HOH cycle will scale up to regional effects? In any case, I must disagree with the host and go with guest James on this one.

    And I reiterate that the scenarios are merely management tools, and that the endpoints are expectations provided that the metrics are met along the way; that is: if emissions continue as x, then outcome y can be expected. If you don’t want outcome y, then decrease emissions to the output along the scenario trajectory you want.




  9. I have had a number of conversations with Ian Castles over on Jennifer Marohasey’s blog and he has me convinced of at least one thing, and that is that the a called “Business as Usual” scenario is not well named or very likely (I know the IPCC explicitly stated that none of the scenarios should be thought of as BAU, but it seems that it is common in the climate science community to refer to A2 and A1B as such.

    And didn’t the recent Overpeck et al paper about SL rise use a very extreme CO2 emission scenario, 1% rise per year or some such? I think William has a point that tying proections to CO2 levels rather than year of our lords (years of our lord?) is a good approach. Perhaps a presentation of a table with a CO2 level, equilibrium temperature and sea level committment might be a good starting point.


  10. People have been banging on about land-use changes for decades and haven’t stemmed the tide. If we can’t persuade society to cut CO2 emmissions, then I find it difficult to see how the (IMHO much harder) change in land-use issue can be easily addressed. Not to say that we should stop trying though.


  11. Regarding Henderson’s comments about bringing economists into the discussion of climate change, specificly, the IPCC process.

    I notice that Henderson accepts the criticism by McIntyre and McKitrick of Mann’s 1998 work. Others have shown that this criticism is itself flawed and Mann’s results have been shown to be reasonable by other researchers. Where is Henderson’s expression of concern about errors by M & M??

    Economists operate with limited vision. They tend to assume that the Earth’s life support systems, etc, are not impacted in a meaningful way by economic activity. That is, they draw a boundary around human civilization and consider the rest of the Earth as an “externality”. They then do their calculations of value by ignoring those factors considered external. They also work with a limited horizon with a decade in future being beyond concern in most of their calculations due to discounting.

    I think it would be great to bring the economists into the discussion of climate change. As soon as they let the scientists into their calculations of values and cost/benefit on an equal footing. It seems obvious to me that if economists want to be part of a discussion of conditions 100 years (and more) into the future, then they should be responsible for including ALL impacts as they might be valued over those 100 years. And they should be willing to accept the same sort of critical review of their work that Henderson claims is needed for the IPCC process. For example, why do economists “let” governments get away with running large deficits during times when the economy is said to be thriving? How come we don’t see large numbers of economists commenting about the problem of peak oil, which may be upon us in the immediate future? Sorry, I don’t “buy” Henderson’s complaint.


  12. Eric, I think you are right economics does come into it. Does TB spend a billion or two (pounds sterling) on Nuclear Power is an economic (and political) decision.

    He could have equally said: “I’m gonna spend a billion on two on tidal & estuary power on the Thames & the Mersey”

    As to “economics” there is no logical reason for the current high oil prices, except profiteering. Output is up, there are no longer limits set by OPEC to control Oil output (and therefore prices) yet despite increases in output (above demand) prices are high because therenever has been such a thing as a free market. The US Administration in particular wouldn’t recognise a “free” market if it hit it in the face.

    However because we (England & Europe) have developed an environmental conscious, and are willing to pay high oil prices (and even higher petrol taxes) some people are taking the piss.

    What is the price of a gallon in the uk & Western Europe?
    What is the price of a gallon in the US?
    What is the price of a gallon in China or India?
    What is the price of a gallon in Venezuela or Saudi?

    I’m surprised no Irishman has yet bought a tanker, and started shipping cheap Venezuelan Oil to Eire. That would be a REAL free market, not all this nonsensical price fixing by Oil Companies & Traders.

    Hey if Ryan Air can offer cheap air flights, perhaps Ryan Air should move into the Oil business.

    I’m sick and tired demanding that my ‘constituents’ pay high prices at the pumps only to enrich Oil Companies, US traders and the Treasury. What has Gordon Brown done with his increased revenues.

    It is pointless us making an effort in the uk & Europe, when American gas guzzlers are burning double what we do at less than half the price.

    I’m all for being environmentally responsible, but I stronly object to be taken the piss out of by the US Administration & the Saudi/Kuwaitis or Texaco Oil in Iraq.

    If we pay higher prices at the pump, so should the US, China, India, Russia, Saudi and even my friend Chavez’s people.

    Else any talk of Free Markets and/or Fair Trade is nonsensical, and any talk of environmental awareness nonsensical. We are just pricing the poor off the roads in Europe, those who CAN pay, just pay.

    This is not a fair or just society, this is Elitism od the worst type & Right Wing Conservatism. Provide the Public Transport, and provide good public transport for free with your increase Oil Revenue Taxes, Gordon Brown. Then I’ll believe you are a Socialist, and you’ll see people use Public Transport out of choice (real choice). Not because they are forced to by TBs Thatcherite Economic Policies.


  13. EXACTLY – We are pricing lower household incomes off the road in Europe, when there is an explosion in car ownership & use in China & India.

    If there is Global warming because of CO2 why should the EU try to stem the tide (at home) whilst the US, China & India carry on polluting the Globe with Green house gases.

    It is they that need to be educated & become environmentally conscious, we already ARE. The same goes for the coal industry.



  14. It all depends which economists you involve. Most of what people associate with economics, as Eric also points out, only addresses marginal changes to the status quo. Though dominant in policy, because those who hire economists like to know what they are getting, it is hardly all of economics. If anything, we know that, to address climate change, we need to understand and be able to make choices about structural and non-linear social and economic changes – which will happen whether we do or don’t. And there are different kinds of economists (and geographers and stuff). So, in addition to “getting the science right” we have the problem of “getting the right science” – which is an institutional problem more than a technical one. I have a deadline and need another pot or three of coffee before I write more on this – but I will….


  15. Some of you-all may be interested in this short Note commenting on John Quiggin’s Submission to the Stern Review, “Assessing the costs and benefits of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases”, 17 March 2006. It shows that Quiggin’s claim that meeting the UK’s proposed target of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within 20 years would cost only 3% of national income in total depends on some very questionable assumptions.

    [The British Government has appointed Nicholas Stern (until recently Chief Economist at the World Bank) to review UK energy policy options. Stern’s own paper ‘What is the Economics of Climate Change?’ is available at
    together with responses to it by various academics including John Quiggin; his paper is available at the same site]

    Quiggin seeks to show that “the cost of substantial reductions in emissions implemented over a long period is likely to be of the order of 3% of national income or about one year’s economic growth. On the other hand the potential costs of failure to mitigate global warming may be much greater than this” (p.2). But in reality, as this Note shows, Quiggin actually implies either zero income growth from now to eternity or else unspecified technological advances that somehow eliminate the emissions resulting from rising demand for energy as incomes grow. But if such technological advance can costlessly offset or prevent the emissions otherwise concomitant with the income effect on energy demand, then it can also more painlessly achieve the reductions in emissions that Quiggin attempts to show can be derived from price effects alone.

    1. His numerical estimate of “only” a 3% reduction in national income resulting from a reduction of “energy demand” (and thus emissions) by 50% implies a reduction in total energy demand even though his worked example refers only to demand for transportation fuel. Achieving his 50% reduction in the latter would not achieve the total reduction in emissions of 50% proposed by the British government, as energy for transport acounts for only 30% of total emissions in USA (and somewhat less in Britain and the EU). Thus to reduce total emissions by 60% as proposed by Quiggin (p.4) just by reducing those in the transport sector would require total elimination of all use of petroleum there and some other fossil fuels in other sectors as well, since petroleum accounts for only 40% of total emissions in the USA (and less in Europe). Yet Quiggin asks us to believe that eliminating all use of petroleum would produce only a 3% reduction in national income! Quiggin’s worked example refers only to the motor vehicle end-use of petroleum, and omits aviation; to achieve the targeted reduction in emissions from just motor vehicle use would require cessation of all such use.

    2. Quiggin claims that although Nordhaus and others have estimated that the elasticity of demand for energy in the OECD is – 0.7 (e.g. an increase of 10% in price reduces demand by 7%), the “long run price elasticity of demand” is more likely to be “at least 1 and probably higher” (p.4), along with an income elasticity of just 1 (e.g. a 10% increase in income produces only a 10% increase in fuel demand). Even if Quiggin’s elasticity estimates are correct, the truth is that with per capita income growth in the OECD currently at 2.5%p.a., average incomes will rise by over 60% by 2025, and energy demand by the same amount using Quiggin’s own income elasticity, so that the increase in price needed to reduce transport fuel demand by 50% by 2025 would not even reduce emissions below today’s “catastrophic” level! To achieve the 50% reduction in emissions would involve both preventing the 60% increased demand that results when incomes rise, as well as the 50% reduction in today’s usage he claims to be feasible at minimal cost. Thus his model requires if not a reduction in incomes of at least 60%, back to levels not seen since 1980, then at least a total cessation of growth so as to keep national income at 2005 levels in perpetuity. The forgone cost by 2025 would be 64% of average OECD per capita income in 2005, or more than 20 times larger than the one-off loss of 3% of GDP touted by Quiggin.

    4. Quiggin does at one point (p.4) again acknowledge that income growth raises energy demand, but claims that unspecified “exogenous” technological change along with unspecified induced “changes in the emissions-intensity of efficiency use will yield emissions reductions sufficient to offset the effects of income growth and reduce emissions by a further 20% for a total reduction of 60%”. These unspecified changes are un-costed, and like the whole paper merely assume what was announced would be proved.

    5. Quiggin’s neglect of the effect of rising incomes as an offset to rising fuel prices is indicated by his assumption that the latter is “already” leading to a fall in demand for SUVs, for which he offers no citation. However it has been reported that it is rising demand for its SUVs that has improved General Motors’ prospects this year. Quiggin again overlooks the income elasticty of demand and its associated scale factor: a 3% increase in an income of $100,000 p.a. or $3000 is clearly enough to offset the effects of doubling petrol costs for average annual usage from even as much as $1,000 in 2000 to say $2,000 in 2006 (the actual increase in pump prices in Canberra Australia on 28 May 2000 was A$0.889, and on the same day in 2006 A$1.32, an increase of 48%).

    6. Quiggin’s paper is equally unreliable on the costs of doing nothing about global warming. He rejects the estimates of the costs of the alleged loss of biodiversity arising from climate change by Nordhaus and others as trivially low, when the truth is that first, there are pace Nordhaus unlikely to be any net losses, and even if there were, there is no evidence that there will be any measurable financial or economic cost of any such loss. En passant, it is curious that while global warmers tend to be as much evolutionists as apparently deniers like Roy Spencer are agnostic or even creationist, yet the former totally discount the ability of almost all known species that already cope with daily changes in temperature of as much as 20 degrees C (as in Canberra at present) – not to mention an annual range from -7C to 35C – to adapt (or evolve!) to handle the IPCC “scenario” rise of 3C, implying a new range here of say -6 to 37, and mutatis mutandis elsewhere. And if they do not so adapt or adjust, tant pis, we have survival of the fittest. As for flooding in Venice, what’s new there? but in any case there is NO evidence of net rises in sea levels anywhere else.

    7. Quiggin concludes that doing nothing “carries with it both a small but economically significant possibility of catastrophic loss and the certainty (!!!) of massive damage to natural ecosystems” (for neither is any evidence offered). However quite near to his home, the recent cyclone Larry in North Queensland was certainly catastrophic for the affected communities, and has resulted in a severe shortage of bananas (in Australia, largely because of refusal to import) – but both these effects are short term, and it is doubtful even if global emissions had been reduced by 50% since 1990 that Larry would have been avoided, since the cyclone that hit Darwin in 1976 was even more catastrophic, despite much lower emissions then than now. Not only that, the damage incurred in Darwin is a distant memory, and the city has been rebuilt in a manner that makes it more able to withstand a future cyclone.


    As a former economics lecturer, albeit 36 years ago, I am fearful for those who sit at the feet of John Quiggin, with his apparent inability to cope with income and price elasticities of demand. I know he can do better that, and I hope he will demonstrate that by NOW


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