The IPCC May Have Outlived its Usefulness?

So says La Curry. She is only two years behind the times. Or maybe a year and a half. To be fair, that is only the headline. But the rest of the content is what you’d expect from a shark-jumper. I cant really be bothered to analyse it, unless anyone out there is unable to see the flaws for themselves.

IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation

Which is a bit of a mouthful, so they call it SREX. In the traditional and slightly unlovely IPCC way, you can read the SPM now but will have to wait awhile for the report. But it provides enough for me to mount my hobby horses, so giddy-up!

The first point is that extremes are useless for detecting or attributing climate change: if you want to know if the globe is warming, you should look at the global temperature series. Attempting to say “floods in Pakistan – global warming must be real” is silly (depending on what you mean by “real”. I mean, “is actually happening”. If you mean “will have actual noticeable effects on you in real life more interesting and alarming than just a gradual rise in average temperature” then you might just justify the “real”, but its a confusing use of the word. And of course, floods in Pakistan don’t have any effect on me. Or you). Extreme events don’t have stable statistics, because they are extreme, so concluding anything from them is much harder than concluding things from averages. So they start with

There is evidence from observations gathered since 1950 of change in some extremes. Confidence in observed changes in extremes depends on the quality and quantity of data and the availability of studies analyzing these data, which vary across regions and for different extremes. Assigning “low confidence” in observed changes of a specific extreme on regional or global scales neither implies nor excludes the possibility of changes in this extreme.

which is really only preparing you for the lack of excitement later on:

It is very likely that there has been an overall decrease in the number of cold days and nights, and an overall increase in the number of warm days and nights, on the global scale… there is medium confidence that the length or number of warm spells, or heat waves, has increased… There have been statistically significant trends in the number of heavy precipitation events in some regions. It is likely that more of these regions have experienced increases than decreases, although there are strong regional and subregional variations in these trends.

So far so dull: it has got warmer. We knew that anyway. Then they go on to wind up the cyclone-trend folks:

There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities. It is likely that there has been a poleward shift in the main Northern and Southern Hemisphere extra-tropical storm tracks. There is low confidence in observed trends in small spatial-scale phenomena such as tornadoes and hail because of data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems

but don’t forget their original point that low confidence doesn’t exclude an effect. And then:

Increasing exposure of people and economic assets has been the major cause of the longterm increases in economic losses from weather- and climate-related disasters (high confidence). Long-term trends in economic disaster losses adjusted for wealth and population increases have not been attributed to climate change, but a role for climate change has not been excluded (medium evidence, high agreement)

Attribution:

There is evidence that some extremes have changed as a result of anthropogenic influences… It is likely that anthropogenic influences have led to warming of extreme daily minimum and maximum temperatures on the global scale. There is medium confidence that anthropogenic influences have contributed to intensification of extreme precipitation on the global scale… The uncertainties in the historical tropical cyclone records, the incomplete understanding of the physical mechanisms linking tropical cyclone metrics to climate change, and the degree of tropical cyclone variability provide only low confidence for the attribution of any detectable changes in tropical cyclone activity to anthropogenic influences.

Yup, that’s right: its got warmer, as wedunnit. We knew that already. But the cyclones are too wobbly to say much about them. And dealing with it? Deep insights such as

Developed countries are often better equipped financially and institutionally to adopt explicit measures to effectively respond and adapt to projected changes in exposure, vulnerability, and climate extremes than developing countries

So all in all, nothing exciting or surprising. RP Jr is happy with it, no surprise, and Romm is well pissed off, ditto. As usual, Pielke wipes the floor with Romm. Revkin appears to be sane but dull.

I seem to have forgotten what my second point was. Never mind. I didn’t quite get to the end of the SPM. Hopefully that isn’t too obvious.

Refs

* Nurture – boring
* RC is mostly interested in the cyclones
* JF has the right idea

What to do with the IPCC

So, I didn’t like the IAC prescription for the IPCC. So I need my own. And I forgot that I already had one. PK said it well in the comments:

How many IPCC reports does it take to screw in a light bulb? The bureaucratic solution for inefficient bureaucracy always seems to be more bureaucracy. If the purpose of the IPCC is to inform governments on climate change and its possible impacts, the job is pretty much done. If the purpose is to provide a rationale for global taxation and control of CO2, we’ll be arguing over the results of AR15.

but it bears repeating and expanding. No number of IPCC reports is going to convince people who don’t want to know, that the science is good and, yes, to use that term that everyone hates, settled – at least in the basics. You can – if you hold your nose – visit any number of septic blog sites and find people arguing passionately for positions totally divorced from scientific knowledge. These people don’t argue against what is in the IPCC reports, because they have never read them or anything vaguely based on them. Producing another bigger fatter more up to date version will not sway them. That is fine really – such people aren’t the target audience. But they are voters, and politicians can’t be too bold while their constituents believe twaddle.

Some people still seem to hold the belief that the *next* IPCC report – which will be even more unequivocal on the-temperature-is-going-up-and-it-is-our-fault – will change peoples mind. I’m very dubious about that. For that kind of thing, we have all the evidence that is required (disclaimers: I’m only really speaking about WGI stuff, because it is the only thing i have a clue about, and I’m not saying we should shut down all the physical climate change research. There are plenty of exciting and interesting things to discover. But they won’t change the big picture). This is, I think (but can’t be bothered to look up) the RP Jr viewpoint: that doing something about GW is a political problem, not a scientific one (in a way that it wasn’t in, say, 1990, when the scientific field was far more open).

So while I stick by what I said a while back I think then I didn’t really understand what I would now take to be the key point: which is to stop trying to make WGI policy relevant. Make the WGI report much smaller; less bureaucratic; put fewer people on it. Report on less research. There is no need at all for it to summarise everything, or even try to. Put a note on the front page: “This is a research report. If you care about the politics, go elsewhere. We’ve already told you all you need to know”.

See also

* IPCC troubles in context: Some good Dutch media coverage
* A modest proposal for the IPCC – page limits are a good start, and hive off detail. I’d make them stricter.

IAC review of the IPCC

It am all de rage, as they say. But is it any good? And who are the IAC anyway? Go on, hands up, before they were asked to do this: had anyone heard of them? Thought not: I certainly hadn’t. This is an organisation so well-known that the wikipedia article on [[IAC]] (note: that is today’s version; I assume that someone will add it, eventually) doesn’t even include them, although it has space for 15 or so other IAC’s. Although Gavin seems to quite like the report, I’m less sure. So before getting down to reading the report, here is another piece of meta-analysis: if you read the exec summary it notes that the first IAC report was Inventing a Better Future – A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology. You’ve heard of it? Unlikely – google news shows no hits and all the google hits seem to be to the usual people you’d expect to note it and ignore it. I note that All IAC draft reports undergo an intensive process of peer-review by other international experts though unlike the IPCC it isn’t an open review process – we can’t see the reviewers comments, let alone see the various drafts (and it does need review: there is an error on p iii of the exec summary, where they fail to capitalise Winnacker’s surname. Trivial, obviously).

A bit more preamble, in the spirit of declaring COI: when I was in science, I was very peripherally involved in the IPCC, as was everyone; but I never rose to the dizzy ranks of contributing author or even close; I just talked to a few people who were writing stuff.

Anyway, I can no longer put off actually reading the thing… but then I realised I couldn’t be bothered. So I just read the exec summary. This means you should discount what I say by some appropriate amount.

But before I go on, I should quote the preamble, which is there to be ignored (most of the news reports on the IAC report did, of course):

Since its founding more than 20 years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) can claim many important accomplishments to its credit. First among these are the periodic assessments of our understanding of the nature, origin, and impact of observed changes in the world’s climate. Also among its significant contributions has been the sustaining of a global focus on climate change. Indeed IPCC has provided the framework for a continued and rather remarkable international conversation on climate research both among scientists and policymakers. In many ways IPCC, with its massive, far-flung, and decentralized network of scientists along with the governments represented on the Panel, represents a significant social innovation. For these and other contributions the IPCC was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Or, put another way: “the IPCC has been a great success. But faced with some worthless criticism we’ll ignore all that and produce some headless-chicken recommendations.”

Continue reading “IAC review of the IPCC”

Zorita scents gravy

Every cloud has a silver lining, and it looks like Zorita is jockeying for some of the silver: the Future of IPCC apparently is to morph into one of those nice International agencies which pay so well and are headquarted in rather nice cities, staffed by… well, clearly by the likes of independent-minded folk such as Eduardo. As he says so wisely As with finance, climate assessment is too important to be left in the hands of advocates, or other scum like the current IPCC authors: sweep them all away and leave it in the hands of people who are prepared to admit their errors… oh, wait.

And I cannot resist a totally off-topic link to Eli’s Cthulhu Explains it All. Wonderful.

Speaking very vaguely of which (I mean, of being off-topic): why not read about Coverity?

Letter from Holland

There is a good letter from some Dutch scientists at Open brief Nederlandse klimaatonderzoekers over IPCC en over fouten in Klimaatrapport 2007 (don’t worry, its in English too). I think it does a good job of setting the recent “IPCC is utterly corrupt / mistaken / broken / infiltrated by space aliens / needs to be disbanded” thing in perspective.

The IPCC: dissolve it or not?

A couple of people have asked me this – I think it came up in Ask Stoat (I haven’t forgotten, you know, just busy). Anyway, it seems like a great post – bound to be flamebait and get my comment count soaring!

You won’t be too shocked to learn that I think it should be reformed, not dissolved. But how?

[Update: some of this gets quoted in http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/feb/10/ipcc-reform -W]
Continue reading “The IPCC: dissolve it or not?”