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It has been a recurring pattern that the most dramatic of conclusions reached by the IPCC, are shown to arise from exaggerated claims in literature put out by environmental pressure groups. The latest addition to the list is the Greenpeace-generated factoid that ‘80% of the world’s energy demand in 2050 could be met by renewable sources’ which found its way onto the IPCC pedestal. For new readers, is an accessible source for much of the background and primary information (search for posts tagged ‘Greenpeace’ appearing in June 2011)

Many interested parties responded to the initial criticism which arose mainly in the and environmentalist Mark Lynas blogs. The responses that issued from the IPCC official organ – via statements from Ottmar Edenhofer – followed particularly predictable lines. In a recent opinion piece in Nature Climate Change reiterates andexpands the same points offered previously. Unoriginally one might add, writer Kyle Niemeyer in ArsTechnica paraphrases and reproduces exclusively ‘the Edenhofer Excuse’.

What is the Edenhofer Excuse?

Ottmar Edenhofer’s arguments defending the IPCC, though multifarious are plainly contradictory to each other and are easily seen to violate commonly-understood academic standards. It goes like this:

  1. ‘the problem of conflict, if any, is very limited’, ‘Teske was just one author (and not the lead author)’, ‘it is a multi-authored report which went through ‘many’ rounds of review’, ‘the SRREN is a massive effort with hundreds of pages’
  2. the Greenpeace’s scenario was ‘just one of one-hundred and sixty four scenarios’ evaluated
  3. Sven Teske was just one of the authors of the Greenpeace scenario
  4. The Greenpeace scenario was actually performed by the German Aerospace Agency DLR. Greenpeace only just commissioned it.

Argument from dilution

The ‘argument from dilution’ of problems arising from Sven Teske’s authorship is indeed regrettable. It establishes immediately, that those who defend the IPCC in this episode perceive fully the nature of the problem in front of them.

More importantly, the approach of containing damage to the IPCC by emphasizing the supposedly limited nature of Greenpeace’s involvement is plainly wrong as will be shown. It is noteworthy that Mark Lynas, in hiscomment in the same journal, buys into the same argument thus paving for a casual dismissal by Edenhofer:

At issue was the selection of four ‘illustrative scenarios’ in chapter 10 of the SRREN, one of which was based on a Greenpeace campaign report called Energy (R)evolution, a later version of which was also published in the journal Energy Efficiency.

Examination of the IPCC’s report quickly establishes facts to be otherwise -the issue is not circumscribed. The Greenpeace-EREC scenario featured prominently in almost every chapter in the report – and not just Chapter 10 – where it became the de facto high-end scenario. In these chapters, it is presented as a ‘just another’ viable alternative, providing a point of contrast with other studies. On more than one occasion, the Greenpeace scenario features as the only scenario offering numerical data, with no matching data points from any other for ‘comparison’.

1) In Chapter 3 – on direct solar energy, the IPCC makes the claim that solar energy growth “is anticipated to accelerate dramatically in alternative scenarios that seek a more dramatic transformation of the global energy sector towards lower carbon emissions.” It supports this by a layout of the different Greenpeace scenarios as shown:

Talbe 3.7 p545 IPCC SRREN

Three different scenarios from Teske et al 2010 are ‘compared’ to one from the IEA, which even lacks basic projected estimates for adoption of solar heat, photovoltaic and concentrated solar panel electricity. The table and the underlying IPCC conclusion on future adoption of direct solar energy, in effect, are drawn directly from the Greenpeace-EREC report.

2) In Chapter 5 – on hydroelectric power, where estimates for ‘levelized cost of electricity’ (LCOE) drawn from the Greenpeace-commissioned Teske et al 2010 and Krewitt et al 2009, are presented.

Table 5.7a p 676 IPCC SRREN

Table 5.7b p 677 IPCC SRREN

3) In Chapter 6 – on ocean energy (which includes ocean thermal, tidal and wave energy), where the Greenpeace scenarios, once again, are almost the sole sources for estimates of the world’s adoption of ocean energy in the future

Table 6.5 p 743 IPCC SRREN

4) In Chapter 7 – on wind energy where Greenpeace estimates of global total wind energy deployment and its ‘regional breakdown’, are compared to two other scenarios:

Table 7.7 p 836 IPCC SRREN

5) In Chapter 4 – on geothermal energy contributions, where the Greenpeace estimate of 4.59 exajoules/year – a figure that is greater than seven-fold greater than a comparable IEA estimate, is quoted by the IPCC to be reached by the year 2030.

6) In Chapter 4 – on geothermal energy contributions, where the Greenpeace-commissioned Krewitt et al 2009 is quoted for the IPCC’s claim that geothermal energy as a source of electricity generation could experience  an “annual growth rate of 10.4%” between the years 2005 and 2030.

7) In Chapter 7 – on wind energy, where IPCC makes the claim that “scenarios literature [also] shows that wind energy could play a significant long-term role in reducing global GHG emissions”, citing Teske et al 2010’s estimate of a 31 exajoules/year contribution by 2050, in its support.

8) In chapter 10 which is the IPCC chapter on cost and ‘mitigation potentials’, the Greenpeace scenario is not just the source for the ‘~80% of the world’s energy to be derived from ‘renewable sources’ claim, but a whole host of other comparisons and resulting conclusions. In terms of its estimates on how renewable energy would contribute to future heat generation, in transportation sector estimates, in its estimate of how different regions of world would adapt renewable energy sources, in gigatons of CO2 ‘saved’ per year globally, and in estimates of global costs in billion US dollars/decade, the IPCC repeatedly cites individual figures drawn from the Greenpeace – EREC scenario.

What can we conclude about Greenpeace in the SRREN?

From the above it is clear that the IPCC drew upon the Greenpeace-commissioned literature for an across-the-board range of claims on a variety of renewable energy sources, in several chapters. Rather than being confined to Chapter 10, the Greenpeace scenario becomes the basis for several minor and major conclusions and comparisons throughout the 1544-page report. Indeed many of the involved passages, in addition to citing Greenpeace scenarios refer to the key chapter 10 to bolster the made claims.

Therefore the Edenhofer representation – that the Teske et al-authored Greenpeace scenario formed just one small part of the IPCC report on renewables, is not sustainable. So are arguments that it was purely a ‘matter of a wrongly-framed IPCC press release’.

Edenhofer states that in “all IPCC assessments, teams of leading experts consider large bodies of literature”, and that the IPCC decision to analyse the Greenpeace scenario “in greater depth” amongst the 164 studied, “was made by the team, not by any single author”.

Contrarily however, it is amply evident that a similar decision to highlight the Teske et al-derived scenarios was made, not only by the authors of Chapter 10 of whom Teske was one, but by author teams of almost every chapter as well. In Chapter 10, the same trend only worsens. Authors across several chapters must have surely analysed ‘large bodies of literature’, but they all consistently chose to make prominent conclusions from a narrow body, i.e., those derived from the Greenpeace papers.

Further down, Edenhofer gently advocates letting activists some room in the IPCC as there are safeguards in place. “The structure of author teams and the writing and review process”, he declares, “prevent viewpoints of any single author from dominating the assessment”. The structure of several writing teams and the review process appears to have worked little to mitigate against quoting Greenpeace.

This speaks to a report-wide phenomenon in its approach toward Greenpeace literature in the IPCC SRREN, and material from advocacy fronts in general.

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