Judging by the firestorm blowing around the IPCC’s next report, the science of climate change is about to get its own major workout.
As we all know, the global political branch of the United Nations climate machine — the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — froze up in the deserts of Qatar earlier this month. Meeting in Doha, the UNFCCC Congress of the Parties failed to reach a new carbon policy and wealth-sharing agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol. Maybe next year.
So how is the science branch of the United Nations climate machine — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — making out? Judging by the firestorm blowing around the IPCC’s next report, the science of climate change is about to get its own major workout.
A week ago Friday, a draft of the IPCC’s next science report was leaked by U.S. climate skeptic and anti-regulation crusader Alec Rawls. Known as a “First Order Draft” of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the 1,000-plus-page document comes with a warning on every page: “Do not cite, quote or distribute.”
Too late for that, because the AR5 draft is being cited, quoted and distributed all over the globe, creating a new climate science freakout, with skeptics and alarmists at one another’s throats. For those of us who are non-scientists, the result can only be beneficial.
The report, which reviews the fundamental physical science issues and conclusions that supposedly support the global warming policy issues, is not schedule to be released until well into 2013. Assessment reports have been leaked in the past, but this appears to be the first time an IPCC report has received such a full public he-said she-said science review before being released as a final “consensus” document.
I have no intention of trying to wade through or understand the science in the AR5 draft. The point is to highlight and draw attention to the firestorm that’s grown around the leak — over rising temperature estimates, the role of the Sun in climate change, climate models, extreme weather events and other issues. More important, though, is the degree to which the leak demonstrates that the IPCC science-creating system is a flawed system.
To quote Andrew Revkin of The New York Times, the Web leak of the IPCC’s AR5 document “provides fresh evidence that the organization’s policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.”
The leak came from Mr. Rawls, a Republican skeptic with a buzzsaw brain who signed up as an expert reviewer. When he received his copy, he leaked it. Because of his views, Mr. Rawls spun the AR5, claiming among other things that it contained a “game-changing admission” that the Sun’s solar magnetic field affects climate.
The Rawls spin generated reaction on all sides of the climate issue. Skeptics took up his arguments and found others in the leaked AR5 to support their side of the debate. At the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London, David Whitehouse zeroed in on the AR5’s graphic recognition that its previous computer-temperature warnings have failed to materialize. Models projected rises over the last two decades, when in fact no increase has taken place.
Others piped in on other issues. Roger Pielke Jr., of the University of Colorado, said AR5 amounts to an “almost complete reversal” of the previous claims regarding trends in hurricanes, drought, and floods. The IPCC now has “low confidence” that hurricanes have increased: “Current data sets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency.”
As the skeptics wound up, so did the alarmists. A writer for The Guardian attacked Alec Rawls, saying he has “completely misrepresented” the report. A scientist, Steven Sharwood, attacked Rawls for having reached “ridiculous” conclusions on solar radiation. Rawls has since counterattacked.
All this and more can be found at the blog sites and in media commentaries. Some worthwhile cites include Rawls blog, skepticalscience.com, climatedepot, climate spectator, the Global Warming Policy Foundation and many others. A good starting point is Mr. Revkin at The New York Times, whose blog post links to scores of sites and the leaked AR5 document.
The good of this is that we have a science debate, rather than a dumped consensus. It’s not pretty, but it is an improvement over the secretive science that has dominated the IPCC since its inception.