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The IPCC: More Sins of Omission – Telling the Truth but Not the Whole Truth

In an earlier post, The IPCC: Hiding the Decline…, I argued that even more egregious than the IPCC’s mistaken claim that Himalayan glaciers would be mainly gone by 2035, was the willful omission in the IPCC Working Group II’s 2007 Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the fact that global warming could reduce the net global population at risk of water shortage. That this was a willful decision on the part of the authors of the of the IPCC SPM is suggested by the fact that one of the Expert comments on the Second Order Draft (SOD) of the SPM had explicitly warned that: “It is disingenuous to report the population ‘new water stressed’ without also noting that as many, if not more, may no longer be water stressed (if Arnell’s analyses are to be trusted).”

In this post I will show that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern. I will show that there are other sins of omission which are also very unlikely to have occurred due to ignorance of the impacts literature or careless reporting, and that it was probably due to a conscious effort to tell the truth, but not the whole truth.

Before identifying other sins of omission, I should note that over the years, our political leaders, e.g., President Clinton, Prime Minister Blair, President Chirac, President Sarkozy, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — have told us frequently that global warming is one of the – if not the – most important policy issues facing the world today.  While there is no scientific or economic basis for such rhetoric (see, e.g., here, here, andhere), it does show that policy makers ought to be very interested in how the impacts of global warming compare against other problems afflicting society.  [Without such a comparison how could one know that it was ( or was not) the most important problem or issue facing humanity?]  Therefore, one would think that any Summary for Policy Makers would be eager to shed light on this matter.

Contribution of Global Warming to Population at Risk of Hunger

Among the Expert comments on the Second Order Draft (SOD) of the SPM, (see page 28, Item A) was the following:

We note that global impact assessments undertaken by Parry et al. (1999, 2004) indeed indicate that large numbers will be thrown at risk for hunger because of CC; however, they also indicate that many more millions would be at risk whether or not climate changes. (see [sic] Goklany (2003, 2005a). Policy makers are owed this context. Withholding this nugget of information is a sin of omission. Without such information, policy makers would lack necessary information for evaluating response strategies and the trade-offs involved in selecting one approach and not another. One consequence of using Parry et al.’s results to compare population at risk for hunger with and without climate change is that it indicates that measures to reduce vulnerability to current climate sensitive problems that would be exacerbated by CC could have very high benefit-cost ratios. In fact, analyses by Goklany (2005a) using results from Parry et al. (1999) and Arnell et al. (2002) suggests that over the next few decades, vulnerability reduction measures would provide greater benefits, more rapidly, and more surely than would reactive adaptation measures or, for that matter, any mitigation scheme.  [Emphasis added.]

To which, the IPCC writing team responded thus:

This whole text, from lines 11 to 26, has been deleted. Tables SPM-1 and SPM-2 give greater insights into risks of hunger etc, with full confidence range from negative to positive changes.

But if we go through the current SPM, there is nothing that indicates that even in the foreseeable future, the contribution of global warming to hunger would be substantially smaller than that of non-global warming related factors. Any such statement would, of course, imply that, with respect to hunger, climate change is a smaller problem than proponents of drastic GHG controls would have us believe. That is, regarding hunger, at least, other problems should take precedence over global warming.

Contribution of Global Warming to Population at Risk of Malaria

On page 63 of Expert comments on the Second Order Draft (SOD) of the SPM, it is noted:

First, most of the information on these lines is based on Table 20.4. However, there are several problems with that table that need to be fixed; after that is done, these lines in the SPM should be fixed. The problems we have with Table 20.4 are the following:

A. Table 20.4 omits critical information that would provide a context in which CC impacts should be viewed. This information, which is also available in Arnell et al. (2002) — the same source used to construct this table — is the millions of people that are exposed to the stresses highlighted in this table (i.e., the population at risk) in the absence of climate change. This information should be included in an additional column. This compilation has already been done by Goklany (2005a) for the 2080s. It shows that for hunger, water stress and malaria — which inexplicably is not included in this table, although the data are available in Arnell et al (2002) — the population at risk in the absence of climate change exceeds the population at risk under the “unmitigated” or the S750 and S550 cases. This suggests that for these stresses through the 2080s (at least), non-climate change related factors are more important than climate change, and that existing hurdles to sustainable development would outweigh additional hurdles due to climate change (through 2085, at least). Reference: Goklany, I.M.: 2005a. “A Climate Policy for the Short and Medium Term: Stabilization or Adaptation?” Energy & Environment 16: 667- 680.

B. The implications of the relative magnitude of the populations at risk for the hazards noted above with and without climate change should be noted in the SPM (see Goklany 2005a).

C. This table only provides information on the millions of people for whom water stress is increased without providing a parallel estimate of the millions for whom water stress would be reduced.

The IPCC SPM writing team’s response was:

Text has been deleted and replaced by headline on page 18 line 16 and the following text. In particular, lines 25-29 in the old SPM, which were based on Table 20.4, have been deleted.

Table SPM-1 now presents broadly the same information in a more rigorous format. Full range of stabilisation and SRES profiles for 3 time slices are shown, together with examples of impacts related to various temperature changes.

And if one looks at the current SPM or Table 20.4 in the IPCC WG II report, it is silent on the fact that impacts analyses show that through the foreseeable future:

  • The contribution of global warming to future population at risk for malaria verges on the trivial,
  • The contribution of global warming to the population at risk for hunger is small,
  • Global warming could reduce the net population at risk of water shortage.

Noting these results from global impacts analyses would have undermined the case for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions.

What’s truly remarkable about the above-noted comments on the SOD is that they are based on work done by Parry, Arnell, and their colleagues. But Parry was the Chairman of the IPCC Working Group II, and both were on the writing team for the SPM!  It wasn’t as if the comment was saying anything that they didn’t already know, since it was all based on their papers (and, in fact, had been brought to their attention a few times previously – but that is another story ). What seems to have been lacking was candor. Perhaps they didn’t want to get crossways with their political masters.  But if that was the case, what function does the SPM serve other than rubber stamp political leanings?

Regardless, they committed sins of omissions and, it seems, with due deliberation.

Watts Up With That, 25 January 2010