Scroll To Top

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Beefed up or toned down? Judith Curry, David Rose, Anthony Watts spin on the IPCC

Sou | 2:49 PM Go to the first of 19 comments. Add a comment

Judith Curry has an article about economists Richard Tol and Robert Stavins and the IPCC.

Professor Robert Stavins has a blog post complaining about how much text was deleted from WGIII SPM. He's posted an article with a letter he wrote to the IPCC Chair and the Co-Chairs of Working Group III.  He also posted selections from the Summary for Policy Makers from which text was removed, as Item a (before) and Item b (after). He was concerned that governments chopped out almost all of the explanatory text under the key headings. Most of you will have read about this already, but it's interesting to compare the versions side by side. For further comparison, you can get the final Summary for Policy Makers and the full report here.

Judith is spinning this as the IPCC process is flawed. In fact, it's flawed in the wrong direction for Judith (but she doesn't admit that). Robert is complaining that the report was toned down, not beefed up.

The other interesting thing is that Richard Tol has been taken to task by Brandon Shollenberger for replacing text with his own in WG2. (I noticed how that section of the report had almost no recent studies.) Brandon is very Tol-like in his obsession with trying to find something wrong in minute detail, so it comes across as two-of-a-kind locking horns. (Richard isn't exactly a science denier, though he behaves like one a lot of the time. Brandon on the other hand does fit the definition of a climate science denier.)

Judith Curry is, as usual, advocating we take the highest risk pathway. She wrote on her blog:
I am even more dismayed by public statements from the IPCC leadership that has spun the AR5 message into the usual alarmist meme.

What alarmist meme would that be? That we are causing global warming? That's not alarmist. It's alarming but true. In the past, Judith has made it clear that she would prefer the IPCC not exist at all. Her position seems to be against mitigation or at best "wait" till it's all too late.  It's a "those who survive will adapt" stance and for those who don't, tough luck.

Hyperbole plus from David Rose, tabloid political commenter

David Rose has picked up Robert Stavin's blog post and written about it in his own hyperbolic style (archived here), using words: sensationally, meddling, crucial, electrified, debate, astonishing. Those words were all in the headline and the first two short sentences!

Robert Stavins asks if the IPCC process is broken. Once you get past David's emotive language, what he wrote wasn't all that different to what Robert Stavins wrote.  David does pop in a plug for Richard Tol's dummy spit and Judith Curry's anti-IPCC stance. But he also puts in a plug for the IPCC from Bob Ward.

Too alarmist or toned down too much?

To sum up, it seems the contrarians are now complaining because the reports aren't sufficiently alarmist.  If only they would make up their minds.

Anthony Watts has copied from Judith Curry (archived here). He's gone further in his headline and claimed that "Two scathing reviews by scholars working with the IPCC show why the organization is hopelessly corrupted by politics". However it was only Robert Stavins who directly pointed to specific examples where government input resulted in a change to the report - and that was arguably on diplomatic grounds not political grounds (IMO there is a distinction). 

In regard to complaints about government input, Richard's article didn't say that outright. He merely insinuated. A casual reader might infer that the WG2 Summary for Policy Makers was beefed up because of the views of delegates. Yet Richard didn't point to any example of same. (The IPCC provides drafts and lists changes that were made to the report.)  Richard seems to be complaining that he couldn't get things all his own way. He was complaining that the Summary for Policy Makers focused on areas of high risk and didn't give sufficient space to any pluses, for example, the decrease in death from cold as opposed to the increased mortality from heat. 

This time around Richard's article (archived here) comes across as a mix of excuse-making and whining, but still isn't quite as ratty as some of his previous outbursts have been. He is wrong, too. He wrote:
The SPM, drafted by the scholars of the IPCC, is rewritten by delegates of the governments of the world
It's not rewritten by delegates. Delegates can suggest changes to the report but the authors have to agree to those changes. In other words, the final Summary for Policy Makers cannot be at odds with the full report.

Empty-headed fake sceptics

Richard also seems to think that fake sceptics aren't capable of doing science or economics, implying group think, writing:
Academics who worry about climate change are more likely to publish about it, and more likely to get into the IPCC. Groups of like-minded people reinforce their beliefs. 

Well, if fake sceptics don't have sufficient "like-mind" to do research into climate change, that's more a sign that their "like-mind" is "wrong-headed" and "empty-headed" than anything else.

Climate change in an imperfect world

As for Anthony Watts, he doesn't know the difference between the UN and individual nations.  It looks as if he has a tendency to adopt the wacky UN conspiracy theories and he certainly promotes them on his blog. He wrote:
This statement by Tol pretty well sums up the IPCC:
Many of the more worrying impacts of climate change really are symptoms of mismanagement and underdevelopment.
That’s systemic culture in the U.N. so it is no surprise to me.

After writing that, Richard foolishly drew the wrong conclusion, writing: "This message does not support the political agenda for greenhouse gas emission reduction."

Richard's wrong. Underdevelopment (whatever that means) and mismanagement (presumably of natural resources) makes greenhouse gas emission reduction even more critical. When you combine the impact of, for example, hillside deforestation with higher precipitation you get much worse floods. Both need to be tackled to reduce the harm. Re-forestation will help but it won't be enough to stop the heavier rainfall. It won't be enough to stop the flash flooding.  In any case, reforestation is a mitigation measure in itself.

Richard Tol advocates a carbon tax

The odd thing is that shortly after that Richard wrote:
A polarized debate is not conducive to enlightened policy in an area as complex as climate change – although we only need a carbon tax, and a carbon tax only, that applies to all emissions and gradually and predictably rises over time. 
So is Richard advocating reduction of greenhouse gas emissions or isn't he? It looks as if he is indeed advocating emissions reduction doesn't it.

Richard Tol was writing about Working Group II. You can download the Summary for Policy Makers and full report of Working Group II here. It's well-written but an absolute pain to navigate, not having a full consolidated report.

From the WUWT comments

Just a few today, because this article is long.

Latitude points out that Richard Tol is inconsistent and says:
April 26, 2014 at 6:23 pm
This statement by Tol pretty well sums up Tol…
‘– although we only need a carbon tax, and a carbon tax only, that applies to all emissions and gradually and predictably rises over time’

John F. Hultquist picked up on Anthony Watts confusing individual countries with the UN itself and says:
April 26, 2014 at 6:40 pm
First, I think we can thank these two, and others not yet named, for the work they have done and their public statements such as reported here.
The final line of the post is “That’s systemic culture in the U.N. so it is no surprise to me.” seems to reference the UN and I agree it is a massive waste – for the most part. However, the 2 lines attributable to Richard Tol seem to be a comment on the manner in which many countries operate. Since Prince Henry the Navigator and the Age of Discoveries not much has changed for many “countries” from A to Z as they remain underdeveloped and mismanaged. 

Streetcred isn't buying Anthony's spin either and says:
April 26, 2014 at 6:45 pm
Can’t say much about Dr. Robert Stavins’ benign letter of protest … half of it at the least is butt covering and brown-nosing. The process competence of the managers amounts to nought if the meaning of the body of research is transformed into political claptrap. 

ossqss says - well nothing at all it turns out, just vaguely arm-waves:
April 26, 2014 at 8:15 pm
This is just another example of the corrosion in climate science.
There are many lessons to learn here. 

Here are the links to the IPCC AR5 reports:


  1. Here is some more specific commentary on the WG3 SPM approval process from David Stern of ANU. Stern points out that the "censoring" of parts of the SPM is about countries jockeying for position in the lead up to the next round of mitigation negotiations

    "Many countries have good reasons for not wanting specific information about their own emissions to make it into the IPCC summary. If the SPM includes details of regional trends as well as global ones, that might be seen as an endorsement of a particular approach to burden-sharing."

    1. MikeH

      I completely missed this. Thanks for the link.

    2. Historical responsibility for emissions looks like an idea that might backfire on its proponents in the developing world.

      (David Stern article at The Conversation)

      That is diplomatic dynamite.

  2. Thanks, Mike. I couldn't remember where I'd read about it before, but that's the place. It's also along the same lines as Robert Stavin's article. It's all about diplomacy and negotiation.

    What it means is that every country is well aware that strong action will be needed. The negotiating points will be around who does what and how quickly, and who pays for it. If they were sensible, they'd also be working out who and how to penalise nations that don't fulfil their agreed obligations - both for reducing emissions and paying for mitigation and adaptation and whatever other actions (eg other assistance in adaptation, accepting climate migrants etc).

    1. Hi Sou , your above Comment looks like it could have been written by Vladimir Putin. Have you moved on from climatology to World domination?
      GazProm could certainly use you as you appear to be on the same wavelength. Plenty of room in the Gulags for dissenters.

    2. Ernest Hurley.


    3. Ernest has the world back to front.

  3. Richard Tol is the Clive Palmer of climate economics. e.g. "Noblesse oblige – I am the 20th most-cited climate scholar in the world – so I volunteered for AR5".

    Like Clive, there is enough ambiguity that you are not sure whether to laugh at him or laugh with him.

    His claim that "we only need a carbon tax, and a carbon tax only" may appear orthodox in the Australian context but that is only because the Abbott government climate policies are dictated by climate science deniers.

    I read Tol's statement as an attack on renewable energy targets like our RET or transformative programs like the German "energiewende".

  4. Curry wrote
    "whereas WG1 dropped the ball with its ‘extremely likely’ and ‘don’t mention the pause’."

    Curry is extremely stupid, or extremely ideological. Either way, she has now shown that she has now sided with 'the dark side'.

    There are large sections of AR5 dealing with the 'pause', so I really don't see how she can say ‘don’t mention the pause’. Where does she get off? This is just intentionally misleading. (Of course, no skeptic has ever cracked open AR5, so her misleading statements won't sound misleading)

    Yes, AR5 mentioned the pause, but they also mentioned that it's basically pointless to focus on such sort timeframes. Yes, they mentioned that climate models can't predict cycles like El Nino/La Nina and do poorly over short time frames, but over long timeframes these cycles tend to cancel each other out, and are able to match long term climate with 99% accuracy. It was explained in great detail, but as usual, those with strong ideological tendencies seem to completely miss it.

    Also, since AR4, there has been another mountain load of evidence, showing that yes, it is now 'extremely likely' that anthropogenic greenhouse emissions are leading to climate change. But Curry seems beholden to her ideology, and still won't accept it.

    Personally, I find that the summary for policymakers has always been watered down by oil producing nations, with Saudi Arabia most prominent, but the technical summary is still good science. I can see Professor Stavins is so miffed, as the usual politics is dragging down the science. But what is reprehensible, is that Curry has taken the opportunity to promote her ideology with what is clearly a misrepresentation. (But then again to deniers, any opportunity to discredit the IPCC will be taken with glee)

    1. Curry wouldn't know an uncertainty if she tripped over one. She just likes to bandy the word about. She declared her colours a long, long time ago now.

    2. "There are large sections of AR5 dealing with the 'pause', so I really don't see how she can say ‘don’t mention the pause’. Where does she get off? This is just intentionally misleading."

      Old hands here will know that I have long had a bee in my bonnet about signal vs noise (including the variability of climatic processes), about the statistical treatment of data, and about the abrogation of responsibility/due diligence by those who seek to misrepresent the implication of the imagined "pause". I've mentioned it on more than one occasion, and have never had a satisfactory respond to my questions interrogating those whom I challenge on the matter.

      Perhaps it's a problem with my framing. To that end I think that I will start adding (or substituting with...) this question, which Judith Curry can consider directed in the first instance at her:

      "Given your (expert or otherwise) understanding of signals and noise, of variability in physical processes, how many consecutive years in the global temperature trajectory can possibly fall within a range of statistically insignificant difference whilst the underlying data are still consistence with a warming of the planet in a manner reflective of the physics of "greenhouse' gas heat retention?"

  5. Captain FlashheartApril 27, 2014 at 11:52 PM

    Tol is an idiot and his papers are full of errors. Why would anyone listen to him?

    1. Perhaps he's a useful permutation thereof...?

    2. He's usually happy to jump into blog comments threads to argue with people, I wonder if he'll turn up here.

    3. RT isn't an idiot. He is probably wrong and he's intellectually dishonest in blog comments far too often, but even I - who have had some sharp exchanges with him - will not call him an idiot.

    4. guthrie,

      His name has been mentioned....

  6. Brandon S. is an untrained, unemployed idiot. Why mention his opinion of Tol at all? It's a bit like paying attention to a Spice Girl.

    And BBD is right. Tol is *not* an idiot. He just has personality traits that are not conducive to blogs, and definitely incompatible with Twitter.

    1. Or, given his history, scientific publishing.

  7. Tol is, shall we say, not handicapped by low self-esteem. That in itself doesn't make him wrong but it does mean that debating with him is more frustrating than it needs to be.


Instead of commenting as "Anonymous", please comment using "Name/URL" and your name, initials or pseudonym or whatever. You can leave the "URL" box blank. This isn't mandatory. You can also sign in using your Google ID, Wordpress ID etc as indicated. NOTE: Some Wordpress users are having trouble signing in. If that's you, try signing in using Name/URL or OpenID. Details here.

Click here to read the HotWhopper comment policy.