Topic: Energy and Environment

Band-aids Can’t Fix the New IPCC Report

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) today released the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the physical science volume of its Fifth Assessment Report. The SPM is the most widely-read section of the IPCC reports and purports to summarize and highlight the contents of the thousand-odd pages of the full report. The SPM is agreed to word by word by the international attendees of the IPCC’s final editorial meeting which concluded as the SPM was released.

The Humpty Dumpty-esque report once claiming to represent the “consensus of scientists” has fallen from its exalted wall and cracked to pieces under the burdensome weight of its own cumbersome and self-serving processes, which is why all the governments’ scientists and all the governments’ men cannot put the IPCC report together again.

The pace of climate science far surpasses the glacial movements of large, cumbersome international efforts at consensus building, such as the IPCC, which is why the new report has experienced such a disastrous crack-up.

For example, just this past May, a blockbuster finding was published that the climate sensitivity—how much the earth’s average surface temperature increases as a response to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations—is some 40% less than the average value characteristic of the collection of climate models that the IPCC used to produce the projections of future climate change—projections which are at the heart of the IPCC reports. But by the time this paper was published (and several others with similar conclusions), it was far too late to go back and try to fix the climate models and then rerun the projections.

The  fact is that the IPCC’s climate models need fixing. Prima facie evidence is that they cannot even track the evolution of broadest measure of climate, the earth’s average temperature, for the last 10-20 years.  Despite this being widely obvious to everyone, it didn’t find its way into the scientific literature (although not without trying) until earlier this month.

As a result, the latest science on two key issues: how much the earth will warm as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions, and how well climate models perform in projecting the warming, are largely not incorporated in the new IPCC report.

Which renders the new IPCC report, and its “four years’ work by hundreds of experts” not only obsolete on its release, but completely useless as a basis to form opinions (or policy) related to human energy choices and their influence on the climate.

The IPCC report should be torn up and tossed out, and with it, the entire IPCC process which produced such a misleading (and potentially dangerous) document.

We review the problems with the new IPCC report and the political consequences of relying on it in a couple of recent op-eds, one in the National Review (“The IPCC Political Suicide Pill”) and the other at Fox News (“UN’s new climate change report an embarrassment, self-serving and beyond misleading”), as well as a myriad of blog posts.

New IPCC Report Will Be Internally Inconsistent and Misleading

Global Science Report is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seems more intent on maintaining the crumbling “consensus” on anthropogenic global warming than on following climate science to its logical conclusion—a conclusion that increasingly suggests that human greenhouse gas emissions are less important in driving climate change than commonly held.

This fact is obvious from the embarrassing lack of internal inconsistency contained in the leaked versions of  the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. The Summary for Policymakers, a succinct and brief document supposedly encapsulating what is in the entire 3,000-page report is supposed to be approved by closing time on Friday, at a meeting currently taking place in Stockholm.

In no place will this internal inconsistency be more obvious than in how the IPCC deals with the discrepancy between the observed effectiveness of greenhouse gases in warming the earth and this effectiveness calculated  by the climate models that the IPCC uses to project future climate change.

The warming effectiveness is known as the “climate sensitivity” and is the key parameter in how much the earth’s surface temperature rise as a result of the increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most all climate impacts are related to the climate sensitivity—the lower the climate sensitivity, the fewer the impacts.

One problem. Climate scientists don’t know what the value of the climate sensitivity really is.

Not because the calculation is complicated—just take how much the global average temperature has changed over some longish time period (a couple of decades or longer) and divide by much energy was used to force that change.

More IPCC Misdirection: Its Dodgy Sea Level-Rise Assessment

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is set to release its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the physical science of climate change at the conclusion on its editorial meeting in Stockholm scheduled from September 23-26th.

A version of its Summary for Policymakers (SPM)—perhaps the most influential portion of the report as it is the widest read—has been “leaked” to generate media interest in the upcoming release. It certainly has, but perhaps not in the manner intended. The leaked SPM has revealed a document so flawed and removed from current science that it has been described as not only being  “obsolete on the day that it is released, but that it will be dead wrong as well” (okay, we wrote that).

Examples already abound as to the problems evident in the leaked SPM. Here we add another—this one having to do with the recent rate of sea level rise.

In the Summary for Policymakers section of its Fourth Assessment Report (published in 2007) the IPCC had this to say about the rate of sea level rise:

Global average sea level rose at an average rate of 1.8 [1.3 to 2.3] mm per year over 1961-2003. The rate was faster over 1993 to 2003: about 3.1 [2.4 to 3.8] mm per year. Whether the faster rate for 1993 to 2003 reflects decadal variability or an increase in the longer-term trend is unclear.

Since then, we have highlighted numerous findings in the scientific literature that present strong evidence that the increase in the rate of sea level rise since 1993 is largely not an increase in the longer-term trend (or at least not from human-caused climate change which is the IPCC’s implication) and that the short-term rate of sea level rise has been slowing, and returning back towards the long-term average.

But the IPCC’s heart remains hardened.

EPA Intervention Where None Is Needed

Falling back on tired scare tactics, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy today announced carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants as part of the President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. From McCarthy:

The overwhelming judgment of science tells us that climate change is real, human activities are fueling that change, and we must take action to avoid the most devastating consequences. We know this is not just about melting glaciers. Climate change—caused by carbon pollution—is one of the most significant public health threats of our time. That’s why E.P.A. has been called to action. And that’s why today’s action is so important for us to talk about.

I humbly disagree both as to the “public health threat” of carbon dioxide emissions from human activities, as well as with the idea that the EPA can do anything to alleviate whatever climate change may result.

What the new emissions limits do is to basically force the administration’s preference for natural gas over coal as the fossil fuel source for our nation’s electricity production going forward, perpetuating the administration’s seeming “War on Coal.” It does this by setting the carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants such that they are impossible to meet by burning coal, but can be met readily by burning natural gas. The reason for this is simple chemistry: the act of burning coal releases nearly twice the amount of carbon dioxide as does burning natural gas per unit of energy released.

The funny thing is, the market was already moving in that direction. Cheap natural gas is displacing coal for generating electricity, which in turn is reducing our national carbon dioxide emissions.

An Unhappy Birthday: Keystone XL Application Turns 5

It has now been five years since TransCanada made its first permit application to the U.S. State Department to build the Keystone XL. Under the permit, the firm would construct a cross-border pipeline to carry about 830,000 barrels of Canada-produced oil per day down to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast. Most of that oil would be mined from the tar sands of Alberta.

No decision has been reached on the current permit application—or rather, no decision has been announced. It’s fate is still guarded by the State Department and President Obama.

In 2009, the U.S. permit for a similar pipeline, Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper, was issued just over two years after the initial application. Then (just four years ago), the State Department spoke in glowing terms of the project, praising it for advancing “strategic interests” and being a “positive economic signal” and further adding that “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies.” Here is a taste of the State Department’s press release announcing the pipeline’s approval:

The Department found that the addition of crude oil pipeline capacity between Canada and the United States will advance a number of strategic interests of the United States. These included increasing the diversity of available supplies among the United States’ worldwide crude oil sources in a time of considerable political tension in other major oil producing countries and regions; shortening the transportation pathway for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer. Canada is a stable and reliable ally and trading partner of the United States, with which we have free trade agreements which augment the security of this energy supply.

Approval of the permit sends a positive economic signal, in a difficult economic period, about the future reliability and availability of a portion of United States’ energy imports, and in the immediate term, this shovel-ready project will provide construction jobs for workers in the United States.

The National Interest Determination took many factors into account, including greenhouse gas emissions. The administration believes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are best addressed through each country’s robust domestic policies and a strong international agreement.

Oh how times have changed. 

Well, actually, no.

The IPCC Is Pretty Much Dead Wrong

Global Science Report is a weekly feature from the Center for the Study of Science, where we highlight one or two important new items in the scientific literature or the popular media. For broader and more technical perspectives, consult our monthly “Current Wisdom.”

As the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) nears completion of its Fifth Assessment Report, it is becoming obvious that not only is the report going to obsolete on the day that it is released, but that it will be dead wrong as well.

We have discussed the implications of the IPCC’s failure to adequately ingest new literature—a failure that results partially from the cumbersome IPCC process and partly because the IPCC doesn’t want to include some findings that run counter to its storylines. The major implication being, of course, that the IPCC reports mislead policymakers around the world, which has a trickle-down effect on all of us who are subject to any resulting policies.

In our post on Monday, we noted the following passage from the “leaked” Summary for Policymakers of the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report:

[Climate] Models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10–15 years. There is medium confidence that this difference between models and observations is to a substantial degree caused by unpredictable climate variability, with possible contributions from inadequacies in the solar, volcanic, and aerosol forcings used by the models and, in some models, from too strong a response to increasing greenhouse-gas forcing. [italics in original]

We were generally pleased to see the IPCC admit that climate models are largely failing to capture the rate of rise (or lack thereof) of the global average surface temperature observed over the past 10-15 years. As we pointed out on Monday, we had written as much ourselves a few years ago.

But, the IPCC went way wrong in this paragraph in which they stated:

There is very high confidence that climate models reproduce the observed large-scale patterns and multi-decadal trends in surface temperature, especially since the mid-20th century. [italics in original]

No, they don’t.

Peer-reviewed or Not, the IPCC Accepts Our Conclusion

At the end of this month, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is scheduled to release the physical science basis of it Fifth Assessment Report on climate change. Between now and then, the final wording of its highly visible and influential Summary for Policymakers (SPM) will be hashed out in a meeting in Stockholm. The current draft version of the SPM has been “leaked” in order to drum up some media attention for the upcoming meeting/report.

Among many interesting statements in the draft SPM, this one particularly caught our eye:

[Climate] Models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10–15 years. There is medium confidence that this difference between models and observations is to a substantial degree caused by unpredictable climate variability, with possible contributions from inadequacies in the solar, volcanic, and aerosol forcings used by the models and, in some models, from too strong a response to increasing greenhouse-gas forcing. [italics in original, bold added by us]

We found this interesting because back in 2010, we, along with several co-authors, wrote a paper titled “Assessing the consistency between short-term global temperature trends in observations and climate model projections.” In that paper, we demonstrated  that climate models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in surface warming trend over the last 10-15 years. We also wrote that this was the result of some combination of inadequacies in the evolution of anthropogenic forcing (including aerosols), natural variability (both that which is captured and that which is insufficiently handled by climate models), as well as the strong possibility that climate models were producing too much warming for a given amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

Specifically, we wrote: