How the IPCC Portrayed a Net Positive Impact of Climate Change as a Negative

By Indur Goklany. Originally published at the Cato Institute, but published here also by invitation from the author.

Arguably the most influential graphic from the latest IPCC report is Figure SPM.2 from the IPCC WG 2’s Summary for Policy Makers (on the impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change). This figure, titled “Key impacts as a function of increasing global average temperature change”, also appears as Figure SPM.7 and Figure 3.6 of the IPCC Synthesis Report (available at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/syr/ar4_syr.pdf). Versions also appear as Table 20.8 of the WG 2 report, and Table TS.3 in the WG 2 Technical Summary. Yet other versions are also available from the IPCC WG2’s Graphics Presentations & Speeches, as well as in the WG 2’s “official” Power Point presentations, e.g., the presentation at the UNFCCC in Bonn, May 2007 (available at http://www.ipcc.ch/graphics/pr-ar4-2007-05-briefing-bonn.htm).

Notably the SPMs, Technical Summary, Synthesis Report, and the versions made available as presentations are primarily for consumption by policy makers and other intelligent lay persons. As such, they are meant to be jargon-free, easy to understand, and should be designed to shed light rather than to mislead even as they stay faithful to the science.

Let’s focus on what Figure SPM.2 tells us about the impacts of climate change on water.

The third statement in the panel devoted to water impacts states, “Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress.” If one traces from whence this statement came, one is led to Arnell (2004). [Figure SPM.2 misidentifies one of the sources as Table 3.3 of the IPCC WG 2 report. It ought to be Table 3.2. ]

What is evident is that while this third statement is correct, Figure SPM.2 neglects to inform us that water stress could be reduced for many hundreds of millions more — see Table 10 from the original reference, Arnell (2004). As a result, the net global population at risk of water stress might actually be reduced. And, that is precisely what Table 9 from Arnell (2004) shows. In fact, by the 2080s the net global population at risk declines by up to 2.1 billion people (depending on which scenario one wants to emphasize)!

And that is how a net positive impact of climate change is portrayed in Figure SPM.2 as a large negative impact. The recipe: provide numbers for the negative impact, but stay silent on the positive impact. That way no untruths are uttered, and only someone who has studied the original studies in depth will know what the true story is. It also reminds us as to why prior to testifying in court one swears to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Figure SPM.2 fails to tell us the whole truth.

Hints of the whole truth, however, are buried in the body of the IPCC WG 2 Report as evidenced by the following quote from Section 3.5.1, p. 194, of that report. Note that Arnell (2004b) and Arnell (2004) are identical.

In the 2050s, differences in the population projections of the four SRES scenarios would have a greater impact on the number of people living in water-stressed river basins (defined as basins with per capita water resources of less than 1,000 m3/year) than the differences in the emissions scenarios (Arnell, 2004b). The number of people living in severely stressed river basins would increase significantly (Table 3.2). The population at risk of increasing water stress for the full range of SRES scenarios is projected to be: 0.4 to 1.7 billion, 1.0 to 2.0 billion, and 1.1 to 3.2 billion, in the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s, respectively (Arnell, 2004b). In the 2050s (SRES A2 scenario), 262-983 million people would move into the water stressed category (Arnell, 2004b). However, using the per capita water availability indicator, climate change would appear to reduce global water stress. This is because increases in runoff are heavily concentrated in the most populous parts of the world, mainly in East and South-East Asia, and mainly occur during high flow seasons (Arnell, 2004b). Therefore, they may not alleviate dry season problems if the extra water is not stored and would not ease water stress in other regions of the world. [Emphasis added]

But even this acknowledgment seems grudging, and leaves a misleading impression, as can be seen by the following annotated version of the above quote. [My annotations are indicated within the quote in square brackets and are in bold.]

In the 2050s, differences in the population projections of the four SRES scenarios would have a greater impact on the number of people living in water-stressed river basins (defined as basins with per capita water resources of less than 1,000 m3/year) than the differences in the emissions scenarios (Arnell, 2004b). The number of people living in severely stressed river basins would increase significantly (Table 3.2). The population at risk of increasing water stress for the full range of SRES scenarios is projected to be: 0.4 to 1.7 billion, 1.0 to 2.0 billion, and 1.1 to 3.2 billion, in the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s, respectively (Arnell, 2004b). [COMMENT: note that the IPCC text fails to mention that the reductions in populations at risk of water stress due to climate change are projected to be substantially higher — 0.6 to 2.4 billion, 1.8 to 4.3 billion, and 1.7 to 6.0 billion in the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s, respectively. See Table 10 from the original source.] In the 2050s (SRES A2 scenario), 262-983 million people would move into the water stressed category (Arnell, 2004b). [COMMENT: The corresponding figures for the population moving out of water stress category are 191 to 1,493 million. See Table 9 from the original source.] However, using the per capita water availability indicator, climate change would appear to reduce global water stress. This is because increases in runoff are heavily concentrated in the most populous parts of the world, mainly in East and South-East Asia, and mainly occur during high flow seasons (Arnell, 2004b). Therefore, they may not alleviate dry season problems if the extra water is not stored and would not ease water stress in other regions of the world. [COMMENT: One should expect that societies would take action to store water if that’s what is necessary to avoid water stress. Such actions are not rocket science; they are probably as old as humanity itself, and have a successful track record going back for millennia. Moreover, if the IPCC’s emission scenarios, and the economic growth rates they assume are to be believed, these societies would be much wealthier in the future and should, therefore, have access to more capital to help adapt to such problems. See here (pp. 1034-1036, Tables 1 and 10).]

[Note that the Arnell paper is discussed in some detail here (pp. 1034-1036; Table 4), among other places.]

To summarize, with respect to water resources, Figure SPM.2 — and its clones — don’t make any false statements, but by withholding information that might place climate change in a positive light, they have perpetrated a fraud on the readers.

About these ads

25 thoughts on “How the IPCC Portrayed a Net Positive Impact of Climate Change as a Negative

  1. “To summarize, with respect to water resources, Figure SPM.2 — and its clones — don’t make any false statements, but by withholding information that might place climate change in a positive light, they have perpetrated a fraud on the readers”

    It’s not the first time.

  2. Its nice to have yet another example of how the IPCC “process” edits out uncooperative details.

    In a similar vein, didn’t the British health authorities determine that a few thousand more people would die due to heat stress, but 20,000 fewer would die from cold in a warmer climate? All we hear about is the projected number of deaths.

  3. When you troll through the research there are all kinds of “sound bites” that can be used to create a synthesis report arriving at your position, this is because scientists tend not to make absolute statements but tempered and balanced observations.

  4. Hmmm? Does water storage include dams? Because the Greens down here in Australia are dead set against them!

  5. The figure only considered the increase in temps. Missing are the annual mean temperature changes relative to 1980-1999 in the other direction. Do we get a world of happy, fully satisfied people in lush forests when it cools relative to the 1980-1999 mean (kinda like the state of things this year which is closer to the 1950-1981 mean)?

  6. “To summarize, with respect to water resources, Figure SPM.2 — and its clones — don’t make any false statements, but by withholding information that might place climate change in a positive light, they have perpetrated a fraud on the readers.”

    This is Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in bureaucratic report writing. It’s not false, it’s written with a predetermined conclusion and objective in mind. When I was retiring from the military and my position had been designated to become a civilian position I was tasked to write up the requirements of the position that the new civilian would have to meet. It was suggested that I could write it up *wink wink* so that the requirements matched my skills and experiences perfectly, so that after I retired I could then do the same job as a civilian (and make more money as well).

    So it is with the IPCC (an international bureaucratic organization). The SPM is negotiated by bureaucrats that have already decided that global warming is caused by humans and is bad, so anything that will be included in the SPM will only be those facts that support their premise. And should any statement slip in about a positive aspect of warming, it’s there only as an outcome of negotiations on what to include in the text.

  7. When I was very young my catechism teacher described these as “lies of omission”. Today such lies are told by politicians (and others) almost without exception whenever they speak/write/communicate.
    And some people become sceptics?????

  8. Re:Leon Brozyna

    Dear Sir, I fully concur.

    As an ex-civil servant, (thankfully in many ways). I recall discussions with colleagues about positions being advertised by whatever local authority/government organisation in internal newsletters & external newpapers etc. It was & most likely (95% probablitiy???) still is the way to word an advertisement in such a way that someone earmarked for the post can apply with an almost certainty of succeeding because they just happended to be “fully conversant with local government contract procedures” etc, or whatever the requirement happened to be. So the upshot is that bureaucrats naturally do this sort of thing, it empowers them. My experience in life suggests that as they are non-technical people they feel insecure & not a little frightened when confronted with technical matters, a natural human response, so they have an urgent need to rest control from technical people to gain the upper hand. As Professor John Brignell (Number Watch) defines them, “I change things therefore I am”.

    BTW my 1925 pocket Oxford dictionary defines “bureaucracy” as ‘a system of centralised governmental control of things both public & private’. After 83 years little has changed IMHO.

  9. It’s worth noting that the IPCC is simply carrying out its mission in reporting this way. Its stated mission is to assess “the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.”

    No mention of assessing benefits. No cost/benefit analysis. Right from the start, the IPCC was created to publicise ONLY the possible downside of AGW.

  10. braddles,

    In economics, we make a formal distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty.” I’m not sure this distinction is common in other disciplines, so I’m not sure what the term means in the IPCC’s mission, or how it is understood by scientists working in disciplines relating to climate change. Usually, outside of economics, we see the distinction between “risk” and “uncertainty” blurred, and the two to refer to the “probability of uncertain events.” Usually the focus is on the “probability of uncertain adverse events.” Who worries about uncertain, but fortuitous events? So there’s a sense in which I see, and acknowledge, your point.

    But not if I apply the rigorous distinction we draw between risk and uncertainty in economics. “Risk” refers to events with measurable probability. “Uncertainty” refers to the prospect of events whose likelihood is indefinite or incalculable. Given all the hoopla in IPCC about how they use confidence interval data to assess likelihood — such as >66% is “likely” and >90% is “very likely” and so on — they would appear to be using “risk” in the formal sense as we use it in economics. And that doesn’t justify leaving out the positive impacts.

    The IPCC assessment reports are classic examples of “confirmation bias.” Wikipedia has a good article on the subject, including the following Tolstoy quote:

    “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”

    In the end, I guess I come out in the same place. The IPCC assessment reports are agenda-driven. They are the product of a group of intellectuals who are firmly persuaded that they already know, without a shadow of doubt, that climate change is bad, and especially anthropogenic induced climate change. All that remains is to prepare reports to influence policy makers of these foregone conclusions. There is absolutely nothing scientific about this process, and scientists who appeal to the IPCC’s assessment reports as evidence of scientific consensus are traitors to their profession. We expect such behavior in politicians. We should cringe in horror when we see it in those who call themselves scientists.

  11. To be fair to the AGW folks, I just had to report this tied record heat event. Northeast Oregon continues to be such an interesting place to study weather and climate. I thought it had been really hot lately for September so I looked up records and this is what I found: It has been HOT, HOT, HOT. In fact the temp on the 18th at two weather stations here tied two other dates since records began.

    Meacham: 1948, 1962, 2008 – 84 degrees F
    Pendleton Airport: 1934, 1984, 2008 – 90 degrees F

    Wow!!! and Wow BACKWARDS! Now that’s a trend! Looks like a…..uh……mmmm….a…CYCLE!

    These data are preliminary and have not undergone final quality control by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Therefore, these data are subject to revision. Final and certified climate data can be accessed at the NCDC – http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov.
    Record Event Report

    000
    SXUS76 KPDT 190012
    RERPDT

    RECORD EVENT REPORT
    NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE PENDLETON OR
    511 PM PDT THU SEP 18 2008

    …NEW DAILY RECORD HIGH TEMPERATURES FOR SEPTEMBER 18TH…

    NOTE: STATIONS MARKED WITH * INDICATE THAT THE STATION REPORTS ONCE
    PER DAY. FOR CONSISTENCY…THESE VALUES ARE CONSIDERED TO HAVE
    OCCURRED ON THE DAY THE OBSERVATION WAS TAKEN BUT MAY HAVE ACTUALLY
    OCCURRED (ESPECIALLY FOR MAX TEMPERATURE) ON THE PREVIOUS DAY.

    STATION PREVIOUS NEW RECORDS
    RECORD/YEAR RECORD BEGAN

    MEACHAM, OR 84 / 1962 84 (TIED) 1948 :SINCE MID
    PENDLETON(ARPT), OR 90 / 1984 90 (TIED) 1934 :SINCE MID

  12. The foundation of sand upon which the global warming/climate house of hoax is constructed continues to erode.

    UAF professor continues to question sources of global warming : http://newsminer.com/news/2008/sep/19/uaf-professor-continues-question-sources-global-wa/

    The retired geophysics professor also questioned the accuracy of readings from weather stations where no one is there to regularly monitor the equipment.

    “A friend of mine found one station where the temperature gauge was just outside the air conditioner,” he said.

  13. Based on the Pendelton data, and a linear projection, 2020 will see another record. This matches the 10-15 year delay in global warming projections and clearly supports the AGW position.

  14. God damn them all!
    I was told we’d cruise the seas for American gold.
    We’d fire no guns, shed no tears.
    I’m a broken man on a Halifax Pier,
    The last of Barrett’s Privateers.

  15. Along the same line:
    Sloan and Wolfendale’s analysis of Forbush decreases (sudden, temporary decreases in galactic cosmic ray fluxes, as modulated by the Sun’s magnetic field) was presented around the blogosphere as part of an argument that there could be no relationship between the Sun’s magnetic field and cloud cover on the Earth.

    The use of Forbush data to draw such a conclusion is disputed here.

    Best Regards
    ClimateSanity

  16. I think this thread deserves much more attention.

    Global water stress has been the main AGW scare for this century.
    (war for water, millions of people fleeing due to draughts, etc.)

    And now we have to learn that the IPCC told the world and the policy-makers the exact opposite of the content of their own scientific references.

    This is a case that climate sceptics, people without a scientific degree, even politicians and sincere AGW supportive scientists should easily agree.

    The facts are just too simple and quite impossible to dispute. It may technically not be a full lie, but it is simple and plain fraud.

    This could be used as a lackmus-test for the IPCC processes (and maybe the condition of democratic pressand institutions):

    – this error should be corrected and a press conference held
    – the authors of this chapter should be sanctioned
    – Review processes have to be changed.
    – responsibilities have to be assigned
    – the closed IPCC circles have to be opened to external input.

  17. Manfred, thanks for your writing.
    Could you explain from scratch: What is the fraud all about?
    I have an idea (!), but im not 100% sure.
    Please if you could explain.

    K.R. Frank

  18. Pingback: Ravalli County News » Blog Archive » How the IPCC Portrayed a Net Positive Impact of Climate Change as a Negative

  19. Mike86 you do understand that the Meacham station is in the coldest part of the Blue Mountains in Oregon with the station likely nailed to a tall lodge pole pine tree in the middle of a forest (and in most years, this station records the coldest temps of the northwast part of the US at that altitude), and the Pendleton airport station is on the tarmac. The airport is ALWAYS hotter than the mountains. Are you just funnin me? Or do you really see a warming trend?!?!?!?!??

  20. Frank,

    In academia and science, fraud can refer to academic fraud – the falsifying of research findings which is a form of scientific misconduct – and in common use intellectual fraud signifies falsification of a position taken or implied by an author or speaker, within a book, controversy or debate, or an idea deceptively presented to hide known logical weaknesses.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fraud

    the special about this case is that there is no way to justify or debate the difference between the report and the quoted references.

    the problem here is – whom at IPCC can anybody write, call, email or sue to correct this report and make the correction public ?

  21. Indur Goklany points to one example of IPCC duplicity in its claims of increased global water stress as a result of AGW.

    This is just one of many examples. Others involve:
    · False claims on sea level rise
    · False claims on Antarctic ice sheet mass loss
    · False claims on Greenland ice sheet mass loss
    · False claims on Northern Hemisphere snow cover
    · False claims on surface vs. troposphere record
    · False claims denying a distortion of the surface record due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect

    These are some of the outright unruths in the latest set of IPCC reports. In addition there are doubtful claims:
    · Questionable claims denying past warm periods
    · Questionable claims on solar forcing
    · Questionable claims on water vapor feedback
    · Questionable claims on cloud feedback
    · Questionable claims on tropical cyclones, droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events

    All of these false and questionable claims are used to “project” future changes, which are, by definition, also false or exaggerated.

    IPCC has made no effort to provide an unbiased scientific view of our climate, but has concentrated its efforts on “selling” its own views and opinions on AGW and feeding the “policymakers” to whom its reports are directed a false and one-sided view of what it really going on.

  22. Manfred

    Aerm.. I know what a “fraud” is..

    But could you please tell me from a to z what this particular fraud is all about?
    I would like to understand 100% and i got the idea that you could answer.
    I use this information to pass on i other blogs concearning the fraud of IPCC, and i would like to know exactly what this one is all about before using it.

  23. Pingback: Global Warming Update, taxes, Russia, Lehman Bros, Euro Skiing and The Sun is Resting? | The NEW Orange Juice! Politics For The Rest Of Us.

Comments are closed.