Guest post by Indur M. Goklany
Nature News is carrying an interview with Professor Martin Parry, co-chair of IPCC WG II during the preparation of its Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), titled Setting the Record Straight. Unfortunately, he is not asked about, nor does he address, any sins of omission. He does say, however, “I don’t think there’s a problem in the robustness, rigour and veracity of the entire volume. I don’t think there’s any systemic problem with the way the authors undertook their work.”
But can this be said for the Summary for Policy Makers, perhaps the only piece that policy makers and their advisors ever read?
In two previous posts I noted a number of the sins of omissions in the IPCC’s WG II Summary for Policy Makers:
- The IPCC: Hiding the Decline in the Future Global Population at Risk of Water Shortage — More Insidious than the Himalayan error. This post shows that, contrary to the impression conveyed to any reader of the IPCC AR4’s Work Group II Summary for Policy Maker, the net global population at risk of water shortage is likely to drop because of climate change (according to the studies that the IPCC relied upon). The “trick” to “hide the decline” was accomplished through artful wording. The SPM reported that “Hundreds of millions of people exposed to increased water stress.” However, it neglected to inform the SPM’s readers that many hundreds of million more would actually see a reduction in water stress. This was also the subject of a report in the Wall Street Journal — Europe by Anne Jolis, titled, Omitted: The Bright Side of Global Warming.
- The IPCC: More Sins of Omission – Telling the Truth but Not the Whole Truth. This post discusses the omission of information from the IPCC’s Summary for Policy Makers that would show that even under the warmest scenario the contribution of climate change to hunger and malaria, two reasons frequently cited for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, ranges from the trivial (4% for malaria) to the small (21% for hunger), at least through the foreseeable future. [I define “the foreseeable future” as the 2080s.]
Clearly, inclusion of such information in the SPM with respect to water shortages, malaria and hunger, would have put climate change in the larger context of the problems facing this world, which would, inevitably, have made climate change seem much less threatening. It would have been quite informative to policy makers, many of whom are on record proclaiming that climate change is (among) the most important issues facing humanity, whether or not they had an open mind on the matter. Notably, water shortage, hunger and disease are among the reasons most frequently cited by our policy makers to do something dramatic about global warming.
Perhaps because I went to a Jesuit school too long, I have always regarded sins of omission as just as heinous as sins of commission.
In this case, the absence of context enabled by these sins of omission ends up skewing the world’s priorities, and threatening global well-being. In the hysteria over climate change we are now going to use funds that could have gone to help solve today’s truly urgent problems to solving the smaller problems of tomorrow — and which may or may not transpire even then (see here).