Two dissenting voices on the process of producing the political statement on climate change policy.
Dr Robert Stavins
Over the past 5 years, I have dedicated an immense amount of time and effort to serving as the Co-Coordinating Lead Author (CLA) of Chapter 13, “International Cooperation: Agreements and Instruments,” of Working Group III (Mitigation) of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It has been an intense and exceptionally time-consuming process, which recently culminated in a grueling week spent in Berlin, Germany, April 5-13, 2014, at the government approval sessions, in which some 195 country delegations discussed, revised, and ultimately approved (line-by-line) the “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM), which condenses more than 2,000 pages of text from 15 chapters into an SPM document of 33 pages. Several of the CLAs present with me in Berlin commented that given the nature and outcome of the week, the resulting document should probably be called the Summary by Policymakers, rather than the Summary for Policymakers.
Don’t miss the full text of the letter that he wrote to clear the air. Note that the large volume of scientific reports (which journalists and politicians do not read) is not a target of his attack. Matt Ridley reported years ago that when you read the full text of the scientific reports, it seems that mild warming will do more good than harm.
Another caveat is that none of the problems I describe in this letter apply to either the Technical Summary nor the underlying Chapter 13. Indeed, because of the problems with Section SPM.5.2 on international cooperation in the SPM, it is important that interested parties refer instead to the Technical Summary, or better yet, the original Chapter 13.
In this letter, I will not comment on the government review and revision process that affected other parts of the SPM, other than to note that as the week progressed, I was surprised by the degree to which governments felt free to recommend and sometimes insist on detailed changes to the SPM text on purely political, as opposed to scientific bases.
Dr Richard Toll
I have been involved with the IPCC since 1994, fulfilling a variety of roles in all three working groups. After the debacle of AR4 – where the Himalayan glacier melt really was the least of the errors – I had criticized the IPCC for faulty quality control. Noblesse oblige – I am the 20th most-cited climate scholar in the world – so I volunteered for AR5.
The Irish government put my name forward only to withdraw its financial commitment when I was indeed elected. The necessary funding could have easily been freed up if the Irish delegation to the international climate negotiations and the IPCC would trim its luxurious travel arrangements.
As a Convening Lead Author of one of the chapters, I was automatically on the team to draft the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM). AR5 is a literature review of 2,600 pages long. It assesses a large body of scholarly publication. In some places, the chapters are so condensed that there are a few words per article in the learned literature. The SPM then distills the key messages into 44 pages – but everyone knows that policy and media will only pick up a few sentences. This leads to a contest between chapters – my impact is worst, so I will get the headlines.
In the earlier drafts of the SPM, there was a key message that was new, snappy and relevant: Many of the more worrying impacts of climate change really are symptoms of mismanagement and underdevelopment.
The SPM, drafted by the scholars of the IPCC, is rewritten by delegates of the governments of the world, in this case in a week-long session in Yokohama. Some of these delegates are scholars, others are not. The Irish delegate, for instance, thinks that unmitigated climate change would put us on a highway to hell, referring, I believe, to an AC/DC song rather than a learned paper.
Other delegations have a political agenda too. The international climate negotiations of 2013 in Warsaw concluded that poor countries might be entitled to compensation for the impacts of climate change. It stands to reason that the IPCC would be asked to assess the size of those impacts and hence the compensation package. This led to an undignified bidding war among delegations – my country is more vulnerable than yours – that descended into farce when landlocked countries vigorously protested that they too would suffer from sea level rise.