29 December 2009

The Earthquake vs. Weather Trick

It has become common of late to observe that the number of weather-related disasters has increased faster than the number of earthquake-related disasters, and imply directly or indirectly that the different must be due to greenhouse gas induced climate changes. The image above comes from UNEP. Or consider this excerpt from a news article out today quoting Munich Re:
Munich Re AG, one of the world's largest reinsurers, Tuesday said economic and insured losses caused by climate change will continue to grow, and called for a near-term deal to ensure a substantial reduction in global greenhouse-gas emissions.

"We need as soon as possible an agreement that significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions because the climate reacts slowly and what we fail to do now will have a bearing for decades to come," said management board member Torsten Jeworrek.

"In the light of these facts, it is very disappointing that no breakthrough was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit in December 2009," Mr. Jeworrek said, pointing to the marked increase--more or less tripling--in major global weather-related natural disasters since 1950. . .

"In particular, the trend toward an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues, while there has fundamentally been no change in the risk of geophysical events such as earthquakes," said Peter Hoeppe, who heads Munich Re's Geo Risks Research unit.
The problem with such statements is that everywhere that scholars have looked with respect to weather related disasters no greenhouse gas signal has been seen, including in the peer reviewed work published by Munich Re (e.g., here and here). If a signal of GHG-driven disasters can't be seen in the weather-related events alone, then adding a comparison to earthquakes won't add much to the analysis.

What then might be going on then to explain the disparity in earthquake and weather-related events? The answer should be obvious.

The data in the graph above above are compiled by CRED in Belgium with the assistance of Munich Re. Here are the criteria for an event to be included in the dataset:

For a disaster to be entered into the database at least one of the following criteria must be fulfilled:

• Ten (10) or more people reported killed.
• Hundred (100) or more people reported affected.
• Declaration of a state of emergency.
• Call for international assistance.
Obviously any trends in reporting of events over a long time period will effect the aggregate totals.

My hypothesis is that since 1980, which is the time period for which claims are most often made regarding the weather-earthquake divergence, very few large earthquakes are missed in the CRED database, because earthquakes are relatively rare and their effects are widespread. By contrast weather events, such as floods, are very common and can have very localized impacts that might not be reported or easily added to the CRED database. So the difference between earthquake and weather disasters reflects a relative increase in the report of small sized weather events I have emailed CRED to ask for comprehensive data that will allow me to explore this hypothesis more systematically.

Meantime, I performed the following test. I picked a random region in the CRED EM-DAT database and searched for all flood events in West Africa (Benin; Burkina Faso; Cape Verde Is; Cote d'Ivoire; Gambia The; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea Bissau; Liberia; Mali; Mauritania; Niger; Nigeria; Senegal; Sierra Leone; St Helena; Togo) in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Here is what that data look like:

One response to this graphic might be to conclude that an increase in GHG-driven floods are responsible for the 3-fold increase in flood disasters with 10 to 60 people in Western Africa. Another would be to note the obvious -- only 5 events in a decade with a loss of 10 to 60 people is certainly an underestimate in a region with 300 million people, many who are very vulnerable to disasters, subject to frequent flooding and where reporting is probably not very systematic. In fact, the events in the 1990s and 2000s are also probably underestimated by some significant but unknown degree. In any case, to use such data to say anything about human influences on climate is unwise.

The bottom line here is that if you want to look for a signal of GHG-driven climate change, look at quality data systematically collected in particular regions for specific phenomena. If you cannot see a signal in that data, then going to less precise and more aggregated data will not add much value. A comparison of trends in weather and earthquake disasters sheds no light on the attribution of disasters to GHG emissions.

The "Consistent With" Fallacy: How Not to Compare Predictions and Observations

Over at Real Climate there is a misleading post up about IPCC global temperature projections as compared with actual temperature observations, suggesting success where caution and uncertainty is a more warranted conclusion.

The scientists at Real Climate explain that to compare a prediction with observations one must assess whether the observations fall within a range defined as 95% of model realizations. In other words, if you run a model, or a set of models, 100 times, you would take the average of the 100 runs and plot the 95 individual runs closest to that average, and define that range as an "envelope" of projections. If observations fall within this envelope, they you would declare the projection to be a predictive success.

Imagine if a weather forecaster said that he ran a model 100 times and it showed that tomorrow's temperature was going to be between 25 and 75 degrees, with 95% confidence, with a "best estimate" of 50 degrees. If the temperature came in at 30 degrees you might compare it to the "best estimate" and say that it was a pretty poor forecast. If the weather forecast explained that the temperature was perfectly "consistent with" his forecast, you'd probably look for another forecaster. If the true uncertainty was actually between 25 and 75 degrees, then one might question the use of issuing a "best estimate."

Gavin Schmidt explains how this works in the context of the current "pause" (his words) in the increase in global average surface temperatures over the past 11 years (emphasis added):
The trend in the annual mean HadCRUT3v data from 1998-2009 (assuming the year-to-date is a good estimate of the eventual value) is 0.06+/-0.14 ºC/dec (note this is positive!). If you want a negative (albeit non-significant) trend, then you could pick 2002-2009 in the GISTEMP record which is -0.04+/-0.23 ºC/dec. The range of trends in the model simulations for these two time periods are [-0.08,0.51] and [-0.14, 0.55], and in each case there are multiple model runs that have a lower trend than observed (5 simulations in both cases). Thus ‘a model’ did show a trend consistent with the current ‘pause’. However, that these models showed it, is just coincidence and one shouldn’t assume that these models are better than the others. Had the real world ‘pause’ happened at another time, different models would have had the closest match.
Think about the logic of "consistent with" as used in this context. It means that the larger the model spread, the larger the envelope of projections, and the greater the chance that whatever is observed will in fact fall within that envelope. An alert reader points this out to Gavin in the comments:
I can claim I’m very accurate because my models predict a temperature between absolute zero and the surface temperature of the sun, but that error range is so large, it means I’m not really predicting anything.
Gavin says he agrees with this, which seems contrary to what he wrote in the post about 11-year trends. Elsewhere Gavin says such statistics are meaningful only for 15 years and longer. If so, then discussing them in terms of "consistency with" the model spread just illustrates how this methodology can retrieve a misleading signal from noise.

About 18 months ago I engaged in a series of exchanges with some in the climate modeling community on this same topic. The debate was frustrating because many of the climate scientists thought hat we were debating statistical methods, but from my perspective we were debating the methodology of forecast verification.

At that time I tried to illustrate the "consistent with" fallacy in the context of IPCC projections using the following graph. The blue curve shows a curve fit to 8-year surface temperature trends from 55 realizations from models used by IPCC (the fact that it was 8 years is irrelevant to this example). With the red curve I added 55 additional "realizations" produced from a random number generator. The blue dot shows the observations. Obviously, the observations are more "consistent with" the red curve than the blue curve. We can improve consistency by making worse predictions. There is obviously something wrong with this approach to comparing models and observations.

What should be done instead?

1. A specific prediction has to be identified when it is being made. A prediction in this case should be defined as the occurrence of some event in the future, that is to say, after the prediction is made. For the IPCC AR4 this might generously be defined as starting in 2001.

2. Pick a quantity to be forecast. This might be global average surface temperature as represented by GISS or CRU, the satellite lower tropospheric records, both or something else. But pick a quantity.

3. Decide in advance how you are going to define the uncertainty in your forecast. For instance, the IPCC presented an uncertainty range in its forecast in a manner differently than does Real Climate. Defining uncertainty is of critical importance.

For instance, eyeballing the Real Climate IPCC Figure one might be surprised to learn that had there been no temperature change from 1980 to 2010, this too would have been "consistent with" the model realization "envelope." While such uncertainty may in fact be an accurate representation of our knowledge of climate, it is certainly not how many climate scientists typically represent the certainty of their knowledge.

If any of 1, 2 or 3 above is allowed to vary and be selected in post-hoc fashion it sets the stage for selections of convenience that allow the evaluator to make choices that pretty much show whatever he wants to show.

4. A good place to start is simply with IPCC "best estimate" One can ask if observations fall above or below that value. Real Climate's post suggest that actual temperatures fall below that "best estimate."

5. You can then ask if falling below or above that value has any particular meaning with respect to the knowledge used to generate the forecast. To perform such an evaluation, you need a naive forecast, some baseline expectation against which you can compare your sophisticated forecast. In the case of global climate it might be a prediction of no temperature change or some linear fit to past trends. If the sophisticated method doesn't improve upon the naive baseline, you are not getting much value from that approach.

The bottom line is that with respect to #4 Real Climate shows that actual temperatures are running below a central estimate from the IPCC AR4 as well as below the various scenarios presented by Jim Hansen in 1988. What does this mean? Probably not much. But at the same time it should be obvious that this data should not be used as evidence to announce the successes of climate predictions, as Real Climate does: "the matches to observations are still pretty good, and we are getting to the point where a better winnowing of models dependent on their skill may soon be possible." Such over-hyping of the capabilities of climate science serves neither science nor policy particularly well. The reality is that while the human influence on the climate system is real and significant, predicting its effects for coming years and decades remains a speculative enterprise fraught with uncertainties and ignorance.

23 December 2009

Pachauri Responds

UPDATE #2: The TERI press release is online here.

UPDATE: Some additional details from the TERI press release

Rajendra Pachauri has responded to the conflict 0f interest allegations levied against him in the Telegraph, which I discussed here several days ago. Dr. Pachauri's rebutal comes in the form of a press release issued by TERI, the organization that he directs in India. I am in possession of the press release, having received it from a colleague who sent it to an email list. Yesterday, I emailed the TERI media office to ask if I could post the release up here in full. I have not yet heard back from them, so I won't yet post it up in full. Presumably, they issued it to be read and I assume that The Telegraph will post it up sooner or later. The release ends with a threat to escalate the issue, presumably a reference to UK libel laws.

The release provides details on more than $250,000 in payments to TERI over the past three and a half years in exchange for Dr. Pachauri's services from companies with a direct financial stake in climate policy. I do not see how this information in any way clears up the issue. In fact, it raises more difficult questions for the IPCC and Dr. Pachauri, who based on this information is unambiguously in violation of conflict of interest policies of the WMO and UN, the parent bodies of the IPCC. This level of remuneration from parties interested in specific climate policy outcomes would clearly violate conflict of interest guidelines at most federal agencies with respect to service on science advisory panels (e.g., FDA has a threshold of $50,000 per year). The fact that the money goes to an organization that Dr. Pachauri directs rather than directly into his pocket is not relevant (to the FDA, WMO or UN).

The press release is being reported on in India, for instance:

In his rejoinder to the newspaper, Pachauri said: “IPCC makes no policy recommendations, and all its reports are in the public domain, widely distributed and disseminated across the world. There is nothing in this report that could have any proprietary benefit.”

The newspaper reported that Pachauri was part of groups, including green firms, which benefited from IPCC’s recommendations, terming this a conflict of interest.

The article said The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which Pachauri is heading since the 1980s, maintains close links with the Tata group and assists it in developing its carbon trading business worldwide.

“This is far from the truth. The Tatas do enjoy the envious reputation of establishing many institutions of excellence and TERI was one among them. As TERI’s interest went beyond energy and included natural resources, we decided in 2001 to retain the acronym and change the expansion. This signifies our independence from any direct Tata connection,” Pachauri said.

It is odd that Dr. Pachauri would raise the policy irrelevance of the IPCC as defense. This is odd for two reasons. First, the IPCC is designed to be "policy relevant" and second,perhaps more than anyone, Dr. Pachauri routinely invokes the IPCC in support of very specific policy recommendations. This line of defense raises even further questions for the IPCC.

That the media -- other than the Telegraph -- is not on this issue is rather amazing. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson helps to explain these dynamics: "Climate scientists are clearly accustomed to deference. Theirs is a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes." If Dr. Pachauri were the head of a drug safety advisory committee, a Bush administration official editing agency climate reports or a different type of UN bureaucrat, allegations of conflict of interest would almost certainly get closer scrutiny.

It is not anti-science or anti-climate policy to ask that scientists be held to the same standard as everyone else. I'd argue that holding science to high standards is about as pro-science and pro-climate policy as one can get. The IPCC needs to be asked some uncomfortable questions. In the long run, climate science and policy will both be better for it.

von Storch in the WSJ

Hans von Storch has a thoughtful essay on climate science and politics in today's WSJ Europe. Here is an excerpt:
As a scientist, I strive for independence from vested interests. I am in the pocket of neither Exxon nor Greenpeace, and for this I come under fire from both sides—the skeptics and the alarmists—who have fiercely opposing views but are otherwise siblings in their methods and contempt.

I am told that I should keep my mouth shut, that criticizing colleagues is not "tactful," and will damage the reputation of science—even when the CRU e-mails have already sunk that ship. I hear that the now-notorious "trick" is normal, that to "hide the decline" is just an unfortunate colloquialism. But we know by now that the activity described by these words was by no means innocent.

Hans has something to say to skeptics, alarmists and politicians who see science as instrumental to their goals. Read the whole thing.

22 December 2009

Peer Review in the IPCC

The IPCC has long expressed a strong preference for relying on peer-reviewed scientific literature in its reports (PDF) :
Contributions should be supported as far as possible with references from the peer-reviewed and internationally available literature, and with copies of any unpublished material cited.
However, the IPCC has evolved such that it increasingly relies on "grey literature" in its reports. Its guidelines (PDF) explain the need for additional procedures to handle grey literature:
Because it is increasingly apparent that materials relevant to IPCC Reports, in particular, information about the experience and practice of the private sector in mitigation and adaptation activities, are found in sources that have not been published or peer-reviewed (e.g., industry journals, internal organisational publications, non-peer reviewed reports or working papers of research institutions, proceedings of workshops etc) the following additional procedures are provided.
The IPCC asks its authors to be very discerning in what grey literature to include:
Critically assess any source that they wish to include. This option may be used for instance to obtain case study materials from private sector sources for assessment of adaptation and mitigation options. Each chapter team should review the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report.
The IPCC has strict guidelines for obtaining and making available any source from outside the peer reviewed literature.

Obviously, the IPCC's claim to authority rests in its claims to have a very rigorous process for vetting information and including only that which the scientific community finds to be accurate and reliable. A former director of the IPCC explained that the report was "probably one of the most peer-reviewed documents you could ever find." A few weeks ago in Copenhagen the current head of the IPCC touted its rigor while explaining the need to act decisively to reduce emissions (PDF):
The IPCC assessment process is designed to ensure consideration of all relevant scientific information from established journals with robust peer review processes, or from other sources which have undergone robust and independent peer review. The entire report writing process of the IPCC is subjected to extensive and repeated review by experts as well as by governments. In the AR4 there were a total of around 2500 expert reviewers performing this review process.
Given the claims made on behalf of the IPCC, finding flawed information in the report should be cause for serious concern. I have documented how the IPCC has systematically misrepresented the science of disasters and climate change here on various occasions, and it appears that these sorts of errors are not unique.

Consider the case of the melting of Himalayan glaciers as discussed in Chapter 10 of the IPCC WG II report (PDF). The IPCC claimed that Himalayan glaciers could be mostly gone by 2035, prompting much concern since the report was released in 2007. For instance, CNN reported in October of this year:
The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding quicker than those in other parts of the world and could disappear altogether by 2035 according to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
It turns out that the 2035 value is not just wrong, but when confronted with the error, the IPCC leadership apparently has refused to look into, clarify or even admit that there may be a problem in its report.

In a blog posting today John Nielsen-Gammon, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A&M, confirms claims first raised by J. Graham Cogley, a glaciologist in the Department of Geography at Trent University (which were reported on my father's blog and then by the BBC). Here is an excerpt from Nielson-Gammon's posting:
To recap, the available evidence indicates that the IPCC authors of this section relied upon a secondhand, unreferreed source which turned out to be unreliable, and failed to identify this source. As a result, the IPCC has predicted the likely loss of most or all of Himalaya's glaciers by 2035 with apparently no peer-reviewed scientific studies to justify such a prediction and at least one scientific study (Kotlyakov) saying that such a disappearance is too fast by a factor of ten!

This could have been a small, inconsequential error. The WG2 Chapter 10 authors did not highlight the prediction as a key finding in their executive summary, nor does it appear in the summary for policymakers. But such an astounding prediction could not help but attract attention. And it has long since become effectively common knowledge that the glaciers were going to vanish by 2035.

The Indian environment ministry released a report in November by Vijay Kumar Raina that concluded that Himalayan glaciers on the whole were retreating, but not at an alarming rate or any faster than glaciers on the rest of the globe. According to The Guardian, countryman Rajenda Pachauri, the head of the IPCC, was furious.
Pachauri dismissed the report saying it was not "peer reviewed" and had few "scientific citations".

"With the greatest of respect this guy retired years ago and I find it totally baffling that he comes out and throws out everything that has been established years ago."

Given the nature of the peer review and scientific citations in the IPCC report, we have here a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The BBC also reported on the IPCC reaction:

When asked how this "error" could have happened, RK Pachauri, the Indian scientist who heads the IPCC, said: "I don't have anything to add on glaciers.". . .

Murari Lal, a climate expert who was one of the leading authors of the 2007 IPCC report, denied it had its facts wrong about melting Himalayan glaciers.

This situation highlights the problem of the "laundering of grey literature" associated with IPCC reports, which occurs when an analysis or claim occurs outside the peer review literature and is subsequently cited in the assessment report. Because the IPCC is widely viewed to have been reviewed at such a high standard, the presumption is that it is very unlikely that simple errors with enormous consequences would remain in the final version of the report. Thus, claims reported by the IPCC are subsequently cited as a "peer reviewed source" which could very easily give a claim that originated in the grey literature a status that it never would have held without the IPCC's stamp of approval. This is of course why the IPCC requires that its authors evaluate the "quality and validity of each source" that it wishes to include. The IPCC authors are in effect serving as peer reviewers of any grey literature that it includes in its report, warranting its accuracy based on their expert evaluation. If this process breaks down, it would be very easy for false or misleading claims to be represented as authoritative.

In the case of melting glaciers in the Himalayas, the IPCC 2035 claim has led to, in Nielsen-Gammen's words, an egregious mistake becoming "effectively common knowledge that the glaciers were going to vanish by 2035." Like the common (but wrong) knowledge on disasters and climate change that originated in the grey literature and was subsequently misrepresented by the IPCC, on the melting of Himalayan glaciers the IPCC has dramatically misled policy makers and the public.

That the IPCC has made some important mistakes is very troubling, but perhaps understandable given the magnitude of the effort. Its reluctance to deal with obvious errors is an even greater problem reflecting poorly on an institution that has become too insular and politicized.

21 December 2009

How Large is the Global Energy Economy?

Over at the Energy Tribune Robert Bryce has an interesting post discussing the fallout from Copenhagen. What I'd like to focus on are his estimates of the size of the global energy industry, which help to answer a question I've had for a while. He writes:
The global energy business dwarfs every other sector. It is a $5-trillion-per-year business, of which at least $4.4 trillion is derived directly from coal, oil, and natural gas. No matter how much the US and the rest of the world may desire a move away from those energy sources, the transition to renewable sources – and to no-carbon sources like nuclear power – will take most of the 21st century and require trillions of dollars in new investment.
I emailed Robert asking for details and he helpfully wrote back with the following:
Total global energy use in 2008 was 11.29 billion tons of oil equivalent.
At 7.33 bbls per ton, that works out to about 82.8B bbls.
Multiplied by $60/bbl = $4.9T (Source)
If the global economy is $61 trllion (2008, PDF)) then $5 trillion represents about 8.2% of the global economy. But surely Bryce's back-of-the-envelope calculation is a lower bound. I am posting this up in hopes that readers might help point to other estimates of the size of the energy industry in the context of the global economy. Thanks!

20 December 2009

Does the IPCC Chairman Have Conflicts of Interest?

The Telegraph has an article today on the many business-related associations of Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Here is an excerpt:

In 2007, for instance, he was appointed to the advisory board of Siderian, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm specialising in ‘sustainable technologies’, where he was expected to provide the Fund with ‘access, standing and industrial exposure at the highest level’,

In 2008 he was made an adviser on renewable and sustainable energy to the Credit Suisse bank and the Rockefeller Foundation. He joined the board of the Nordic Glitnir Bank, as it launched its Sustainable Future Fund, looking to raise funding of £4 billion. He became chairman of the Indochina Sustainable Infrastructure Fund, whose CEO was confident it could soon raise £100 billion.

In the same year he became a director of the International Risk Governance Council in Geneva, set up by EDF and E.On, two of Europe’s largest electricity firms, to promote ‘bio-energy’. This year Dr Pachauri joined the New York investment fund Pegasus as a ‘strategic adviser’, and was made chairman of the advisory board to the Asian Development Bank, strongly supportive of CDM trading, whose CEO warned that failure to agree a treaty at Copenhagen would lead to a collapse of the carbon market.

The list of posts now held by Dr Pachauri as a result of his new-found world status goes on and on. He has become head of Yale University’s Climate and Energy Institute, which enjoys millions of dollars of US state and corporate funding. He is on the climate change advisory board of Deutsche Bank. He is Director of the Japanese Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and was until recently an adviser to Toyota Motors. Recalling his origins as a railway engineer, he is even a policy adviser to SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company. . .
Do these associations result in a conflict of interest? The Telegraph appears to think so:
One subject the talkative Dr Pachauri remains silent on, however, is how much money he is paid for all these important posts, which must run into millions of dollars. Not one of the bodies for which he works publishes his salary or fees, and this notably includes the UN, which refuses to reveal how much we all pay him as one of its most senior officials. . . But the real question mark over TERI’s director-general remains over the relationship between his highly lucrative commercial jobs and his role as chairman of the IPCC.
Dr. Pachauri responded to the article in very strong terms alleging that the Telegraph article was somehow associated with those who released the CRU emails:
Reacting to the report, Pachauri told TOI: ‘‘These are a pack of lies from people who are getting desperate. They want to go after the guy whose voice is being heard. I haven’t pocketed a single penny from my association with companies and institutes. All honoraria that I get goes to TERI and to its Light a Billion Lives campaign for reaching solar power to people without electricity. All my dealings are totally above board.’’

Pachauri pointed out that the previous IPCC chairman was in the World Bank and the one before that was a professor. ‘‘Can you then say the university benefsited from his association with IPCC? The people who have flung these charges are part of the same vested interest group which hacked the server of UK’s East Anglia University. They are getting desperate because the world is now serious about moving away from fossil fuels. I want to ask them how much money they spent in the operation? Hacking a server is a costly exercise,’’ he said.

On TERI’s links with the Tata group, Pachauri said, ‘‘Our ties ended when Darbari Seth, who was on our board, died in 1999. We haven’t received a single penny from Tatas for years and have no ties with them.’’ He added that TERI submits its yearly accounts to the government under Section 12 of the income tax law. ‘‘We fully comply with all government laws,’’ he said.

Pachauri, who recently took up the post of the head of the Climate and Energy Institute at Yale University, said the appointment was held up for a while because he had insisted that his salary be credited to TERI. ‘‘My conscience is clear and that is why I am cool towards these allegations.’’

On whether he intends to take legal action against the report, Pachauri said he hadn’t made up his mind. ‘‘Action against these people only gives dignity to these guys,’’ he added.
What are the guidelines for the IPCC for conflicts of interest and disclosure? I can find nothing on their web site. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), one of the parent bodies of the IPCC has a Code of Ethics (PDF) that says the following:
21. Staff members avoid any conflict of interest, or appearance of conflict of interest, in the performance of their duties. They:

a) Disclose in advance possible conflicts of interest that arise in the course of carrying out their duties;

b) Refrain from acting in the course of their duties with respect to a matter in which they or someone with whom they have a close relationship, or from whom they are seeking employment or other benefit or favour, has a special interest; and

c) Refrain from any active association with the management of and hold no financial interest in any profit seeking or other concern which might benefit by reason of their position in the WMO.

22. Officials holding senior positions and all officials with responsibility for preparing or taking procurement decisions or investing or managing financial assets make financial disclosures annually and more often as required.
The United Nations, the other parent body of the IPCC, has this to say about conflict of interest in its Standards of conduct for the international civil service (PDF):
21. It can happen that international civil servants are confronted with a question entailing a conflict of interest; such questions can be very sensitive and need to be treated with care. Conflict of interest includes circumstances in which international civil servants, directly or indirectly, would appear to benefit improperly, or allow a third party to benefit improperly, from their association in the management or the holding of a financial interest in an enterprise that engages in any business or transaction with the organization.

22. There can be no question but that international civil servants should avoid assisting private bodies or persons in their dealings with their organization where this might lead to actual or perceived preferential treatment. This is particularly important in procurement matters or when negotiating prospective employment. At times, international civil servants may be required to disclose certain personal assets if this is necessary to enable their organizations to make sure that there is no conflict. They should also voluntarily disclose in advance possible conflicts of interest that arise in the course of carrying out their duties. They should perform their official duties and conduct their private affairs in a manner that preserves and enhances public confidence in their own integrity and that of their organization.
Based on the WMO and UN discussions of conflicts of interest, it seems clear that Dr. Pachauri has, at the very least, several associations that raise the appearance of a conflict of interest in such a way that does not preserve and enhance "public confidence in their own integrity and that of their organization." Since we do not have details on Dr. Pachauri's activities or compensation from these various organizations and businesses, it is impossible to tell what, if any, conflicts actually may exist.

It is perfectly reasonable to expect high-ranking IPCC officials to follow the WMO and UN guidelines for conflict of interest and disclosure. Apparently, they presently do not follow these or any other such practices. If the IPCC does not have any policies governing these issues, it certainly needs to develop them, lest they give the impression that climate scientists play by different rules than everyone else.

The issue of conflict of interest is complicated. Earlier this year, I helped prepare a report of the Bipartisan Policy Center on the role of science in regulatory decision making (here in PDF) as part of a project seeking to help the Obama Administration improve federal science policies. Here is an excerpt from our report:
The general principles that the National Academy of Sciences uses to define conflict of interest apply equally well to the government: “The term ‘conflict of interest’ means any financial or other interest which conflicts with the service of the individual because it (1) could significantly impair the individual’s objectivity or (2) could create an unfair competitive advantage for any person or organization….[Conflict] means something more than individual bias. There must be an interest, ordinarily financial, that could be directly affected by the work of the committee. Conflict of interest requirements are objective and prophylactic. They are not an assessment of one’s actual behavior or character….[For regulatory issues], the focus of the regulatory inquiry is on the identification...of any interests that may be directly affected by the use of such reports in the regulatory process.”12 (Italics in the original.)

Our panel did not reach agreement on a complete set of circumstances that should be considered to constitute a conflict of interest. This again underscores the need for clear definitions and illustrative cases in federal policy as the definition is not obvious. (See the Appendices of this chapter for a list of the circumstances our panel considered, and for a comparison of conflict policies used by a variety of institutions.)

Our panel did agree that certain relationships should be considered a conflict. For example, an employee of a company that has a product under review, or a scientist funded by that company to research or defend that particular product should be considered to have a conflict of interest vis-à-vis an advisory committee reviewing the environmental or health impacts of that product. The same would be true of someone with the same links to a competing product.

The panel also agreed that the question to be asked in defining a conflict of interest is whether a particular financial relationship would tend to constrain a generic individual’s point of view. Such relationships need to be defined as conflicts regardless of the source of the funding.
As part of getting its house in order, the climate science community needs to take seriously issues of conflict of interest and develop formal processes to help foster public confidence and trust in leading institutions. "Trust us, we're scientists" probably isn't going to work any longer.

Treating Peer Review Like a Partisan Blog

John Christy and David Douglass provide a detailed accounting of how a comment on one of their papers was handled in the peer review process (even more detail here). Their experience, with the gory details revealed by the CRU emails, show in all of its unpleasantness how activist scientists sought to stage-manage climate science from the inside.

Their story hits very close to home with me, as I went through a very,very similar process with respect to a comment (PDF) and reply (PDF) on the "shameful article" on hurricanes and global warming that I co-authored in 2005 (PDF). (If my emails ever get hacked you'll see that ugly episode from the inside.;-) That situation had a positive outcome only because at the time I protested efforts to deny us a right to respond in accordance with journal policies and threatened to go public with the improper efforts at stage-management. I am sure that these sort of shenanigans go on in academia more than we'd like to admit, however that does not justify them.

What these episodes reveal is an effort by activist climate scientists to stage-manage the peer review process much like how one might manage a partisan blog for public consumption. The blog management philosophy of Real Climate was described as follows in the CRU emails:
I wanted you guys to know that you're free to use [the RealClimate blog] in any way you think would be helpful. Gavin and I are going to be careful about what comments we screen through, and we'll be very careful to answer any questions that come up to any extent we can. On the other hand, you might want to visit the thread and post replies yourself. We can hold comments up in the queue and contact you about whether or not you think they should be screened through or not, and if so, any comments you'd like us to include.

You're also welcome to do a followup guest post, etc. think of RC as a resource that is at your disposal to combat any disinformation put forward by the McIntyres of the world. Just let us know. We'll use our best discretion to make sure the skeptics dont'get to use the RC comments as a megaphone...
While bloggers are of course free to operate their turf as they see fit, whatever one's views of climate science, climate policy or the Douglass et al. paper, we should all be able to agree that efforts to stage manage the peer review process are not good for science, however they might be justified.

Post-Copenhagen: More Questions than Answers

As the dust settles from the remarkable Copenhagen meeting observers are presenting vastly different messages about what has happened and what it means. Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, warns that anyone who criticizes Copenhagen is simply trying to stop action from moving forward: "anyone who just badmouths Copenhagen now is engaging in the business of those who are applying the brakes rather than moving forward." However, efforts to shut down debate are not going to work, as people are engaged in the very useful exercise of sorting out the meaning of Copenhagen.

Here are a few examples from the United States on the left side of the political spectrum:

Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of 350.org, says that Copenhagen was an absolute disaster:
The idea that there’s a world community that means something has disappeared tonight. The clear point is, you poor nations can spout off all you want on questions like human rights or the role of women or fighting polio or handling refugees. But when you get too close to the center of things that count—the fossil fuel that’s at the center of our economy—you can forget about it. We’re not interested. You’re a bother, and when you sink beneath the waves, we don’t want to hear much about it. The dearest hope of the American right for 50 years was essentially realized because in the end coal is at the center of America’s economy. We already did this with war and peace, and now we’ve done it with global warming. What exactly is the point of the U.N. now?
In stark contrast, Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress sees much to value in the Copenhagen outcome:
It is comprehensive, allows for parties to propose a full range of emission reductions rather than only economy-wide targets, which is a good thing, develops a pathway to more ambitious medium term financing, and binds emission pathways to halt warming over 2 degrees Celsius. In fact, it is the first international agreement to promise consideration of limiting warming to 1.5C.

Unfortunately though the agreement does not have a hard deadline to take the second step and turn it into a final legally binding agreement by 2010 in Mexico City. Such a provision would have provided the basis for a good answer to those who find the numbers and reduction targets in the accord lacking. As they will expire in one or two years they would, of necessity, need to be adjusted to continue reducing emissions at an appropriate pace. Nonetheless, UN General Secretary Moon and other parties have committed themselves to taking the next step and turning this document into a binding legal agreement by the next UN climate summit in Mexico City in 2010.

There is however a different aspect of this deal that could be the beginning of a game changer in how the world looks at ending carbon pollution. The Copenhagen Accord was not forged among our closest allies in the developed world; it was the product of cooperation between the US and a group of the largest carbon emitters in the developing world. In fact, this same group had met prior to the Copenhagen meeting in China to declare that they would never move beyond one of the core guiding assumptions of the Kyoto Protocol: that the world is divided between developed and developing countries and that only the former are required to take steps to curb their carbon emissions and be held accountable for those reductions.

This union of the US with these four countries is premised on what could become a new guiding assumption: that the world is divided between the major emitters of carbon pollution and everyone else. In that respect the fact that the accord includes a robust compromise on measurement, reporting, and verification acceptable to both the US and China is significant. A framework has finally been advanced for cooperation between developed and developing countries on reductions rather than continuing a process mired in the old divisions which have hampered us for so long.
On the US political right, I can find almost no reaction to Copenhagen, except for some minor musing on what it might mean for Senate consideration of cap-and-trade in the spring. I would expect to see some triumphalism at the perceived failure of the meeting, and I would doubt that there will be any positive takes (other than "we're happy that it failed"). In addition, I have little sense about how the meeting's outcome has been received around the world, and I'd welcome links, pointers and analysis in the comments from my non-U.S. readers.

So all of this is to say that I am not yet at all sure what Copenhagen signifies. I read comments like those above from Angela Merkel that suggest to me that Copenhagen will soon be forgotten as the interminable international process reloads for another series of mostly inconsequential meetings, either under the UN or some other framework (e.g., see Light's comments above). At the same time, Copenhagen surely showed that the UN FCCC cannot succeed at the task of stabilizing emissions of greenhouse gases, a point that I have argued for over a decade. While some people can certainly pretend that it is moving in a positive direction, I would think that enough people can now see the Emperor's new clothes such that business as usual is unsustainable (e.g., see McKibben's comments above). So I can envision a wide range of outcomes from this point.

Richard Black of the BBC has an insightful post that explains that even at the most basic technical level, those participating in the international process don't even know what Copenhagen means:

Intriguingly, the morning after the deal was announced by White House press release, it wasn't clear whether it counts as an agreement within the UN system or whether it lies outside.

If parties had adopted the deal, it would be a UN issue. But they didn't, because there was no consensus; instead governments only decided to "take note" of the accord.

During their discussions afterwards, several delegations suggested this means it isn't a UN agreement - and various UN officials gave different interpretations.

If it turns out not to be a UN agreement, then - at the extreme end of things - the UN climate convention could effectively be dead as the powerful world's favoured instrument for controlling emissions.

A deal made at a UN summit would move outside, being a free-standing arrangement effectively decided by the 26 countries involved in the drafting.

It will mean that a select group of countries - the G20, or thereabouts - will basically decide what they want to do, and then do it.

That might sound like an extreme analysis, and perhaps it is; but in the last few years, climate pledges have been made in the G8, the Major Economies Forum and the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum (Apec) - all places where countries can say what they want with no pesky small states around to demand that they do more.

Don't forget that there has been no real negotiation here on targets for developed nations. Sessions have been held, yes; but all developed countries set their own targets before they arrived, and stuck to them.

In principle, poor countries would lose from a transition away from the UNFCCC, because its mechanisms are supposed to bring them access to clean technology and money for forests and climate protection.

It's hard to overstate the size of the mood change that's occurred over the last few months - even over the last two days.

Approaching the summit, it appeared that pretty much all the countries wanted a new global climate deal under the UNFCCC umbrella. Politicians from many countries invested significant diplomatic effort to make it happen - apparently.

The concluding sequence of this much-hyped summit has left many observers and national delegations stunned.

Ministers and officials and scientists and campaigners and lobbyists who have dedicated huge swathes of the last year to making a tough deal happen watched aghast as Chinese and US leaders and their entourages flew in, took over the agenda and emerged with what was basically their own private deal, with leaders announcing it live on television before others realised it had happened.

Does Copenhagen, then, mark not the beginning of a new global climate regime but the end of the vision of global, negotiated climate governance?

Is it the end for the idea of global, negotiated governance on other environmental issues?

These are big questions that many never saw themselves having to ask in the Obama era.

Many questions, few answers.

18 December 2009

Lost Trust

The image above is from the Washington Post today in a story reporting the results of a new poll on climate change. The poll shows that the biggest change in public opinion from April 2009 to last week has been in President Obama's approval rating on his handling of the climate issue and in public trust of scientists, and these finding hold across the political spectrum in different degrees. Interestingly, and consistent with past polls, public support for action on greenhouse gases remains very strong. Here is an excerpt from the story:

There's also rising public doubt and growing political polarization about what scientists have to say on the environment, and a widespread perception that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is happening.

But for all the challenges American policymakers have to overcome, nearly two-thirds of people surveyed say the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to curb global warming.
What lesson to take here? First, if climate science is perceived to be deeply politicized it will probably lead to a loss of public trust. How long this will last and what might be done to recover the lost trust remains to be seen. I suspect that continued efforts to participate in overt or covert political advocacy are just not going to help in recovering this trust, and may do exactly the opposite.

The leadership of the climate science community has thus far shown no ability to differentiate between taking care of the integrity of its institutions in terms of building credibility and legitimacy, and advocating for action on climate change, emphasizing the latter almost exclusively. I would guess that many climate scientists will respond to this poll by complaining about the stupidity of the public and the efforts of disinformation campaigns, rather than looking to get their own house in order. If so, they may be in for a rough ride in opinion polls for some time to come.

More broadly, public support for action remains an untapped reservoir. The problem of course is, what action? Those being discussed in Copenhagen don't seem to be the ones.

Before and After Copenhagen

As the Copenhagen climate meeting comes to its end, with the exact outcome still to be announced, I thought I'd re-post my expectations for the meeting published in October.
The good news for international negotiators and politicians who have promised action is that the stage is set for a global agreement of some sort but, we are told, perhaps not with I's dotted and t's crossed. This means that government claims to be taking action can be backed up with evidence of some sort of an agreement at Copenhagen, while at the same time ineffectual domestic actions can be sustained. If the negotiators are really clever, they will find a way to package the ineffectual domestic policies as a sort of patched-together global agreement.

However, for those who care about emissions reductions, especially leading environmental groups and activists in the science community, the joke will be on them - they will get just about everything they campaigned for, except any prospect for actual reductions in future emissions. Meanwhile, India and China will be able to continue their current round of securing oil, gas, and coal from sources around the world to fuel their booming economic growth. Similarly, as we march toward Copenhagen, the Obama Administration has quietly set forth plans to build a pipeline from Canada to exploit carbon-intensive oil locked in tar sands. The United Kingdom and other EU countries are considering building new coal and gas plants to meet growing needs for power. As long as leaders of the climate movement continue to pretend that progress is being made, the climate policy charade will go on for a while longer, while business proceeds as usual.
In July a group of us concerned with the fact that climate policy is off course published a White Paper suggesting an alternative way to think about the challenge of decarbonizing the global economy:
Prins, G., Cook., M., Green, C., Hulme, M., Korhola, A., Korhola, E.R., Pielke, Jr., R., Rayner, S., Sawa, A., Sarewitz, D., Stehr, N., and H. von Storch, 2009. How to get climate policy back on course. Institute for Science, Innovation and Society, Oxford University and London School of Economics, The Mackinder Programme, LSE.
In that paper we argued that a more direct approach to decarbonizing the global economy would be more likely to lead to progress than the current, indirect approach being discussed in Copenhagen:
We should switch decisively to a radically different but also very familiar approach to policy which focuses upon actions that have worked in the past and which we know to be politically feasible. This track stands in contrast to current conventional wisdom which, oddly, is grounded upon policies that have not worked in the past and which we know never to have been politically feasible except through the application of unacceptable political forces.
Please have a look at that paper for the critique and suggested alternative approach. Will post-Copenhagen discussions be more or less open to alternatives? Will we repeat the Copenhagen exercise next fall in Mexico City? Time will tell.

Michael Mann on the "Poor Judgment" of His Colleagues

In today's Washington Post, Michael Mann of Penn State University and CRU email fame, gives us some good news about climate science and some bad news about his colleagues.

The good news is that climate science in his view is not at all impeached by the release of the CRU emails.
The scientific consensus regarding human-caused climate change is based on decades of work by thousands of scientists around the world.
The bad news is that some of his colleagues exhibited "poor judgment":
I cannot condone some things that colleagues of mine wrote or requested in the e-mails recently stolen from a climate research unit at a British university. . . Some statements in the stolen e-mails reflect poor judgment -- for example, a colleague referring to deleting e-mails that might be subject to a Freedom of Information Act request -- but there is no evidence that this happened.
I doubt that Professor Mann will be getting many cheery Christmas cards from his CRU-email colleagues.

17 December 2009

More Wisdom on Activist Climate Science

In the FT today Tom de Castella has a worthwhile piece on the lessons that the climate science community should draw from the aftermath of the CRU email hack/leak. Unfortunately, from my vantage point the community is far from learning these lessons. Here is how de Castella ends his piece:

In short, the e-mails do not undermine the CRU’s surface temperature record or the wider science. But that is not the point – it is the culture of climate science that has been tarnished. A picture emerges of experts who relate tribally, avoid transparency and worry too much about getting a good press. The perception is perhaps unfair, based as it is on a small, activist-minded band, but it goes back to Adam Smith’s remark about producer interests: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

Mr Trenberth insists the e-mail hack equated to a “swiftboating” of climate scientists, a reference to the smearing of John Kerry’s presidential campaign. He argues there is nothing wrong with scientists advocating policy: “I’m a scientist but I’m also a citizen of the world.” He is right that society wants more guidance from scientists. But what we need most is a more nuanced understanding of the risks and probabilities. That requires an intellectual elite who are climate sceptics in the true sense, rather than busily applying blue facepaint and reaching for a placard.

The Paper that the Australian Government Didn't Want Published

Clive Spash, whose adventures with CSIRO in Australia have been discussed here a few times (here, here and here) has posted on his website a link to "the paper" that caused all the "fuss." The paper focuses on "emissions trading schemes" (ETS) that are the focus of international and many domestic efforts to reign in growing carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gas) emissions. Spash includes the following footnote at the outset:
This paper has no association with the author's former employer the CSIRO. No such affiliation should be associated with the author in regards to this paper or its citation. Posted on RePEc with permission of the journal editors of New Political Economy. Please cite as: Spash, Clive L. (2010) "The Brave New World of Carbon Trading" New Political Economy vol.15 no.2 forthcoming.
Here are a few excerpts from the paper's conclusions (direct link to PDF):
While carbon trading and offset schemes seem set to spread, they so far appear ineffective in terms of actually reducing GHGs. Despite this apparent failure, ETS remain politically popular amongst the industrialised polluters. The public appearance is that action is being undertaken. The reality is that GHGs are increasing and society is avoiding the need for substantive proposals to address the problem of behavioural and structural change.
The Australian government is pursuing a proposed ETS to reduce its emissions by as much as 25% by 2020. In my own research (PDF) I have shown that the ETS (or any other set of policies) cannot achieve the ambitious emissions reduction targets set by the Australian government. One can understand the political sensitivity of a researcher at a government agency saying the same.

More from Spash's conclusion:
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the ETS debate is the way in which an economic model bearing little relationship to political reality is being used to justify the creation of complicated new financial instruments and a major new commodity market. In 2008 the financial sector was in a global crisis having manipulated bad debts and mismanaged its own finances to the point of requiring international banks to seek government bailouts. Yet ETS proposals place a new multi-billion dollar market in the hands of the same people and organisations. Recent experience illustrates how market players continually seek new ways to profit from adapting institutional rules, and regulators struggle to keep-up.

There is also something incongruous in governments proposing to host financial markets in their own countries for competitive advantage on the basis that their institutions are well regulated, secure, trustworthy, have good labour and environmental standards, and so on. The incongruity is because they then wish to buy products (i.e., offsets) from countries which clearly fail to meet the same standards. The justification that this is cheaper, least-cost or economically efficient can only be supported if standards are the same across countries. Basic environmental and social standards clearly do matter more than price across all traded commodities, otherwise we might as well, for example, buy shoes made cheaply using unpaid child labour. Non-equivalence is more than a matter of an accounting system to equate units of some physical product (even if this were possible). Such matters are far from irrelevant to how ETS is designed and operated.

A key weakness of an ETS compared to alternative policies—taxes or direct regulation—is that an excessive baseline or regulatory loophole in any one nation or sector eliminates the need for genuine reductions elsewhere. The more complex the scheme and the greater its scope, the greater the potential for a weak link. National carbon markets allow poorly regulated sectors to gain, just as international carbon markets are susceptible to rewarding countries with lax regulations and poor enforcement.

An ETS can in theory provide a similar incentive as under a tax by pricing of all units of pollution. This is meant to encourage development of pollution control technology so as to reduce abatement costs. However, the major difference from a tax is that the revenue stream need not go to government, depending upon how the scheme is established and run. For example, if the government gives all existing polluters permits for free then the public purse gains no revenue; instead polluters can sell the permits on the open market and so avail themselves of a windfall. This adds an incentive for polluting parties to form lobby groups in order to influence policy design to avail themselves of such gains.

The billions of dollars now being generated in trading carbon and offsets has created a powerful institutional structure which has many vested interests whose opportunities for making money rely on maintaining GHG emissions, not reducing them. The transaction costs inherent in these markets are actually being seen as a source of economic growth rather than a deadweight loss to society. Once created, how politicians will cut the market by 80 percent—even within the 40 years they are allowing themselves—is hard to imagine. After all, the reason for emissions trading is that corporations and the technostructure proved too powerful for the political process to establish a tax or direct regulation in the first place.

The framing of the whole issue of human induced climate change is highly important to how it is addressed. There seem two opposing characterisations. On the one hand, financiers, bankers and major polluters argue we must bravely face the new opportunity for markets to innovatively show how the most intangible of objects can be bought and sold, reaping vast financial gains and stimulating economic growth. On the other hand, society can realise that ever increasing material throughput based upon fossil fuels has led to serious environmental problems, and failed to address social inequity, so that a change in economic structure, institutions and behaviour is now necessary. Clearly the former is dominant and perhaps we must await a financial emissions trading crisis and increasing environmental disasters to reverse that situation.

In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the drug ‘soma’ offered inhabitants of a future Earth the means to distract themselves from addressing life’s problems while supporting the established social and economic order in the promotion of happiness through hedonic pleasures. Today emissions trading promises a painless way to avoid human induced climate change which will leave the growth economy unaffected in its pursuit of happiness through materialism. The reader is left to judge illusion from reality and the desirability of the society created.
Strong stuff. One thing is certain: In trying to suppress Spash's work the Australian government guaranteed that it would receive a much wider reading that it would have otherwise.

Wrapped in Science

From today's FT (emphasis added):

The new head of Washington’s programme to tackle HIV and Aids around the world has drawn a line under the moralistic approach supported by its founder, George W. Bush, the former US president.

Eric Goosby outlined a new five-year strategy for the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), which has so far provided $25bn (€17bn, £15bn), and said future programmes to prevent HIV infection would be those supported by the best scientific evidence.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Dr Goosby said that in discussions with policymakers and politicians, “I will always wrap myself in the science as the justification of decision-making. I will not factor in an ideological rationale.

The FT also reported:
Dr Goosby also made clear his agency would not fund abortions.
No ideology there, all wrapped up in science.

16 December 2009

Sarewitz and Thernstrom on the CRU Emails

Dan Sarewitz of ASU and Sam Thernstrom of AEI have an excellent op-ed on the CRU emails in today's Los Angeles Times. Here is how they begin:
As two scholars with different political orientations but common concerns, we have each worked to challenge conventional wisdom that has undermined public understanding of the climate change problem. Many Republicans have been too reluctant to acknowledge strong evidence of human-caused warming and the need for prudent policies that could reduce its harmful effects. Democrats have let their own political judgments and values infect climate science and its interpretation, often understating the uncertainties about the timing and scale of future risks, and the tremendous costs and difficulties of effective action.

Yet both parties have agreed, although tacitly, on one thing: Science is the appropriate arbiter of the political debate, and policy decisions should be determined by objective scientific assessments of future risks. This seductive idea gives politicians something to hide behind when faced with divisive decisions. If "pure" science dictates our actions, then there is no need to acknowledge the role that political interests and social values play in deciding how society should address climate change.
Read the whole thing, and please feel free to come back and discuss. I'll call any discussion to the attention of Dan and Sam, and maybe pique their interest in participating.

Catch 22

Prospects for U.S. climate legislation hinge on a successful outcome at Copenhagen, says Senator John Kerry (D-MA):
If international climate change talks falter this week, chances for the United States approving its own carbon pollution-reduction plan will seriously erode, U.S. Senator John Kerry warned on Wednesday.
Meantime, negotiators in Copenhagen await leadership from the United States as the basis for an international agreement:
Everyone is waiting to see if President Obama will improve the offer from the US when he joins the conference on Friday. There is a widespread reluctance among other countries to make significant concessions until the country which has caused most of the problem takes more of its fair share of the burden of solving it.
But the United States won't go further than its legislative process will allow:
. . . the United States poured cold water on the notion that it would deepen its offer of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions, as outlined by President Barack Obama in the run-up to the conference.

"I am not anticipating any change in the mitigation commitment," US chief delegate Todd Stern told a press conference.

"Our commitment is tied to our anticipated legislation and there are elements in that legislation that could result in an overall target or an overall reduction amount that could actually be a fair amount higher.

"But we're not making a commitment to that right now because it's just uncertain and we don't want to promise something that we don't have."

Unless President Obama can spring a substantive surprise this week in Copenhagen, guess who is going to once again be the bad guy in the negotiations?

15 December 2009

Stewart Brand's Four Camps

In the NYT today Stewart Brand explains that the climate debate really has four -- not two -- different poles. He confuses me and my father as an example of a "skeptic" (he refers to my father, a climate scientist, but then cites my research on IPCC scenarios). While it is nice to see a little nuance creep into the debate, the fatal flaw in Brand's taxonomy is that it defines its ordering with respect to views on science. The climate debate has much more nuance among people who share the same views on the science, so I find Brand's taxonomy a bit simplistic.

In 2005, I blogged my own taxonomy of the debate.

Climate realists. The UPI column correctly places me in this camp. But Steve Rayner characterized this community best,

“But, between Kyoto’s supporters and those who scoff at the dangers of leaving greenhouse gas emissions unchecked, there has been a tiny minority of commentators and analysts convinced of the urgency of the problem while remaining profoundly sceptical of the proposed solution. Their voices have largely gone unheard. Climate change policy has become a victim of the sunk costs fallacy. We are told that Kyoto is “the only game in town”.

However, it is plausible to argue that implementing Kyoto has distracted attention and effort from real opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect society against climate impacts. While it may not be politically practical or desirable to abandon the Kyoto path altogether, it certainly seems prudent to open up other approaches to achieving global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientizers. This large and diverse group actively works to frame the climate issue as a scientific debate under the expectation that if you win the scientific debate then your political agenda will necessarily follow. This group is comprised mostly of scientists of one sort or another. I would include here the dueling science-cum-politics weblogs Realclimate.org and Climateaudit.org (we had an exchange with Reaclimate folks a while back). I would also include here CATO’s Patrick Michaels and the IPCC’s Rajendra Pachauri (see this post) and others who have a clear political perspective but choose frequently to debate the science as a proxy war. A great irony is that the Scientizers have different political views but share the expectation that science is the appropriate battleground for this debate, and have together thus far successfully kept the focus of attention on the climate science rather than policy and politics.

Energy Policy Free Riders. The climate debate in many ways represents the evolution of an energy policy debate that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO) characterized this perspective in the late 1980s when he said,

“We’ve got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy” (cited here, in PDF).
For this group the current debate over climate change is really all about changing energy policies.

Free Market Free Riders. Like the EP Free Riders the FM Free Riders see the climate debate as the evolution of a preexisting debate over the role of government and the individual in society. A recent column at Tech Central Station presented a strong version of this perspective,

“[The Kyoto Protocol] is emblematic of the ‘unorthodox’ thinking in social sciences. It gave the world Marxism, Stalinism, planned economies and fascism in the past, and supports anti-trade movements, anarcho-socialism, dogmatic pacifism and multicultural relativism today.”

International Relations Free Riders. The international relations free riders see the Kyoto Protocol as an extension of recent tensions between the U.S. and Europe, in particular, and have more concern with multilateralism than climate per se. In this group are those who see multilateralism as a solution to international conflicts (climate among them) and others who see it as part of them problem. The IR Free Riders includes the U.S. neoconservatives and their opponents. It also represents a cleavage of opinion between the Bush Administration’s approach-to-date on climate and that generally favored by governments in Europe.

There is undoubtedly a larger set of “free riders” who have sought to hitch their own favored agendas (e.g., species preservation, Bush Administration bashing, etc. etc.) to the climate issue, but these seem to be the most significant.

Those who Suffer Climate Impacts. There is an extremely large group of people (and species, ecosystems, etc.) that actually experience the effects of climate in their everyday lives. Too often they are used as symbols (or as potential material witnesses in lawsuits) by one of the groups listed above without real concern for their plight. The hundred of millions of people who suffer the impacts of climate have a real political stake in climate policies and with a few notable exceptions (e.g., see the 2002 Delhi Declaration) have little voice in how climate policy is evolving. (See also this recent paper.)

Undoubtedly there are more camps in this complex tapestry, but further discussion will have to continue another time. I’m off to class.

Steps to Meet Japan's 25% Emissions Reduction Target

In the East Asia Forum, Kazuhiko Takeuchi, of the United Nations University, cites recent research on what it would take for Japan to meet a 25% emissions reduction target by 2020:

On Monday 7 September, 2009 at the Asahi World Environment Forum, the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, announced that the government would reduce Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels, by the year 2020 – this is equivalent to one-third from current levels in just 11 years...
So, how will the goal be achieved? Details are still unclear. The new government has not explained which sectors will have to make the emissions reductions. It announced it would promote green industries, establish a domestic carbon trading market, introduce a global warming measure tax, increase renewable energy by 10 per cent by 2020 through the introduction of a fixed-price feed-in tariff policy, and subsidise photovoltaics for households, environmentally-friendly automobiles, and energy-efficient household appliances.

Professor Tetsuo Yuhara, presented what he considered were the required steps to reaching this target at the recent IR3S and University of Tokyo symposium. Reaching the target would require sectoral reductions as follows: industry: 29 per cent, transport: 34 per cent, commercial: 41 per cent, residential: around 50 per cent, energy conversion: 41 per cent. Solar power generation must increase by 55 per cent from current levels requiring photovoltaic cells to be installed in all new houses and some existing houses (600,000 annually). 15 new nuclear power plants must be built and operated with 90 per cent capacity utilisation rate, far above the current rate of 60 per cent. Increased thermal power from both gas power plants and bio-mass mixed combustion would be needed. 90 per cent of sales of new vehicles must be of next generation vehicles. All new houses and existing houses must have heat insulation installed, and mandatory energy conservation standards must be implemented. The price of one ton of CO2 would be 82,000 yen under the new target, compared to 15,000 yen for the previous target of an 8 per cent reduction, or the current price of around 7000 yen.
Is that all? For more on Japan's proposed efforts to decarbonize its economy see:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2009. Mamizu Climate Policy: An Evaluation of Japanese Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets, Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 4, No. 4.

13 December 2009

Shellenberger and Nordhaus on Copenhagen

At the Breakthrough Institute blog. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus have a thoughtful essay on the meaning of Copenhagen. They cover a lot of territory and in characteristic fashion, they don't leave you guessing as to their views. Here is a short excerpt to whet your appetite:
Copenhagen, like the Waxman-Markey climate legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives last June, revealed the most delusional natures of liberals, conservatives, greens and skeptics alike. Skeptics and conservatives claimed that Waxman-Markey would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. Greens claimed it would result in a low-carbon economy for the cost of a postage stamp a day. In truth, as all independent analyses show, the legislation will have little to no impact on energy prices or the economy -- for the simple reason that it will do little to reduce emissions or deploy low carbon energy technologies.

Yet, from London to Canberra to Washington, D.C., liberals and greens sell business-as-usual policies as the keys to averting ecological apocalypse. And everywhere conservatives and skeptics warn that these same policies will lead to economic ruin. The denialists' pas de deux continues, the multiple echo chambers spinning in unison.

In this environment, skeptics and greens alike make hallucinogenic statements and create bizarre media stunts. The president of the Maldives, a nation of 300,000 people, summoned the press corps to a "cabinet meeting" -- under water, in scuba gear -- based on the apparent belief that such media stunts will persuade China and India, nations of two billion people, to fundamentally alter their development paths. Youth climate activists sing "Give Peace a Chance" not because global warming is like war but because it's the best protest song they knew.
Head over and read the whole thing. There is enough in there for everyone to find something to agree with or disagree with, but regardless of your views, Shellengberger and Nordhaus will make you think.

Note: I am a Senior Fellow of The Breakthrough Institute, and proud of it.

Clive Crook on Climate Science and Public Trust

Clive Crook is an extremely thoughtful columnist and commentator on American politics. In the Financial Times today he has a smart piece on climate science and public trust. Here is an excerpt:
Any fair-minded person would regard those [CRU email] exchanges as raising questions. On the face of it, these are not the standards one expects of science. Nor is this just any science. The work of these researchers is being used to press the case for economic policies with colossal adjustment costs. Plainly, the highest standards of intellectual honesty and openness are called for. The e-mails do not attest to such standards.

Yet how did the establishment respond? It said that this is how science is done in the real world. Initially, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defended the scientists and played down the significance of their correspondence. Al Gore said he had not read the e-mails (they were stolen, for heaven’s sake) and that they were reassuring.

When, inexplicably, that did not quell the scandal, the climate-science establishment argued that even if CRU’s work was excluded from consideration, plenty of other evidence supported its findings. Maybe so, thinks the fair-minded voter. But the independence of other big research groups is not entirely clear. In any case, many scientists had just called the e-mailers exemplars of best practice. Why should one expect other researchers’ standards to be any different?

Which leaves smearing the doubters as opponents of science itself. They are either stupid or evil; “flat-earthers” or “deniers” (akin, that is, to Holocaust deniers). Supporters of the consensus no doubt lap this up. The voters who need to be convinced are less likely to. On the whole, people object to being called ignorant or evil. That is not how you bring them round.

Here is how Crook ends his piece:

Once scientists are engaged as advocates, science is in trouble. Like intelligence agencies fitting the facts to the policy, they are no longer to be trusted. The IPCC may be serving a righteous cause, but it is not the honest broker this process needs. It has made itself a political agency – at times, a propaganda unit. All this, the public can see.

For the sake of their own credibility, scientists should maintain a cautious distance from politics, and those who take up politics should not expect the deference to disinterested scholars they would otherwise deserve.

Governments should be honest and base their case for action on what they know – that is, on a balance of probabilities, not on exaggerated certainties. The public, they will find, can cope. Voters are not fools.

Read the whole column here.