David Henderson: Ian Castles And The Global Warming Debate

  • Date: 29/11/12
  • David Henderson, Bishop Hill

This is a guest post by David Henderson. It is a commemorative piece prepared for a recent conference on Australia, and celebrates the contributions of Ian Castles to the global warming debate.

First involvement: how it came about

Ian Castles became seriously engaged with climate change issues in the latter part of 2002, and over the rest of his life those issues came to form his main single professional concern. It was through him that I became involved myself, and as with him my involvement has proved to be a close and continuing one. For both of us, life took a new and unexpected course. Within it we acted not only as collaborators, which we already were, but also as joint authors.

This new departure came about in an entirely unplanned and fortuitous way. In April 2002 a contested election took place for the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). As a result, Dr R. K. Pachauri was appointed to the position, which he still holds. In July he came to Canberra on an official visit, and Ian was invited to a meeting that was held for him. Ian used the occasion to tell Pachauri that the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), prepared as an input to the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report and published in 2000, was technically at fault, most notably in its handling of international comparisons of GDP. Pachauri invited Ian to write to him on the subject; and accordingly, on 6 August, Ian sent off a long and detailed letter. Three weeks later he sent a further supplementary letter, with an annex appended; and at the end of September Pachauri sent him a friendly holding response. Some time afterwards, Ian wrote to me to suggest that I should write a letter of my own to Pachauri to back him up, and on 28 October I duly complied. These actions of ours brought lasting consequences which neither of us had counted on.

An existing alliance

You might ask why it was that Ian wrote specifically to me, a resident of faraway London, to enlist my support for this new initiative on his part. The reason is straightforward. By the time he thus approached me, we had been friends, allies and informal collaborators for seven years or so. We first met in the early part of 1995, after John Stone, a former Secretary of the Australian Treasury, had suggested that I make sure to contact him during a coming visit of mine to Canberra; and it soon became apparent that we were kindred spirits. I was very much on Ian’s side in what he described, in his opening letter to Pachauri, as ‘my ongoing correspondence about the use and abuse of statistics in public debates about globalisation, poverty and the distribution of incomes both within and between countries’. In 1999 we worked in harness in connection with the ASSA conference of that year. In early 2000 I published a critique of the Human Development Report 1999, brought out by the UN Development Programme; and in my opening paragraph I said that the article could be ‘read in conjunction with a recently-published searching critique of the previous issue, the 1998 Report, by Ian Castles’.

Full essay