IPCC: A Damp Squib

  • Date: 08/04/14
  • Ben Pile, Climate Resistance

David Rose has an article in the Sunday Mail yesterday, which I provided the research for. The top article is about the dispute between Bob Ward and Professor Richard Tol.

David Rose asked me to compare the WGII SPM with the chapters. I found a number of discrepancies, which are written up in the paper, and do much (in my view) to support Professor Tol’s claim that the report’s alarmist tone was largely groundless.

The IPCC have responded to the article. The statement takes issue with Tol, first, and then seems to address the discrepancies I have found… But doesn’t.

The Mail on Sunday also quotes some passages from the Working Group II Summary for Policymakers on migration and refugees, wars and conflicts, famine, and extreme weather, which it claims are “sexed up” from statements in the underlying report. In doing so it misleads the reader by distorting the carefully balanced language of the document.

Which document was written in ‘delicately balanced’ language — the SPM or the chapters? And how was this fragile balance ‘distorted’ by the article? The SPM’s language certainly wasn’t balanced. It was unequivocal in many cases. But the language in the chapters told a different story.

For instance, the Mail on Sunday quotes the Summary as saying climate change will ‘increase risks of violent conflicts’. In fact the Summary says that climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts by amplifying factors such as poverty and economic shocks.

Here is what the article said:

WGII SPM, Page 20:

Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks (medium confidence). Multiple lines of evidence relate climate variability to these forms of conflict.

The SPM links to WGII Chapters 12.5, 13.2, and 19.4.

SPM chapter 12 is concerned with “human security”. Section 12.5 is concerned with “Climate change and Armed Conflict”. I found the chapter to be quite sober, in contrast to the SPM. For e.g.

There is a specific research field that explores the relationship between large-scale disruptions in climate and the collapse of past empires. Relationships are explored using statistical analysis and data derived from archaeological and other historical records. For example, the timing of the collapse of the Khmer empire in the Mekong basin in the early 15th century corresponds to an unusually severe prolonged drought (Buckley et al., 2010). DeMenocal (2001) summarizes evidence that suggests that major changes in weather patterns coincided with the collapse of several previously powerful civilizations, including the Anasazi, the Akkadian, Classic Maya, Mochica, and Tiwanaku empires. Other historical reference points of the interaction of climate with society emerge from analysis of the little Ice Age. Some studies show that the Little Ice Age in the mid 17th century was associated with more cases of political upheaval and warfare than in any other period (Parker 2008, Zhang et al., 2011), including in Europe (Tol and Wagner 2010), China (Brook 2010), and the Ottoman empire (White 2011b). These studies all show that climate change can exacerbate major political changes given certain social conditions, including a predominance of subsistence producers, conflict over territory, and autocratic systems of government with limited power in peripheral regions. The precise causal pathways that link these changes in climate to changes in civilizations are not well understood due to data limitations. Therefore, it should be noted that these findings from historical antecedents are not directly transferrable to the contemporary globalized world. The literature urges caution in concluding that mean future changes in climate will lead to large-scale political collapse (Butzer 2012).

That is an unequivocal statement of caution.

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