IPCC Science At Work: U.S. Administration Seeks Changes To ‘Skewed’ Data In UN Climate Draft

  • Date: 05/04/14
  • Alex Morales, Bloomberg

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is concerned that a crucial United Nations report on climate science may be too harsh in assessing the cost of fighting global warming.

Such a finding may lower the incentive for the world to reduce fossil fuel pollution and feed the arguments of those skeptical about whether it’s worth spending money to curtail rising temperatures.

The report will be completed by hundreds of scientists and government officials at a UN meeting in Berlin next week. It’s due to include an assessment of the economic losses that would come from cutting emissions. That along with calculations about the costs of doing nothing is meant to guide policymakers around the world working on climate-protection measures.

“The discussion of the economic costs of mitigation is too narrow and does not incorporate co-benefits of action,” U.S. officials wrote in a submission to the UN, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg. They said including only one side of the equation “unnecessarily skews the information.”

The comment refers to “global consumption losses” identified in the report of as much as 4 percent in 2030, 6 percent in 2050 and 12 percent in 2100 as a result of action to protect the climate, according to a draft leaked in January.

State Department officials are pressing to factor in improvements to public health and lower energy costs from increased efficiency that would happen if fossil fuels were limited. Those would offset the price to be paid for switching over to cleaner forms of energy such as wind and solar and paring back on lower-cost fuels such as coal.

Global Discussion

The study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is designed to influence governments around the world. Envoys from 194 nations next year intend to adopt an agreement on fighting climate change and will use the UN report to guide their discussions.

A draft of the study and a 222-page document containing comments from government officials was obtained by Bloomberg from a person with official access to the documents who asked not to be further identified.

The U.S. State Department declined to immediately comment.

Jonathan Lynn, a spokesman for the IPCC, said that the report’s wording will “certainly be improved” during a week-long session starting April 7 in Berlin to review the text line-by-line.

“The IPCC asks governments to provide these written comments on the final draft of the summary for policymakers to help the authors prepare for the discussions,” Lynn said in an e-mailed response to questions. “The aim of those discussions is to improve the clarity and rigor of the document.”

Leaked Findings

The draft didn’t put a dollar value on the costs or define what it means by consumption losses, a term that drew criticism from Western nations that would prefer a better-known metric, like gross domestic product. The paper said the figures “do not consider the benefits of mitigation, including the reduction in climate impacts.”

In the U.S., Obama’s administration has argued that regulations such as those requiring automakers to improve the gas mileage in their vehicles or setting efficiency standards for microwave ovens actually end up benefitting the economy because consumers have to buy less energy.

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