Richard Tol: Examining The IPCC Process For The Fifth Assessment Report

  • Date: 30/05/14
  • Committee on Science, Space and Technology, US House of Representatives

Testimony by Dr Richard S.J. Tol to the hearing entitled Examining the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process for the Fifth Assessment Report Committee on Science, Space and Technology, US House of Representatives - Thursday, May 29, 2014

It is an honour and pleasure to be here. My name is Richard Tol. I am a professor of economics at the University of Sussex and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. I am a research fellow at the Tinbergen Institute and CESifo. I am ranked among the Top 100 economists in the world by IDEAS/RePEc1 and among the 25 most cited climate researchers according to Google Scholar. I am an editor of Energy Economics, a top field journal. I was one of the first to statistically show that the observed global warming over the last one and a half century is caused by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. I used to advocate tradable permits, but having observed the EU ETS I now favour a carbon tax. I helped the UK government set its levy on methane from landfills, the Irish government design and set its carbon tax, and the US government set its carbon price. I have been involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change since 1994, serving in various roles in all three working groups, most recently as a Convening Lead Author in the economics chapter of Working Group II.

An appropriate solution to any problem requires a good understanding of its mechanisms, its consequences, and the consequences of any countermeasure. The climate problem is so complex that at the moment only the USA can mount
sufficient expertise to cover the entire issue. The EU cannot. Maybe China can in 20 years’ time. Other countries than the USA need international collaboration on scientific and policy advice through a body like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. A common understanding of the issues is probably also helpful for the international climate negotiations although shared knowledge does not imply agreement on desirable outcomes. I therefore favour reform of the IPCC rather than its abolition.

I will focus my remarks on Working Group II of the IPCC because I know that one best. Working Group II is on the impacts of climate change, on vulnerability and adaptation. Researchers tend to study those impacts because they are concerned about climate change.

Academics who research climate change out of curiosity but find less than alarming things are ignored, unless they rise to prominence in which case they are harassed and smeared. The hounding of Lennart Bengtsson is a recent example. Bengtsson is a gentle 79 year old. He has won many awards in a long and distinguished career in meteorology and climatology. He recently joined the advisory board of an educational charity and felt forced to resign two weeks later. As an advisor, he was never responsible for anything this charity did, let alone for the things it had done before he joined. For this, he was insulted by his peers. A Texas A&M professor even suggested he is senile.

Strangely, the climate “community” did not speak out when one of its own was elected for the Green Party; nor does it protest against close ties between IPCC authors and the Environmental Defence Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace
or the World Wide Fund for Nature. Other eminent meteorologists have been treated like Bengtsson was – Curry, Lindzen, Pielke Sr. Pielke Jr has been mistreated too, merely for sticking to the  academic literature, as reflected by the IPCC, that there is no statistical evidence that the impact of natural disaster has increased because of climate change. I have had my share of abuse too. Staff of the London School of Economics and the Guardian now routinely tell lies about me and my work.

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