Where’s The ‘Scare’ In The IPCC’s Next Report?

  • Date: 16/12/12
  • Hilary Ostrov, The View From Here


Yvo de Boer, the UN climate chief during the 2009 Copenhagen climate change talks, said his conversations with scientists working on the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested the findings would be shocking.

That report is going to scare the wits out of everyone,” Mr de Boer said in the only scheduled interview of his visit to Australia. “I’m confident those scientific findings will create new political momentum.”

The IPCC’s fifth assessment report is due to be published in late 2013 and early 2014.

Sidney Morning Herald, November 7, 2012 [backup link]

Although I very much doubt that we ever shall, I think it would be interesting to know the names of the “scientists” with whom de Boer had “conversed”, don’t you?! And considering the IPCC’s somewhat delayed response to the far more recent leaking of the Second Order Draft (SOD) of Working Group I (WGI)’s contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), at the very least de Boer’s claim does call into question the IPCC’s double-standard, when publicly protesting “leaks” of their oh-so-authoritative “assessment(s)”.

I’m quite prepared to admit that I might have missed the IPCC’s admonishment of de Boer’s unsubstantiated hyper-activist pronouncement. But if such admonishment on the part of the IPCC does exist, alas, I have not found it.

This apparent silence is in very sharp contrast to the IPCC’s response to the recent leaking of the “final” SOD of WGI’s contribution to AR5. The IPCC’s “statement” on this has been admirably fisked by Lucia Lilligren on her Blackboard. She beat me to the punch!

When one considers the minimal (cherry-picked?!) to non-existent extent to which the IPCC has grasped the lifeline handed to it by the InterAcademy Council (IAC)’s 2010 report of their Review of the Processes and Procedures of the IPCC, it should come as no surprise that this leaked draft of WG1′s contribution to the “scare the wits out of everyone” AR5 provides no evidence that any consideration has been given to some rather key recommendations of the IAC.

These key recommendations refer to the IPCC’s very own “guidance”, and appear to have been derived from the IAC’s observation (p. 57) that:

[...] authors reported high confidence in statements for which there is little evidence, such as the widely quoted statement that agricultural yields in Africa might decline by up to 50 percent by 2020. Moreover, the guidance was often applied to statements that are so vague they cannot be disputed. In these cases the impression was often left, incorrectly, that a substantive finding was being presented. [emphasis added -hro]

As Judith Curry had remarked following her perusal of the leaked AR5 Draft:

I’ve downloaded the SPM and a few of the chapters. The extreme overconfidence of many of their conclusions is bewildering. More on this in future posts. [emphasis added -hro]

Just in case you’re wondering what these particular conspicuously overlooked key recommendations of the IAC might have been, unlike any of the IPCC’s findings, they are … traceable! First, from the IAC review’s “Appendix D Excerpts of IPCC procedures” (p. 112):

Make expert judgments

5. Be prepared to make expert judgments and explain those by providing a traceable account of the steps used to arrive at estimates of uncertainty or confidence for key findings – e.g. an agreed hierarchy of information, standards of evidence applied, approaches to combining or reconciling multiple lines of evidence, and explanation of critical factors. [emphasis added -hro]

Now for the IAC review’s key recommendations (pp. 57-58 ):

Chapter Lead Authors should provide a traceable account of how they arrived at their ratings for level of scientific understanding and likelihood that an outcome will occur.

[which was immediately followed by:]

In addition, IPCC’s uncertainty guidance should be modified to strengthen the way in which uncertainty is addressed in upcoming assessment reports. In particular, quantitative probabilities (subjective or objective) should be assigned only to well-defined outcomes and only when there is adequate evidence in the literature and when authors have sufficient confidence in the results. Assigning probabilities to an outcome makes little sense unless researchers are confident in the underlying evidence (Risbey and Kandlikar, 2007), so use of the current likelihood scale shouldsuffice.

[and a further recommendation that:]

Quantitative probabilities (as in the likelihood scale) should be used to describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence. Authors should indicate the basis for assigning a probability to an outcome or event (e.g., based on measurement, expert judgment, and/or model runs). [emphases added -hro]

If the IPCC has “strengthened” any of of its processes and procedures in accordance with the IAC’s recommendations, there is certainly no evidence to date that it has done so. The evidence to date rather suggests that it has failed to do so. And the leak of the SOD of AR5 strongly suggests that the IPCC’s record of failure continues unabated.

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