Global Climate Change Report Leaked

Dec 14, 2012 by

Tom Zeller Jr.

Leaked IPCC Climate Report Excites Skeptics, Annoys Authors And Raises Questions About Process

Posted: 12/14/2012 11:02 am EST  |  Updated: 12/14/2012 1:54 pm EST
Leaked Ipcc Report
Dr. R K Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC. The body’s 5th assessment of climate science was leaked online on Thursday.

A draft version of a forthcoming international assessment of climate change science, leaked Thursday afternoon by an obscure conservative blogger, is being touted by climate skeptics as evidence that the burning of fossil fuels by human society is not the leading cause of planetary warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body responsible for preparing the report, quickly acknowledged the leak, and prominent climate scientists, including several who have contributed to the intermittent assessments, dismissed the skeptics’ assertion as a facile and misguided reading of the voluminous analysis, which was scheduled for release next year.

But the leak has also raised fresh questions about the IPCC’s own assessment protocols, and whether the drafting process should be carried out in a more open fashion — particularly in the age of the Internet.

“It is not an IPCC report until the end, when it is approved. Anything prior to that is a working paper draft,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist in the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and a lead author of previous IPCC assessments in 1995, 2001 and 2007. “The IPCC has expanded the number of people involved in each report — it is hardly a secret. Any reviewer can sign up to get access to it all — although they sign a pledge not to do what has been done here. So this person is not only dishonorable, he should be thoroughly castigated.”

In a statement issued Friday morning, the IPCC acknowledged that material appearing to be the draft of its report has been published online. The “unauthorized and premature” posting of the documents “may lead to confusion because the text will necessarily change in some respects once all the review comments have been addressed,” the organization said, adding, “This is why the IPCC drafts are not made public before the final document is approved.”

The materials were posted by Alec Rawls, a former economics student at Stanford and an aspiring sheriff of Santa Clara County, Calif. Rawls is also an occasional contributor to climate contrarian blogs and the son of the late liberal philosopher John Rawls.

In an item posted at the web log Watts Up With That? Thursday afternoon, Rawls provided links to the hundreds of pages of the draft IPCC assessment — the fifth such report prepared by the intergovernmental body since its inception in 1988.

In justifying the leak, Rawls wrote:

The IPCC’s official reason for wanting secrecy … is so that criticisms of the drafts are not spread out across the Internet but get funneled through the UN’s comment process. If there is any merit to that rationale it is now moot. The comment period ended November 30th so the comment process can no longer be affected by publication.As for my personal confidentiality agreement with the IPCC, I regard that as vitiated by the systematic dishonesty of the report (“omitted variable fraud” as I called it …). This is a general principle of journalistic confidentiality: bad faith on one side breaks the agreement on the other. They can’t ask reviewers to become complicit in their dishonesty by remaining silent about it.

Rawls did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday morning, but his posting also suggested that the draft report included a bombshell revelation that “changes everything” with regard to the public’s understanding of global warming.

That revelation, according to Rawls, is that so-called “enhanced solar forcing” — which loosely refers to the combined influence of solar activity and assorted cosmic rays on the earth’s climate — is playing a key role in global warming.

“The climate alarmists can’t continue to claim that warming was almost entirely due to human activity over a period when solar warming effects, now acknowledged to be important, were at a maximum,” Rawls wrote. “The final draft [report] is not scheduled to be released for another year but the public needs to know now how the main premises and conclusions of the IPCC story line have been undercut by the IPCC itself.”

Dismissals of Rawls’ reading of the material, however, were swift and withering. “Based on the totality of the scientific literature as I know it, the story is bunk,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University and one of many authors of the draft assessment.

Michael Mann, a climatologist and the director of Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, elaborated in an email message to HuffPost:

There is nothing in the new IPCC report about solar forcing that isn’t already well known from the peer-reviewed literature. I myself have published work in the journal Sciencejust a few years ago on the importance of solar forcing for understanding long-term natural variability. Despite what climate change deniers would like people to think, paleoclimate scientists such as myself have thoroughly investigated the role of solar impacts on climate for decades …But my work, and indeed all work that I’m familiar with in this area, shows that solar forcing cannot possibly explain the warming of the past half century. In fact, solar forcing has been flat over the past fifty years during which we’ve seen the greatest amount of warming. There is NOTHING in the new IPCC report that in any way calls that conclusion into question.

So what climate change deniers are doing, assisted by a dishonest leaker, is to once again distort what climate scientists have actually had to say about the role of solar forcing to somehow make it sound as if there is some new development here. There isn’t. There are only incremental developments in the science, all of which reinforce the conclusion that natural forcing, including solar forcing, cannot explain the warming we have seen over the past century.

Additional refutations of Rawls’ reading of the science — including some with great detail — began surfacing on Friday morning.

But even as the scientific questions were quickly sorted out, the larger question of the IPCC process continued to percolate.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established 25 years ago under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. Its nominal mission is to “assess — on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis — the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation,” according to the body’s governing principles.

That charter manifests every six or so years in a voluminous report that synthesizes the broad spectrum of climate science and assigns varying degrees of confidence to the understood causes and expected outcomes of a warming planet. The leaked report, due out next year, will be the body’s fifth assessment. Its most fundamental findings remain unchanged: That human activities are almost certainly the primary driver behind increases in global average surface temperatures over the last several decades, and that this has, in turn, caused increases in sea levels, reductions in arctic ice, and other climatic changes.

Virtually anyone can sign up to be a reviewer of IPCC drafts — although the organization requires reviewers to agree not to distribute the drafts, and all pages are marked with the words “Do not cite, quote or distribute.”

That veil of secrecy over the drafting process, while diligently defended by the IPCC, has been criticized by stakeholders and observers on all fronts, with many suggesting that such withholding is an anachronism in the age of the Internet — and one that lends unnecessary fuel to theories of fraud and conspiracy among climate change skeptics.

Writing at DotEarth, climate blogger Andrew Revkin noted that “even as it has been heaped with accolades, including the 2007 Nobel Peace Price, the panel has been criticized from within and without for inconsistency across its three working groups (on basic science, impacts of climate change, and options for mitigating risk), for inadequate procedures for addressing errors and for glacially slow drafting processes that limit the utility and relevance of the process.

“I’d love to think there’s a way for the countries that created the organization,” Revkin added, “to come up with the technical and financial support it would need for a fundamental re-boot.”

Oppenheimer, the Princeton scientist, did not disagree — although he added that until the process is overhauled, leaks like this one only confuse things.

“I think the process of developing IPCC assessments should be more open in a number of ways,” Oppenheimer said in an email message. “But as long as it is closed, I don’t approve of anyone leaking drafts because, among other reasons, people like me who are involved in the process and feel obliged to follow the rules can’t adequately respond to the ensuing confusion. But it will all come out in the wash in the end.”

Trenberth, too, has criticized the bureaucratic nature of the IPCC process, suggesting that it may have outgrown its usefulness. “I do think we should have declared success and moved on after the last report,” he said. “There are too many scientists involved who are not leading researchers — owing to the demands for new people, and geographic, national, and gender equity. A lot of material should be done routinely — and some is every year, but perhaps could be done better. For scientific issues there should not be a rigid timetable.

“This IPCC process,” he addd, “is not the way to improve and develop models.”

In an email message Friday morning, Dr. R K Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, declined to comment, but the prepared statement from the organization asserted that “the IPCC is committed to an open and transparent process that delivers a robust assessment.”

Dot Earth - New York Times blog
Climate Change

Leak of Climate Panel Drafts Speaks to Need for New Process


Dec. 14, 11:00 a.m. | Updates below |
A WikiLeaks-style Web dump of drafts of the 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provides fresh evidence that the organization’s policies and procedures are a terrible fit for an era in which transparency will increasingly be enforced on organizations working on consequential energy and environmental issues.

The documents were posted Thursday at, a Web site launched by Alec Rawls, a passionate foe of restrictions on greenhouse gases (with a very quirky pedigree) who signed up — like almost anyone could — to be one of 800 reviewers offering more than 30,000 comments on this draft report, which focuses on the basic science examining the extent of the human influence on the climate system.

[Dec. 14, 10:55 a.m. | Update | The climate panel has issued a statement on what it described as the “regrettable” posting of the documents by a reviewer who had agreed to confidentiality. Here’s an excerpt and link:

The unauthorized and premature posting of the drafts of the WGI AR5, which are works in progress, may lead to confusion because the text will necessarily change in some respects once all the review comments have been addressed. It should also be noted that the cut-off date for peer-reviewed published literature to be included and assessed in the final draft lies in the future (15 March 2013). The text that has been posted is thus not the final report.]

The posted drafts, on everything from the quality of climate models to measurements of sea level rise and Arctic ice loss, have plenty for anyone with an agenda related to global warming. Critics of aggressive action to cut greenhouse gases, Rawls included, are focusing on language relating to solar influences on climate. [Dec. 13, 10:19 p.m. | Updated The Web site Skeptical Science has deconstructed, and largely de-fanged, the idea there’s something big here.]

But there’s plenty of language for those pressing the case for action, including the new capstone statement on the role of greenhouse gases in driving warming since 1950:

It is extremely likely* that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature since the 1950s. There is high confidence  that this has caused large-scale changes in the ocean, in the cryosphere, and in sea level in the second half of the 20th century. Some extreme events have changed as a result of anthropogenic influence. [*In panel terminology, “extremely likely” denotes a 95-percent likelihood.]

I’ve appended links to the sections of the draft report below.

It’s important, before anyone attacks Rawls for posting the drafts (this is distinct from his views on their contents), to consider that panel report drafts at various stages of preparation have been leaked in the past by people with entirely different points of view.

That was the case in 2000, when I was leaked a final draft of the summary for policy makers of the second science report from the panel ahead of that year’s round of climate treaty negotiations. As I explained in the resulting news story, “A copy of the summary was obtained by The New York Times from someone who was eager to have the findings disseminated before the meetings in The Hague.”

Here’s a question I sent tonight to a variety of analysts of the panel’s workings over the years:

The leaker, Alec Rawls, clearly has a spin. But I’ve long thought that I.P.C.C. was in a weird losing game in trying to boost credibility through more semi-open review while trying to maintain confidentiality at same time. I’m sympathetic to the idea of having more of the I.P.C.C. process being fully open (a layered Public Library of Science-style approach to review can preserve the sanity of authors) in this age of enforced transparency (WikiLeaks being the most famous example).

I’ll post answers as they come in.

The climate panel is a remarkable 24-year-old experiment in funneling insights and advice across the is-ought divide between the worlds of climate science and policy. The institution was created in 1988 under United Nations auspices to offer periodic assessments of the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as possible responses.

But even as it has been heaped with accolades, including the 2007 Nobel Peace Price, the panel has been criticized from within and without for inconsistency across its three working groups (on basic science, impacts of climate change, and options for mitigating risk), for inadequate procedures for addressing errors and for glacially slow drafting processes that limit the utility and relevance of the process.

I’d love to think there’s a way for the countries that created the organization to come up with the technical and financial support it would need for a fundamental re-boot.

8:33 p.m. Update

Paul Baer, a climate policy analyst at the Georgia Institute of Technology and contributing author to the panel’s next Working Group 3 report (on policy options), posted a comment that’s well worth elevating into the main post:

This is a problem I’ve been thinking about for many years, and in fact I presented a talk at AGU last week on one aspect, the creation of “traceable accounts” of the justification for the probability judgments that are ubiquitous in the reports.

The problem has several different aspects, but at its heart, it really depends on the question of whose opinion counts. At the moment, the process is “managed” by the selection of chapter authors by the IPCC. If you’re a chapter author, your voice will be counted in any discussion of what level of uncertainty to apply to a “finding” in that chapter; if you’re a reviewer, not so much.

There is an alternative, web-based model, in which participation is open – at least at some level – but in which opinions have to be justified, and evaluation is done by weighting opinions. This means, among other things, that different “users” of the results could weight the various opinions differently. But that in fact is what happens already; this would make it more transparent.

The process would separate the development of expert opinion on a particular question (how likely is it really that X?) from the overall assessment process; a single “finding” would be more like a Wikipedia page. It would not replace the IPCC process entirely, but it would offer a great deal more transparency to the subjective probability judgments that are the flashpoint for these debates.

Here are the sections to the report draft:

Summary for Policymakers
Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Observations: Atmosphere and Surface
Chapter 3: Observations: Ocean
Chapter 4: Observations: Cryosphere
Chapter 5: Information from Paleoclimate Archives
Chapter 6: Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles
Chapter 7: Clouds and Aerosols
Chapter 8: Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing
Chapter 8 Supplement
Chapter 9: Evaluation of Climate Models
Chapter 10: Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional
Chapter 11: Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability
Chapter 12: Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility
Chapter 13: Sea Level Change
Chapter 14: Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change
Chapter 14 Supplement
Technical Summary

[10:11 p.m. | Addendum |The files above are available elsewhere on the Web, including here.]

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