Scientist Responds To "Over-the-Top Distortions" of His IPCC Critique


A lie can travel half-way around the world before truth has even got its boots on. Even more so in the internet age. Especially when talking about climate change.

Case in point: the recent critique by Environmental Economist Robert Stavins of the IPCC process. Stavins is an expert on climate negotiations at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He was co-Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 13, “International Cooperation: Agreements and Instruments” of Working Group III (Mitigation).

Stavins wrote an open letter to the heads of the IPCC at the end of April expressing his frustration that 75% of a section of the Summary for Policy Makers on International Cooperation was removed because the words were unacceptable to representatives of "even one or two" countries draughting the document.

Stavins qualified his criticisms thoroughly, adding a whole series of caveats to his critique. In particular, he was at pains to point out that the basic Science is sound, but that there is an inherent "structural" problem in the way that the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) is put together.

In my view, with the current structure and norms, it will be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, to produce a scientifically sound and complete version of text for the SPM on international cooperation that can survive the country approval process.

With too many negotiators looking out for their countries' self-interests, the resulting final Summary was a much diluted, blanded out version of the original draft text.

We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater though.

Stavins adds:

More broadly, I urge the IPCC to direct public attention to the documents produced by the lead authors that were subject to government (and expert) comment, but not subject to government approval. I believe that tremendous public good would arise from publicizing the key findings of the Technical Summary and the individual chapter Executive Summaries, instead of the Summary for Policymakers. I know that as the leaders of the IPCC, you see it to be your responsibility to convey to the public (and policy makers) the results of the hard scientific work that the hundreds of lead authors put into the report over the past five years, and not simply the constrained version of the Summary for Policymakers produced over the past week.

Naturally, Stavins comments were seized upon by those who wish to undermine the IPCC. I heard about Stavins comments on CKNW Money Talks podcast at the weekend. The show's host Michael Campbell opens his opinion segment around 3'20 talking about how people questioning the "so-called settled science" are "demonised", adding that the "latest helping of alarmism" from the IPCC was "outright misleading too".

"And we know why, courtesy of one of the lead authors".

Campbell now into full swing suggests that, "Political interference has been the hallmark of climate science."

And so on.

However, if you read Stavins' original comments and letter, or even a reputable newspaper report rather than a dodgy blog post on the matter, you will realise that Stavins' remarks were not a critique of the underlying Science produced by the IPCC.

Don't listen to me though. Stavins wrote another blog on Saturday in response to the mis-representations of his remarks here.

Stavins writes:

Some in the more fringe elements of the press and blogosphere quickly capitalized on the situation by distorting the message of my original post to meet their own objectives – by stating or implying that I found fault with the overall IPCC process and reports themselves, that I have positioned myself as an opponent of the important work of the IPCC, and/or that I am a skeptic of the science of climate change!

Not so, says the academic in so many words.

Reiterating a paragraph from his previous post, he concludes:

The mission of the IPCC is important, and the scientific work carried out by the hundreds of lead authors of AR5 Working Group 3 was solid and important, as validated by the Technical Summary and the underlying chapters.

Truth is getting its boots on.