IPCC climate report “diluted” under “political pressure” to protect fossil fuel interests

Yes, you read that headline right. IPCC dilutes their climate reports, at least according to this report in the Guardian.

We covered this problem before — “IPCC accidentally proves that “international cooperation” on climate change is dead” — but we didn’t finger the Saudis as the perps. The Guardian does.

Nafeez Ahmed with the story (my emphasis everywhere):

IPCC reports ‘diluted’ under ‘political pressure’ to protect fossil fuel interests

Saudi-led coalition sought to make policy summaries as vague as possible to minimise climate action

… Several experts familiar with the IPCC government approval process for the ‘Summary for Policymakers’ (SPM) reports – documents summarising the thousands of pages of technical and scientific reports for government officials – have spoken out about their distortion due to political interests.

According to David Wasdell, who leads on feedback dynamics in coupled complex global systems for the European Commission’s Global System Dynamics and Policy (GSDP) network, “Every word and line of the text previously submitted by the scientific community was examined and amended until it could be endorsed unanimously by the political representatives.”

Ahmed links to a paper written by Wasdell that’s severely critical of the IPCC process for vetting the especially visible Summary document. From that paper (pdf; my paragraphing and emphasis; text from top of page 3):

Four days after publication I had the privilege to attend a seminar at the Royal Society in London, at which Prof. Thomas Stocker introduced the Summary for Policymakers to a packed audience. As co-chair of Workgroup 1 of the IPCC AR5, Thomas had presided over the marathon session in Stockholm which ended at 5.30 am prior to the publication deadline of 10.00 am.

As noted above, the most difficult sticking point was focussed around Figure 10 and its associated text. The material presented a near-linear relationship between cumulative anthropogenic emissions of carbon and the consequent change in average global surface temperature. It provided the scientific basis for determining the potential budget of permitted future emissions before risking transgression of the agreed policy ceiling of an increase of 2°C above the pre-industrial benchmark.

As the country with arguably the most to lose from the future implementation of any restriction on the use of fossil hydrocarbons, the objections were led by Saudi Arabia, strongly supported by China, and associated with an emerging group of “like-minded nations”. The impasse was broken following suggested modifications of both text and diagram provided by the representatives of the USA.

The resulting compromise safeguards the vested interests of global dependency on fossil sources of energy, while constraining the capacity of the international community to take any effective action to deal with the threat of dangerous climate change.

Here’s that “compromised” Figure 10 from the released Summary.

IPCC AR5 WG1 Summary for Policymakers, Fig SPM-10 (final)

IPCC AR5 WG1 Summary for Policymakers, Fig SPM-10 (final)

The issue appears to be the dark blue dot labeled “2100” which represents the cumulative carbon “budget” that “we” — meaning the carbon billionaires — could be allowed to monetize and emit (spew) through the year 2100 and still stay within the least dangerous scenario, “RCP2.6”. (RCP‘s are what the IPCC used to call scenarios. The scenario RCP2.6 is the one with the least carbon emissions, and the least danger to mankind. It corresponds roughly to the U.N.-desired global warming “limit” of +2°C.)

The scale along the bottom represents the carbon budgets of the various scenarios in amounts of cumulative carbon (GtC, or gigatons of carbon). For each scenario (RCP) there’s dot for each decade, ending with a dot for 2100, the end of the century. The scale at the top is the same as the scale at the bottom, but expressed as as gigatons of CO2 instead of just carbon. (Since 1 ton of carbon is the amount of carbon found in 3.66 tons of CO2, either scale can be used to measure carbon emissions.)

Notice that there’s a “2100” dot for each scenario; that the dots represent cumulative emissions; and that the worse the outcome in terms of temperature change (shown on the Y-axis), the further to the right each per-scenario dot is. Higher up means more warming; to the right means more carbon emitted. Thus the more to the right that final “2100” dot for the “safe” scenario is, the more carbon is “available” to be monetized without (supposedly) hitting the danger point of global warming danger point.

Again — that dot on RCP2.6 represents U.N.-allowed carbon emissions. Not nothing, if you’re a carbon producer. Negotiating the position of that dark blue dot (and the ones leading to it) is apparently what this controversy is about. What they’re actually negotiating is how much money they can make from their carbon reserves and still not be labeled carbon criminals by the U.N. body.

According to Wasdell, that negotiation took the form of refining definitions — what counts as “carbon emissions” and already adds to the total (constraining the future budget), and what can be ignored (not counted) as part of the future allowed total? Read the piece for how tricky that discussion got.

About the U.N. “carbon budget” in general, Ahmed writes:

 Wasdell said that the draft submitted by scientists contained a metric projecting cumulative total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, on the basis of which a ‘carbon budget’ was estimated – the quantity of carbon that could be safely emitted without breaching the 2 degrees Celsius limit to avoid dangerous global warming. He said that the final version approved by governments significantly amended the original metric to increase the amount of carbon that could still be emitted.

I don’t have the earlier version of that figure, so we have to take Wasdell’s word at this point. Elsewhere in the article though, Ahmed references other scientists backing up Wasdell’s claim. Please do read. Keep in mind that Working Group 1 (WG1) is the group responsible for the physical science — the hard data, in other words.

Ahmed quotes Wasdell as having told him:

“The summary for policymakers is a document of appeasement, not fit for purpose. In reality, if my calculations are correct, we not only don’t have much of a carbon budget left, we have already overshot that budget – we’re in overdraft.”

I would say, without having seen the earlier draft of the figure, that the bolded statement above is absolutely right, and demonstrable from many sources, including Michael Mann in a recent Scientific American. Mann writes:

These data therefore indicate that to reliably avoid two degrees C of warming [above pre-Industrial levels], CO2 levels should be held to 405 ppm (blue [line]) — barely above the 393 to 400 ppm levels observed in the past year.

In other words, no budget at all. In other words, Stop Now.

Would you put it past the Saudis, backed by China and abetted by the U.S, to negotiate for more billions (sorry, CO2 emissions) in a heavily negotiated document? Would you put it past a U.N. body to cave to them?

Me neither.

[Updated for clarity.]


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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24 Responses to “IPCC climate report “diluted” under “political pressure” to protect fossil fuel interests”

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  5. rabblerouzzer says:

    With supplementary material provided by BP.

  6. heimaey says:

    How do we have a great survival record? We’re a relatively young species but there have been species that have died out quicker than us. Also, we have a long history of destruction. Many animals aren’t around today because they’ve been hunted to death – and not just in the last 500 years – but also in the last 40,000 years. Furthermore, there are no other living hominid species. We don’t know why that is, but the fact that there are no Neanderthals or Erectus’ around may have something to do with us. This is the only time in history that we have not had multiple hominid species living side by side. And since we’re the last one it looks very much to scientists that our genus is reaching it’s closing time.

    One thing we are very good at is deluding ourselves. That’s why we’re still debating this stuff in the first place. On top of that our consciousness makes it hard to imagine not surviving – survival is bred into us, as it is in all species, but that doesn’t mean we actually will survive.

    One thing we do have on our side for survival is numbers. There are so many people now alive that a complete decimation will be difficult although again – not impossible.

  7. Indigo says:

    Extinction is a possible outcome but I don’t see it as likely within the next few millennia. It’s entirely possible that our social structure will be reset, possibly within another hundred years or so, and it’s even possible that a large percentage of the human population will go through a die off like a herd of deer in a hard winter. But humans and cockroaches have a remarkable survival record, I trust our human cussedness to carry us through, even if it’s just a few rich folks with strong organizational and protection skills. At the same time, the level of technical civilization we currently pride ourselves on is less likely to survive the collapse of American education. And that has nothing to do with climate change unless we’re talking about Geistesgeschite.

  8. pvequalkt says:

    no they won’t. they’ll continue to repudiate all science. Survival of the “richest” will be their mantra (uttered or not)… except when the “richest” don’t happen to be white Christians.
    What they (and the sun king and the Romanovs) fail to realize is there are 100 million of us to every one of them. And we have a lot of guns. And the military and police are NOT of them, not really… and some day, everyone will realize this.
    Remember what became of Louis XVI and Nicolas? I do.

  9. pvequalkt says:

    Or to put it in terms more narrowly relevant: a vote for R or D is a vote for oil/coal/fracking/keystone/wall-war street/MEDIC/Phrma/adelson/Koch… and is a vote AGAINST you, me… everyone below the .01%.
    So vote with enthusiasm in 2014 and 2016… it’ll really “change” things.

  10. pvequalkt says:

    ..um… DUH!!!
    A relevant precedent, including the media also, is the tobacco/government/media collusion from 1900 through the 1970s. Money bought ads which lied; money bought southern pols (both parties) who lied; money bought quasi-scientific (meaning bullshit) studies that lied… and Americans proved to be idiots and or apathetic. massive and very public deaths (how many marleboro men bought it from lung disease?) were required before anything could be done… and all they really did was fine the tobacco companies… but not before they sank their tentacles into asia so their profits (and body count) could stay high.
    And here we are today, with media fully assimilated into government which has been fully assimilated into the corporate plutonomy… and we have a sitchie whereby industry wants to make the easiest buck at any cost, so they dumb-down, prevaricate, miseducate, lie and purvey falsehoods… did I mention they lie??? And americans, in roughly the same proportions, either don’t give a shit and/or are dumber than shit. Shit being the operative word here.
    Rhetorical question: at what point will americans start to lean towards belief? When a billion Asians start a war to get potable water (as theirs goes poof when glaciers are gone)? When polar bears are gone? When Florida is under water? When wall street is beachfront? When you need an aqualung to see the boston airport?
    I’m thinking not even then.

  11. Bill_Perdue says:

    Capitalism is a form of criminality and like all criminals the energy companies want to hide the evidence.

    They needn’t bother with accomplices like the Bushes, Obama and the Clintons who would never dream of prosecuting them for polluting the Gulf of Mexico or for murdering miners and polluting whole river systems in West Virginia.

    Supporting any Democrat or Republican candidate enables environmental degradation and the criminality of the rich.

  12. heimaey says:

    We really don’t know what it will be, but extinction is a very likely outcome.

  13. Indigo says:

    It’s okay, the nations aren’t ready for a realistic approach to climate change yet. By then, we’ll be much deeper into the 21st century and the issues will be even more obvious.

  14. Indigo says:

    It won’t be extinction, it’ll be more like a massive die-off. I’m expect the conservatives will finally embrace Darwin and see it as a survival-of-the-fittest event. The fittest, of course, will be the ones with guns and money and extensive storage facilities.

  15. Naja pallida says:

    I’m stunned the IPCC report wasn’t just written by Exxon.

  16. heimaey says:

    Basically it’s probably the extinction of homo sapiens, along with many other species. It will be another great dying, and the planet’s already had 5 or 6 of them. Too bad we won’t be able to see what the world will be like when it shakes off what we’ve done to it.

    I suppose what makes this coming mass extinction unique is it’s going to be the first species/animal inflicted one. All the rest have been from catastrophic disasters caused by meteorites or massive tectonic shifts, volcanoes, etc. This is the first time that an organism will be responsible for a great dying.

    Our children will have to suffer through this mass extinction. I don’t’ envy them.

  17. QAdams says:

    We’re going to blow past that 405 ppm target very quickly, the same way we blew past the 350 target just a few years ago. There is no realistic scenario in which the modern industrial behemoth will “Stop Now” short of complete civilizational collapse. And if that happens, then we’ll witness the catastrophic meltdown of hundreds of nuclear reactors, which will not be pretty. I’ve been wishing for a long time that it wasn’t already too late, but I’m afraid it is.

  18. pappyvet says:

    This ties in very well with your article from yesterday

  19. UncleBucky says:

    And ANY climate change deniers who are still breathing 2035 and on will not be safe, if the current crop of educated and ANGRY millennials finally get control. Corporate persons, corporatists, lackeys, minions and thumpers who think they can hide behind the Bible, LOOK OUT.

  20. BLFJboy says:

    This is how societies decline and fall, as they all do.

  21. JeffAtMinetfiber says:

    The question isn’t “are we f*cked”, the question is “how badly are we f*cked”.
    Personally, I think most of the current well-publicized estimates are off by a factor of between 2 and (I hope only 5). Things will get bad, then get really bad, and then, if the corporations are still in charge, pretty awful for most people.
    Our children are gonna have a really messed up environment to deal with.

  22. cole3244 says:

    this reminds me of the beginning of the superman movie where the planet was collapsing around them and they sent him off to earth, we are doing the same thing here and are too diluted and ignorant to see the forest for the trees.

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