By David L. Brown
When the summary of the forthcoming fourth report on global warming from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was released last month, we wrote that the true magnitude of the problem was understated by the panel. Now an article in the current issue of New Scientist provides more evidence that that was indeed the case. The article, under the headline “Climate Report Was Watered Down,” says that “British researchers who have seen drafts of last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claim it was significantly watered down when governments became involved in writing it.”
The story quotes David Wasdell, an analyst of climate change who acted as an accredited reviewer of the report. Having studied the final draft now in work, he says that many references to the potential for climate to change faster than expected because of positive feedbacks that were included in the preliminary version produced by scientists in April, 2006 “were absent from the final version.”
As we pointed out here on Star Phoenix Base, the IPCC report is being overseen by what could well be the largest committee in human history, with political representatives from every significant nation on Earth having a say in the final draft. According to the New Scientist report:
[Wasdell’s] assertion is based on a line-by-line analysis of the scientists’ report and the final version, which was agreed last month at a week-long meeting of representatives of more than 100 governments. Wasdell told New Scientist: “I was astounded at the alterations that were imposed by government agents during the final stage of review. The evidence of collusional suppression of well-established and world-leading scientific material is overwhelming.”
He has prepared a critique, “Political Corruption of the IPCC Report?”, which claims: “Political and economic interests have influenced the presented scientific material.”
The article continues:
Wasdell’s central charge is that “reference to possible acceleration of climate change [was] consistently removed” from the final report. This happened both in its treatment of potential positive feedbacks from global warming in the future and in its discussion of recent observations of collapsing ice sheets and an accelerating rise in sea levels.
For instance, the scientists’ draft report warned that natural systems such as rainforests, soils and the oceans would in future be less able to absorb greenhouse gas emissions. It said: “This positive feedback could lead to as much as 1.2 °C of added warming by 2100.” The final version does not include this figure. It acknowledges that the feedback could exist but says: “The magnitude of this feedback is uncertain.”
Similarly, the draft warned that warming will increase atmospheric levels of water vapour, which acts as a greenhouse gas. “Water vapour increases lead to a strong positive feedback,” it said. “New evidence estimates a 40 to 50 per cent amplification of global mean warming.” This was absent from the published version, replaced elsewhere with the much milder observation “Water vapour changes represent the largest feedback.”
The final edit also removed references to growing fears that global warming is accelerating the discharge of ice from major ice sheets such as the Greenland sheet. This would dramatically speed up rises in sea levels and may already be doing so. The 2006 draft said: “Recent observations show rapid changes in ice sheet flows,” and referred to an “accelerating trend” in sea-level rise. Neither detail made the final version, which observed that “ice flow from Greenland and Antarctica… could increase or decrease in future”. Wasdell points out recent findings which show that the rate of loss from ice sheets is doubling every six years, making the suggestion of a future decrease “highly unlikely”.
Other scientists have joined in support of Wasdell’s findings, according to the article.
Ocean physicist Peter Wadhams of the University of Cambridge, who made the discovery that Arctic ice has thinned by 40 per cent over the past 25 years and also acted as a referee on the IPCC report, told New Scientist: “The public needs to know that the policy-makers’ summary, presented as the united words of the IPCC, has actually been watered down in subtle but vital ways by governmental agents before the public was allowed to see it.”
Crispin Tickell, a long-standing UK government adviser on climate and a former ambassador to the UN, says: “I think David Wasdell’s analysis is very useful, and unique of its kind. Others have made comparable points but not in such analytic detail.”
As I wrote here in “What the IPCC Report Didn’t Tell Us,” posted 17 February:
[T]he IPCC pulled its punches. The problem is that the panel systematically removed from consideration any research that was deemed “controversial, not fully quantified, or not yet incorporated into climate models.” … In other words, the IPCC reports only the most conservative facts, a process that places the threat of climate change at the absolute minimal level. I suggest that skeptics will continue to lobby against global warming “until the cows come home” as my Grandfather used to say.
By soft pedaling its conclusions, the IPCC summary is kind of like putting up a stop sign at a dangerous intersection, but making it only six inches on a side, coloring it brown instead of bright red, setting it twelve feet off to the side, and letting bushes grow up around it.
I went on to list many of the observed facts about climate change that were soft-pedaled or completely ignored by the IPCC report, and the new article about analyst Wasdell’s findings underlines this problem with the report. New Scientist concludes with this quotation from Mike Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and a past lead author for the IPCC:
…”if it is true [that political pressure resulted in changes to the report], it’s disappointing. Allowing governmental delegations to ride into town at the last minute and water down conclusions after they were painstakingly arrived at in an objective scientific assessment does not serve society well.”
I can only add, amen to that. The sad truth is that the IPCC report, rather than providing a clear warning of the dangers of climate change, has been manipulated by governments and corporate entities who exercise influence over national regimes for their own ends. Those ends are apparently to deny, delay and derail any action on climate change for as long as possible. Already we are seeing a new wave of climate change denial, and the wishy-washy wording of the IPCC report is providing ammunition for these renewed efforts. Shame on the IPCC.