Keep it subdued

In my review of Climate Code Red a couple of posts back I mentioned the authors’ view that one of the limitations of the IPCC system is the pressure from vested interests harboured by some countries. An interesting example of the effects of such political pressure has come to light in the New York Times.  It concerns the exclusion from the last IPCC report of an updated diagram of climate risks, known as “burning embers”.  The 2001 report included the diagram and the planned 2007 version of the diagram would have shown the increased level of estimated climate risks since then.

All the diagram does is illustrate in graphic form the levels of risk estimated for a number of categories such as risks to unique and threatened systems, risks of extreme weather events, and so on. There is written description of the risks, but the graphic presentation was disallowed.

Several authors of the report now say that they regret not having pushed harder to include the diagram. Some scientists thought it too subjective, but apparently the main opposition to its inclusion came from officials representing the United States, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, who thought the colourful diagram was too incendiary.  

Stephen Schneider, a climatologist at Stanford University who has been involved in writing the IPCC reports since 1988 wrote, “No matter how much New Zealand, small islands states, Canada, Germany, Belgium and the UK said this was an essential diagram, China, the U.S., Russia and the Saudis said it was too much of a ‘judgment’. But in the [2001 report] it also was a judgment and this was just an update using some of the same authors and the same logic, so their logic was faulty – but their filibuster successful.

Five other IPCC authors corroborate what Dr. Schneider has said. He also comments that words are less powerful than a colourful figure.

Now 15 authors of the 2007 report, many of whom were authors of the 2001 report as well, have reproduced the diagram in the course of a paper published online last week in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences entitled Assessing Dangerous Climate Change Through an Update of the IPCC ‘Reasons for Concern’. Amongst other things they explain the thinking behind the diagram. You can look at it if you want and make your own judgment as to how incendiary it is, but the episode highlights the restraints that can be placed on the IPCC reports by governments.  It’s not that they were denying the science, just wanting perhaps to minimize its impact.

But the message of Climate Code Red was that we must face the science as it really is, not in a diluted form.

Incidentally, nice to see NZ on the side of the angels that time.

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