I am concerned about increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from the burning of fossil fuels. And I am concerned by the many reports in the media about how increasing carbon dioxide levels will drive global warming and that this will harm the environment. Some reports go as far as to suggest that global warming will result in the end of civilization as we know it.
The United Nations is so concerned that it has established the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC is recognized as a group of scientists from around the world, working to better understand the potential impact of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels on climate and also to the extent possible, to predict future climate.
Obviously central to the work of this group will be predicting future levels of carbon dioxide – because it is assumed that climate will change depending on the atmospheric carbon dioxide level.
Future levels of carbon dioxide will depend on how much fossil fuel we burn, which in turn will depend on how much energy we use – particularly in developing countries with very large populations like India.
Economists, and others interested in the global economy, will also be predicting how much energy different economies are likely to use – because energy use powers economic development.
Large businesses that rely on energy, and most do, will be interested to know what sources of energy might be available in 10, 20 and 50 years time. They won’t want to be investing now in technologies that may be obsolete in a few years time because we have, for example, run out of oil or because, for example, solar energy becomes much more affordable.
So there should be lots of information available to the IPCC group from which to estimate future atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide.
But in the following comment Ian Castles argues that most experts would consider the IPCC’s more alarming predictions to be exaggerated, and that the Panel has failed to consider possibilities that would result in much slower growth in carbon dioxide concentrations.
Ian also criticises climate scientists for putting out media releases that present a more alarming outlook than their own worst scenarios can generate.
It seems that the IPCC and its supporters just have to preach doom and gloom – not what you would expect from a group of scientists.
Ian Castles was responding to a comment and blog post from Phil Done when he wrote:
My objection is not to the paper in Nature or to the efforts of the Oxford team to estimate climate sensitivity. If they’d labelled the co-operative exercise climatesensitivity.net and reported accordingly I would have had no concerns. But their press statement of 27 January 2005 represents the 11 deg. C as a PREDICTION of the increase in actual future temperatures which could occur with a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, which according to them is EXPECTED around the middle of this century unless deep cuts are made in greenhouse gas emissions (EMPHASIS added).
This is nonsense.
Projected increases in fossil fuel CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2050 for the six illustrative SRES scenarios for which information is presented in the TAR are: A1B, 132%; A1T, 78%; A1FI, 235%; A2, 139%; B1, 70%; and B2, 63%. Yet for the reference cases only one of these six scenarios (A1FI) projects a doubling of CO2 concentrations from the pre-industrial level of around 280 ppm by 2050: see the details in Appendix II of the IPCC Working Group Contribution to the Third
Assessment Report at http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg1/531.htm.
If the IPCCs models show CO2 concentrations still below twice the pre-industrial levels in 2050 after growth in fossil fuel CO2 emissions of up to 140% in the first half of the 21st century, why do these scientists claim that deep cuts must be made in order to achieve such an outcome? If they knew what the IPCC findings were, they have misrepresented those findings in their press statement. If they didn’t know, they were remarkably poorly informed for people who are holding themselves out as experts on the prospective change in the world’s climate.
In an earlier posting you asked me whether the range of CO2 emissions is fully covered by the IPCC scenarios. No it’s not. So far as the short-run is concerned, I’ve drawn attention to Warwick McKibbins observation that the IPCC modellers have a methodological approach which effectively means that increases in assumed growth rates dont make any difference to emissions. Its a pity the framers of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change hadnt realised this. They agreed that developing countries ought not to be subject to emissions targets, because of their legitimate desire to increase energy use and raise the living standards of their people. But if emissions arent affected by the rate of growth of output, why would there be any conflict between the need to avoid dangerous anthropogenic climate change and the need of poor countries to develop?
Whether its because of the high growth rates assumed in most of the SRES scenarios or for some other reason, the growth in CO2 emissions of developing countries in these scenarios is much higher in coming decades than in most other projections. Between 2000 and 2030, this growth exceeds 170% for all but one of the six illustrative scenarios (the B2 scenario, for which the growth is almost 100%). In four of the six scenarios developed by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) and the World Energy Council (WEC), and published in 1998 as Global energy perspectives, the growth in CO2 emissions of developing countries was lower than in any of these scenarios. What happened between 1998 and 2000 to raise prospective emissions, other than the interest of developing countries in seeing high rates of growth written into the scenarios produced for the IPCC?
So far as the long-run is concerned, all IPCC emissions scenarios disregard entirely what the SRES Team described as ‘factors that may be relevant but are as essentially unknown to us as jet airplanes were to Thomas Malthus or 3-D seismic techniques in oil exploration were to John D Rockefeller.’
They ignore the implications for emissions of technologies that are not yet demonstrated to function on a prototype scale (SRES, Box 4-9, p. 216).
The SRES authors recognise that by 2100 we could have hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars that could generate electricity when parked, dispensing entirely the need for centralized power plants and utilities’ (SRES, p. 217) – but none of the emissions projections seem consistent with such a possibility.
Even the lowest of the SRES projections assumes that fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the second half of the century will on average be comparable with 1990 levels. Why? Chakravorty et al (1997) found that if the price of solar energy maintained its recent rate of decrease there would be a massive substitution of fossil fuels by solar energy, beginning in the 2030s and ending in the 2060s, with 98.5% of all coal reserves never being used because solar power had become cheaper (quoted in Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, p. 286).
In that case, fossil CO2 emissions in the closing decades of the century could be nil.
This is not to say that such a development is probable. But its canvassed in a paper published in a leading peer reviewed journal (Journal of Political Economy, 105(6): 1, 201-34), so it’s part of the range that should have been (but isn’t) covered by the IPCC scenarios.
There is no reference to Chakravorty et al in the IPCC reports.
With respect to ABARE, the Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Pachauri, said in his Note on Emissions Scenarios for use by the IPCC (submitted to the IPCC plenary meeting in Delhi in November 2003) that he was in contact with relevant groups, such as the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) concerning possible [focused meetings and workshops on emissions scenarios] that are likely to be held in 2004. Hom Pant and Brian Fisher of ABARE subsequently (February 2004) presented a paper to a Stanford Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) workshop in which they said that The use of MER by IPCC remains valid and the critique by Castles and Henderson cannot be sustained. Later in 2004 Brian Fisher was selected by the IPCC as Coordinating Lead Author of the Chapter that is to review the criticisms of the SRES.
The EMF paper was published by ABARE, but so far as I know it has not been peer-reviewed. Barrie Pittock cites the assessment of Castles and Henderson in the Pant & Fisher paper in the Notes to his book (to which Rajendra Pachauri has contributed a laudatory Foreword), but he does not mention the contrary views that have been expressed by (among others) Professors William Nordhaus of Yale, Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge, Colin Robinson of Surrey, Warwick McKibbin of the ANU and Peter Dixon of Monash.
In 1995 the Australian learned Academies, led by the Academy of the Technological Sciences and Engineering, said in a joint study that Australia is fortunate in having developed a range of economic modelling approaches that enjoy high respect in the international discipline of climate change economics (Climate Change Science: Current Understanding and Uncertainties, p. 80). Three modelling approaches were identified in the joint Academies study: those associated with Warwick McKibbin at ANU, Alan Powell and Peter Dixon at Monash, and Brian Fisher at ABARE.
In the past year or two, the principals of two of those groups (Warwick McKibbin and Peter Dixon) have given support to the Castles & Henderson criticisms of the IPCC in papers (co-authored with other experts) which have been presented at conferences and subsequently published in the literature. The principal of the third group (Brian Fisher) has said that our critique cannot be sustained, in a co-authored conference paper which has been published by the agency of which he is Director.
It is not only because of my personal interest in the matter that I have the view that it is an unhealthy state of affairs that the IPCC, upon which governments rely for objective advice, has selected two Coordinating Lead Authors of the AR4 Chapter that is to review criticisms of the SRES – the Coordinating Lead Author of the SRES, and an Australian economist who had publicly criticised the C&H critique, and who was the Head of one of only two agencies whom the IPCC Chairman had identified as having been in contact with, on the subject of a meeting on emissions scenarios.
Finally, I haven’t said that economists were shut out of the IPCC. I’ve noted that, notwithstanding my advice that national accounts statisticians were keen to assist the IPCC, none was selected for the writing teams or consulted as an expert. And I’ve quoted Ross McKitrick’s statement that the IPCC ‘appears to have little or no working relationship with the mainstream academic economics community.’
If anything, that judgment appears to me to be confirmed by the IPCC’s selection of an Australian government economist rather than an Australian academic economist for the AR4 writing team.
A couple of days ago I was sent a link to a piece written a few years ago by Joseph Kellard that perhaps put this sorry saga in some context.
Kellard was commenting on Professor Paul Ehrlich being awarded the MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant based on a career of exaggerated, apocalyptic predictions that never came true.
Kellard concluded that this happened because of a reversion in our culture to various forms of supernaturalism:
“Our culture is increasingly dispensing with objective reality and reason … environmentalism is a pseudo-science that must therefore engender faith… environmentalist doomsayers are a logical outgrowth of religious apocalyptics, and their believers are just another sect of mystics.”
Does this go some way to answering the question Phil Done poses at the end of his guest post on BOINC?
He did ask, is BOINCing a new western ideology?