Friday, March 26, 2010

Ed Miliband writes to Pachauri

The UK climate change secretary Ed Miliband has written to the chairman of the IPCC. The nature of the letter signals that the concerns about public trust are taken serioulsy. Have other governments done similar things?


@ReinerGrundmann said...

So what happened next? There was the announcement that an independent review of the IPCC would be carried out by the Inter-Academy Council (IAC). Its statement dated March 10 can be found here.
Today, Pachauri has a comment in the Guardian in which he states:

'It is important, however, to understand that irrespective of the error on Himalayan glaciers and a few other questions about some specific wording in AR4, the major thrust of the report's findings provides overwhelming evidence that warming of the climate system is unequivocal.'
He has now officially admitted an error, but remains elusive about other problems with the IPCC and its reports.
What may be even more problematic is this statement:

'Even more serious is the finding that human-induced warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible. For instance, partial loss of ice sheets on polar land could imply metres of sea level rise, major changes in coastlines and inundation of low-lying areas, with the greatest effects in river deltas and low-lying islands.'

I wonder where this came from? Is this a reference to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet? What are the time scales? In other words, does the Fourth report support such a statement?

isaacschumann said...

"...our lives depend on a stable climate, and it is our responsibility to ensure that future generations do not suffer the consequences of climate change."

I find this notion that "we"(humanity) has to stabilize the climate system as being naive and silly. The word stabilize implies a mastery or domination. In reality, "we" have to stop experimenting with the chemistry of the atmosphere.

Humanity was lucky to have developed during a stable climate, but the climate we evolved under may not even be the ideal climate, its just the one weve known.

This is a general question for anyone with an informed answer (or just wants to take a stab at it): Wouldn't it be far worse to have rapid global cooling, as VERY generally speaking, a warmer world supports more life and a cooler one less? I'm basing this on the differences in biodiversity between the tropics and the northern latitudes. And this is not meant to trivialize the very real consequences of rapid warming, its just that when I step back to look at the problem, the fear mongering doesn't make sense to me.

isaacschumann said...

And waddya know, there are some positive effects of a warmer world;),4033/,2806/


eduardo said...

I miss some standard sentences such as ' you have been accomplishing a good job steering the IPCC through stormy weather'. The text reads rather like an inquiry about the reasons why nothing has happened yet

isaacschumann said...

Sorry for being so off topic above, it was reiner's fualt:)

Eduardo, do you think the letter is too harsh? I got the impression from Pachauri's comments in the Guardian that he sees no changes to be necessary at the IPCC.

eduardo said...

@ 5

Yes, I think so. It may be my interpretation though, but I think that a letter of support would sound very different. All in all I think this is a warning for Pachauri.

'we are keen to work with you to ensure the most robust processes are in place' This means the most robust processes were not in place, and that we are going to make sure that next time things are done properly.

'Every effort has to be made to ensure that such errors are avoided in the future...' and 'four tasks are required' means that this is what we think should be done, and you didnt.

'The British government is happy to assist you' really means that we dont think you have shown you are able to accomplish this, and we are determined to step in should further problems arise.

Marcel Severijnen said...

Reiner asked if other governments have done a similar action towards IPCC's chairman. As I wrote in my guest post of March 1 (, the Dutch government asked Mr. Pachauri a few questions: "The mistake (IPCC statement 55% of the Netherlands below sealevel)– which was revealed by the Dutch weekly news magazine Vrij Nederland – follows on from a previous mistake about the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas. Cramer (minister VROM)has since urged the IPCC to investigate how this mistake occurred. “This is a blow to people’s trust in scientists,” said Cramer, “and we must restore that trust as quickly as possible.” (quote from ministry VROM, feb 4, 2010).

In the meantime the PBL (Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency) opened a website where faulty IPCC statements could be reported. This site will close on april 6, and PBL will then explore the reported claims.

@ReinerGrundmann said...

I think your reading is spot on. A letter of support would look different. But Pachauri in his comment today does not seem to take notice. Do you think the sea level statement can be defended on the basis of IPCC AR4?

how many items have been reported on this website to date? Can you provide the link?

Werner Krauss said...

@ eduardo #4 and #6

I agree. It reads like a letter you do NOT want to receive from your boss. The only question I have is: is this guy indeed kind of Pachauri's boss? Is he entitled to talk like this?
And, by the way, didn't climategate happen in a state funded British research institute? No responsibilities for the Secretary of State? No excuse? Just blaming the IPCC?

eduardo said...

@ Reiner,

to the question of sea level rise, it depends of what 'meters' mean and, as you said, the time frame. I include here the abstract of a recent paper on sea-level rise (Pfeffer et al, Science 2008= which has often cited to support the assertion that the IPCC has underestimated sea-level rise. The IPCC rabge is 20-59 cm. Any one is free to interpret the abstract.

'On the basis of climate modeling and analogies with past conditions, the potential for multimeter
increases in sea level by the end of the 21st century has been proposed. We consider glaciological
conditions required for large sea-level rise to occur by 2100 and conclude that increases in excess
of 2 meters are physically untenable. We find that a total sea-level rise of about 2 meters by 2100
could occur under physically possible glaciological conditions but only if all variables are quickly
accelerated to extremely high limits. More plausible but still accelerated conditions lead to total
sea-level rise by 2100 of about 0.8 meter. These roughly constrained scenarios provide a “most
likely” starting point for refinements in sea-level forecasts that include ice flow dynamics'

Anonymous said...

PBL-website for reporting IPCC-errors:

Marcel Severijnen said...

@ Reiner,

PBL will put all reactions on as soon as they conclude their report.
There is no information about the amount of reactions until now. An independent scientific committee of the KNAW (Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences) will check the quality of the PBL research.
On request of the UN, KNAW's chairman Robbert Dijkgraaf will (as co-chair) lead the InterAcademy Council (IAC) which will undertake an independent review of the IPCC's procedures and processes. See:

isaacschumann said...

Werner, A good question, does he have the right to question in this manner? My uninformed opinion would be yes, as the IPCC provides policy relevant assessments to governments; so if not, someone please correct me.

Eduardo, thanks for your reply and explanation, I agree with your assessment of the meaning of the letter, but I disagree that it is too harsh. There would not be this silly 'glaciergate' nonsense if Pachauri had shown one ounce of humility in handling criticism instead of immediately making personal attacks. My belief in climate change is based on trust, trust in climate scientists such as yourself and those at the IPCC. In 2006 or 2007, when the Indian Environmental ministry put out a study refuting the IPCC claims, I instinctively trusted Pachauri and assumed that these government scientists had some ulterior motives as he implied. It angers me greatly to later find out the basis of the claims he was defending. Errors in IPCC reports are inevitable, unprofessional behavior from its chairman is not. Climate change is controversial enough.

Do you think that his actions are undeserving of rebuke?

@ReinerGrundmann said...

thanks for the reference. I looked up a few references to this article and note that Overpeck interprets the Pfeffer paper as follows:

"The observed acceleration in the decline of polar ice sheet mass provides all the more reason to take the new results from Vermeer and Rahmstorf (2) seriously. Their work provides a significant update of previous work (8) and uses the relationship between observed past temperature and global sea level to project a sea-level rise of 0.75–1.90 m for the period 1990–2100. Empirically, this relationship is nonlinear and reflects the evolution of a sea-level rise currently dominated by the warming of the oceans to one dominated by the melting of polar ice sheets. Interestingly, the range of sea-level rise by 2100 projected by Vermeer and Rahmstorf (2) coincides remarkably well with a completely independent assessment of glaciological constraints published last year (0.8–2.0 m; ref. 3)."

This ref. 3 is the reference to Pfeffer et al. which I find truly amazing. Pfeffer et al. say "sea-level rise of about 2 meters by 2100 could occur under physically possible glaciological conditions but only if all variables are quickly accelerated to extremely high limits."
Is this another case where peer review was sleepy/sloppy?

eduardo said...


I think this is an example of overstretching what the literature really says. The Pfeffer etr al paper even says that with accelerated conditions sea-level rise by 2100 could reach 80 cm.

I found the statement by Overpeck really curious. The model by Veermer and Rahmstorf is a linear relationship between sea-level rise and temperature change, so I do not understand why Overpeck says it is non-linear. Furthermore, the paper by Veermer and Rahmstorf use the empirical historical relationship between temperature and sea-level rise (it is essentially a regression equation). If this relationship will change in the future, as Overpeck says, the statistical model is not valid anymore.

I think that either the quote is not correct (is it a paper or a journalist report?) or Overpeck has not read the paper by Veermer and Rahmstorf

@ReinerGrundmann said...

Sorry, forgot to include the source

Projections of future sea level becoming more dire
Jonathan T. Overpeck and Jeremy L. Weiss
PNAS December 22, 2009 vol. 106 no. 51 21461–21462