Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Martin Parry, Chair of IPCC AR4, working group 2, on 13 February 2010

I got a copy of this letter, which presumably was sent to Working Group II authors and others on 13. Februrary 2010 by the chair of Working Group II of  AR4, Prof Martin Parry. This part of the 4 Assessment report (AR4) of the IPCC has attracted significant criticism in the past. It seems that Martin Parry considers the critique inadquate.
When commenting on this, please pay attention to netiquette. I will not hesitate to delete inflammatory, insulting or otherwise stupid comments.

To WGII authors, co-chairs and vice-chairs

From Martin Parry:

Dear Colleagues:

I wanted to give you a personal view of the current media criticisms that have been made of the IPCC WG2 assessment and the IPCC response to these.

Firstly, in the current clamour it is easy to forget the big picture, which I think is this: That the WG2 volume represents a sound and reliable statement of our knowledge, and is the product of robust and rigorous assessment by you all.

However, you are probably perplexed, like me, at the way some apparently minor points can grab the headlines. Our tendency as scientists is to get on with our current work which now (3 or 4 years on from our 2007 assessment) is often unrelated to issues in the press. Yet the public is probably equally perplexed, and we can help them by continuing to be open about our workings and our conclusions. In this respect the IPCC has aimed to develop background information on each of the issues. Not all these are being posted on the IPCC website, but they are available from the IPCC Secretariat for the media and from the WG2 office to help authors in your reply to press questions. I am very grateful for Chris Field and his team taking the lead on preparing this information, with considerable help from Jean-Pascal van Ypersele.

If you can take the time to look at these ‘response statements’ you will see that the criticisms are generally unfounded and also marginal to the assessment. But they are partly based on a misunderstanding that we can all help to clear up: Some of the media have criticised us for using non-journal sources because these are not reviewed, but this a) wrongly assumes that IPCC assessment should not use non-journal literature (Annex 2 of the IPCC assessment procedures clearly spell out how they can and should be used), and b) mistakenly assumes that UN, government, agency and NGO reports are generally unreviewed. Many such reports are intensively reviewed, both internally and externally. Even if not peer-reviewed, there are reports that contain valuable information about experiences with adaptation, for example. You know that IPCC procedures ask that especially careful attention be given to the veracity of such sources because they can be variable in quality. It would therefore be helpful if, when asked about non-reviewed sources, you make clear what the IPCC assessment procedures are and how you followed them. The IPCC homepage now has a useful summary of these procedures.

Here is a summary of the response made to criticisms:

1. The IPCC has posted a notice on its website http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/presentations/himalaya-statement-20january2010.pdf to the effect that assessment procedures should have been followed more carefully in the statement about the likely disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2035. The statement derived from evidence from an apparently reliable source who, I believe, was the chair of the Himalayan sub-group of the World Glacier Commission, but this evidence was not strong enough to support the level of confidence implied by the text.

2. IPCC authors have defended their statement in Chapter 1 that one study indicates an increase in economic losses due to disasters after normalizing for wealth and property while other studies do not. This rebuttal can also be found on the IPCC home page.

3. IPCC authors in Chapter 1 have defended their use of climbing records as part of the range of evidence of possible effects of changes in snow and ice cover on recreation. This source was not used as evidence for ice changes per se, which was a misunderstanding in the press comment. Their statement is available on request from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

4. Authors of the chapter on Latin America have demonstrated that their conclusion that ‘up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation’ is based on peer-reviewed sources in their chapter, including information from the journal Nature. Their statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

5. The chapter on Europe quotes 55% of the Netherlands as being below sea level, but there appear to be several definitions of this. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (which is below high water level during storms), while others use 30% which is below mean sea level. The statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

6. The statement that in Africa ‘by 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%’ relates to the combined effects of climate variability and climate change, as correctly reported in the chapter on Africa and in the WG2 TS and SPM. A similar qualifier should have been included in the SYR. The statement may be obtained from the IPCC Secretariat and WG2 office.

My conclusion from the above is that the criticisms have been marginal and very largely unfounded. I think you should take encouragement from this.

However, news can take a life of its own, and what began with a single unfortunate error over Himalayan glaciers has become a clamour without substance which many believe is being fed by critics and sceptics. Unfortunately the IPCC is not set up for rapid rebuttal of the kind the media now expect; and with good reason, because questions about science need careful investigation and a considered reply, not an immediate statement to the press. Thus, each of the queries raised has involved about a week of investigation and discussion by IPCC authors before a conclusion is published. This is why many colleagues feel our critics are having a ‘field day’ or ‘dream run’ and the press are not reflecting a balanced picture. But, is there any other way than for us to take our time and conduct a careful investigation of each query? We have to trust that in the long run common sense will prevail.

We can, however, all play a role in communicating with media to avoid unwarranted erosion of confidence in the IPCC. You should feel free to talk with the press to make the case for the broader picture, and encourage your non-IPCC colleagues to do likewise. As always, make clear at the outset whether you are speaking on the record and can be quoted, or off the record as background. I initially felt that I should leave comment to IPCC spokespersons who know the wider circumstances; and have been helping Chris Field and the authors develop the written responses. More recently I have felt I should give more press interviews (you’ll see a piece in Nature on line from 16th February).

I wish to repeat here, firstly, my thanks for your honest, solid and professional work and, secondly, my confidence in the ability of the IPCC to conduct rigorous and reliable assessments. Of course, our knowledge of climate change is always advancing and we should always be seeking ways of improving our assessments, but the WG2 AR4 assessment is a robust one. Let us make that clear to all who are willing to listen.

13 February 2010


Hans von Storch said...

Roger Pielke jr has commented on this letter of Parry's - see http://rogerpielkejr.blogspot.com/2010/03/it-is-not-just-river-in-egypt.html.

P Gosselin said...

Different viewers have very different opinions on the integrity of the IPCC.

"However, news can take a life of its own, and what began with a single unfortunate error over Himalayan glaciers has become a clamour without substance which many believe is being fed by critics and sceptics."

Personally I don't believe it "began with a single unfortunate error".
It's really much deeper than that. But I will not elaborate further, as to do so may lead to accusations of "repeating things".
And, so goes the discussion.

Hans Erren said...

There is an easy solution to the IPCC problems:
For each subject, find two opponents in the peer reviewed literature and let both write their "summary of the science" in their field.
The current problem has arisen because the lead author is also the final judge on the comments. No trial would have the judge and the prosecution in the same person, and CO2 is the accused here.

richardtol said...

Why doesn't the IPCC get professional help?

Parry tries to trivialise the matter, ducks the real issue (all "errors" are in one direction), and repeats half-(or-less-)truths.

This letter will backfire.

P Gosselin said...

Richard Tol,
Thanks for saying it for me!

Hans von Storch said...

Thanks for behaving well. Keep in mind that Eduardo and me are legally responsible if insulting statements show up here - we had a case, where a publishing house demanded removing some posts. And my friends from another publishing house told me - that we had to give in.
But avoiding inflammatory language is also a necessary condition for getting a dialog across the aisle, which is what we are after. -- Hans

AnonyMoose said...

"In this respect the IPCC has aimed to develop background information on each of the issues. Not all these are being posted on the IPCC website, but they are available from the IPCC Secretariat for the media and from the WG2 office to help authors in your reply to press questions."

If the IPCC won't put them on their web site, maybe someone else will find a website for them.

Werner Krauss said...

Prof Parry is certainly right when he states that many critics obviously are having a ‘field day’ or ‘dream run’. In my opinion, prof Parry's letter to WG II authors, co-chairs and vice chairs is exactly what one should expect from a lead author in this situation. He takes responsibility and protects the authors who did voluntary work for WG II, and he publishes the answers provided by the IPCC.

For sure, there are many open questions. I wished they were discussed in style and politeness and not with scorn and contempt. It took three years to find out those errors. Three years in which the critics now didn't consider it even necessary to read the WGII report!

I agree with Richard Tol that all errors go in one direction. I think Richard will agree that many of the critics go in one direction, too (the other one).
What do you expect from the IPCC? That it will be a document that gives proof that anthropogenic warming is the greatest hoax ever?
That means ignoring its history, which by the way is a unique one, without predecessors. Until recently, many of those who are now critical could live very well with the IPCC report (and its unavoidable imperfections). Of course, it has to be improved. The IPCC is a process, and it is delicate one. As is science. Maybe Richard is right and the letter will backfire. But maybe the letter is just a letter to the authors of WGII and should be politely treated as exactly this.

_Flin_ said...

While I agree that the IPCC should get professional help, preferably from PR professionals, the point about all "errors" pointing in one direction is debatable.

My impression is that there are voices in the international scientific community stating that the IPCC 4AR does underestimate some issues, like the rise of sea level or the acceleration of Antarctic land ice loss.

These results and their implications (and whether they are correct), however, are debated in scientific journals, while the finding of errors in the other direction, be they supposed or real, is treated quite differently.

P Gosselin said...

Right now another blog is undertaking to audit all references in all chapters of the AR4 report to see how many are actually peer-reviewed. Preliminary results indicate huge quantities of gray literature. Big potential for further embarassment, I'd say.

P Gosselin said...

I was just at WUWT and saw that reader Frank Lanser has posted a very interesting perspective. So I'm wondering what the experts here think of it. Perhaps it sheds some light on how the IPCC was thinking.

Unknown said...

I think that Dr Parry is a little overconfident. (I say "a little", not "very much").

In my opinion, IPCC, especially WG2, should not expand its scope ambitiously, but concentrate on the subjects about which they can achieve good quality.

But both scientists and governments tend to add something they are interested to their wish list. IPCC WG2 will be overloaded. A kind of tragedy of commons.

To cut the knot, it should be made clear to everyone that adaptation to environmental change is an issue so large that cannot be covered by such a little institution as IPCC alone.

Marco said...

@P Gosselin:
I'm guessing the person doing the analysis does not even know what "grey literature" is, when he distinguishes between "peer reviewed journals" and everything else.

Unknown said...

Information about the rule of IPCC on use of "grey literature":
The document mentioned by Dr Parry as "Annex 2 of the IPCC assessment procedures" is here:
IPCC, 1999, revised 2003: Procedures for the preparations, review, acceptance, adoption, approval and publication of IPCC reports (http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ipcc-principles/ipcc-principles-appendix-a.pdf ).
The particular part is: Annex 2: Procedures for using non-published / non-peer-reviewed sources in IPCC reports.

P Gosselin said...

Perhaps you could provide some helpful tips on discerning between grey literature and peer-reviewed hard literature? Readers here, and even some IPCC officials, might be thankful for it. Can you help?

P Gosselin said...

My previous comment was to your attention, but others of course are welcome to help out.

Interestingly you wrote:
"I'm guessing the person doing the analysis does not even know what "grey literature" is, when he distinguishes between "peer reviewed journals" and everything else."

Curious - Why do say that?

Marco said...

@P Gosselin:
"Gray or grey literature has long been considered the proverbial needle in the haystack. It is commonly defined as any documentary material that is not commercially published and is typically composed of technical reports, working papers, business documents, and conference proceedings."

Peer review isn't part of the equation.

My comment comes from a run-in with Andreas Bjurström on realclimate, where he used improper descriptions of gray literature. He's done it slightly better on Pielke Jr's blog, but still was blissfully unaware of the definition of gray literature. Fortunately, he has re-posted a long comment from CM on Pielke Jr's blog with the objections.

P Gosselin said...

Thanks Marco!
In the meantime, I just happened to run across this: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7286/full/464141a.html

Just thought it might be of interest for some readers here.
Seemed really objective, don't you all think?

Anonymous said...

Grey Literature, according to IPCC:

Are “grey literature” (e.g. government and NGO reports, not published in peer-reviewed scientific journals)and non-English literature from your country / region sufficiently exploited by IPCC - what measures could be taken to use it better (whilst maintaining the scientific strength of the assessment).


Unknown said...

To be honest I find it charming that the IPCC folks are totally flabbergasted by the onslaught of criticism, accusation and media tsunamis. I think their helpnesses already shows that they are not the professional conspirators and manipulative lobbyists they are accused of being. The IPCC is NOT the WTO. It was created by governments, the UN and the World Meteorological Association to address and research an issue that had been identified by individual governments, scholars and research bodies. I hope that they will not enlist "professional help" and, indeed, turn into a lobby group with a PR front-end, far removed from the general public. At this time they are not far removed from the public - anyone (in Germany at least) can enroll in a course at public universites where IPCC scholars teach. Anyone can talk to them. And - in fact - anyone who is qualified can also participate in IPCC work. See: http://www.de-ipcc.de/. (in German)

Anonymous said...


The problem is not the IPCC, but some people who think they are the only ones who can save the world.

They don't behave like scientists, they behave like Greenpeace.

Many people don't believe anymore in climate science. This is a sad situation.

Best regards

Marco said...

Care (dare) to name names?

P Gosselin said...

Debate Lindzen vs. Dowlattabi
Are models ouiji boards?

A dicussion we can all appreciate.

P Gosselin said...

Again, if you want really understand climate, one has to go back millions of years, and not just a few decades.

P Gosselin said...

"Too many scientists are entrenched in the current message".
H, Dowlatabadi (see video link to discussion provided above).

A lot of food for thought in that discussion...and no irrational behaviour. I also found the comments about NASA interesting.

Marco said...

@P Gosselin:
going back millions of years is actually what makes quite a few climate scientists rather uneasy with the increase in greenhouse gases. There hardly is a time in earth's history with higher concentrations of greenhouse gases without a concomitant higher global temperature.

inchirieri apartamente cluj said...

I think that posting such information on the public site in its original form would be an welcome action ... and in event of an "error" it could be corrected officialy