Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An analysis of climate politics and science in The Netherlands

The Dutch Rathenau Institute has published the report "Room for Climate Debate: perspectives on the interaction between climate politics, science and the media" by Jeroen van der Sluijs, Rinie van Est and Monique Riphagen. The report can be downloaded from:

The coauthor Monique Riphagen has supplied us with this summary.

   Since the establishment of the IPCC, national and international climate politics have leaned heavily on the scientific assessments of the IPCC. Politicians legitimate their climate politics by pointing to science: the IPCC tells us which political goals should be set. Climate politics is based on the linear model of science: knowledge is the basis of decision-making and more science will lead to more knowledge and less uncertainty. As is shown in the Netherlands, this has left politics with little space for political debate, causing this debate to move to science and thus politicising science.
   The weakness of the linear model is the underexposure of dissent, which is reflected in the consensus model of the IPCC. The recent review of the IPCC is mainly focussed on evaluating processes and procedures of the IPCC. Of course strengthening these procedures can prevent future mistakes and will make the fifth report more authoritative. However, a mere focus on this will not lead to less criticism and more faith in climate science. To depoliticise science and offer more room for the political debate, more space should be given to dissent opinions, sceptic as well as alarmistic. More openness about uncertainties in scientific knowledge and more room for these dissent scientific views in the IPCC reports would restore the political debate and enhance societies’ capacity to deal with this uncertainty.

   This contribution is based on the report ‘Room for Climate Debate’ (Van der Sluijs et al. 2010), that is edited by Jeroen van der Sluijs, Rinie van Est and Monique Riphagen. Jeroen van der Sluijs an assistant Professor/ Senior Researcher at the Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and Innovation, Utrecht University. Rinie van Est is coordinator Technology Assessment and trendwatcher at the Rathenau Instituut in The Hague, the Netherlands. Monique Riphagen is researcher at the Rathenau Instituut. The Rathenau Instituut investigates the dynamics of science and technology and maps the significance of these developments for individuals and society.

   This august the InterAcademy Council will publish their evaluation of the processes and procedures of the IPCC. Since Climategate and the discovery of mistakes in the last IPCC report, climate science is under fire. Although it makes sense to strengthen these procedures to make the reports more scientifically solid, it will not stop criticism and regain trust in the IPCC and climate science.
   The lack of confidence in the IPCC, together with the failure of the climate conference COP15, started a fierce parliamentary debate in the Netherlands about the legitimacy and necessity of climate policy. The international criticism on science has led to criticism on climate policy, because these two are heavily intertwined. After the discovery of the mistakes in AR4, Dutch Minister of Environment Jacqueline Cramer was quite outraged and stated that one should be able to count blindly on science and that not another single fault should be accepted. Although she nuanced this position in a Dutch newspaper, it shows climate policy is legitimated by the IPCC reports and becomes problematic when there is discussion about these reports, as is shown by studying
  But it will not be enough to satisfy the criticism and discussion about climate science and policy.

Political debate in the Netherlands
   In ‘Room for Climate Debate’ we analysed how Dutch politics have dealt with scientific uncertainties the last 40 years. Climate change, then called the greenhouse effect, came on the political agenda at the beginning of the seventies. Parliamentarians asked questions about the greenhouse effect, but more scientific evidence was needed to formulate climate policy. This situation lasted until the end of the eighties, when sustainable development was placed high on the political and policy agenda nationally and internationally and goals were also set for climate policy. Thanks to scientific input a National Environmental Policy Plan (NMP) was set up. The first IPCC report in 1990 had a direct influence on Dutch climate policy and also legitimated this policy. Critical or even sceptical questions were regularly raised in parliament by representatives of the entire political spectrum. The successive Ministers of Environment answered by referring to the latest IPCC report. Science left us according to these Ministers no other choice than to act and reduce CO2.
   Nevertheless, with the international negotiations and the Kyoto protocol on the way, in 1995 Dutch Parliament decided it wanted to know more about the problem of climate change. Researchers, also sceptics, were heard in order to obtain more scientific information about certainties and uncertainties, causes and consequences, as well as to find out whether the IPCC reports provided sufficient scientific foundation to this end. The research commission concluded unanimously that according to science the emission of large amounts of CO2 lead to climate change with possibly sweeping and dangerous effects. Therefore it was necessary to establish emissions reduction goals. The parliament took over these conclusions and pleaded for a stronger climate policy. Nevertheless, during the years to follow critical questions continued to be asked.
   With the preparations for the follow-up of the Kyoto Protocol to start in 2004, another investigation was launched by parliament about the state of scientific knowledge, possibilities of policy options and costs and profits. According to this research, the largest portion of the warming since 1950 was probably caused by man, although it was recognised that there are still many uncertainties. Although also these conclusions were accepted by parliament, critical questions were still being asked from time to time, answered by an appeal to the IPCC reports. But before Copenhagen in 2009, the Dutch political debate became polarised. The populist Party for Freedom (PVV) denied the existence of a climate problem. Minister Cramer explicitly indicated that the cabinet based itself on the information from the IPCC and not on what it considers a small minority of scientists who disagree with the IPCC. This discussion went on in 2010.

Dealing with scientific uncertainties
   The above historical outline shows that (Dutch) climate politics is based on the linear consensus model: politics has to deal with uncertainties and turns to science for a solid knowledge base and legitimacy of the implementation of politics. The example also shows that this model fails: regardless of several investigations and consensus about the outcome, critical questions are still asked and there is doubt about the necessity of a Dutch climate policy. In the end, when it becomes exciting and something is at stake, the Copenhagen Protocol, (international) politics fails.
   How then should we deal with the interaction between science and politics and what role can science play?
Confronted with scientific uncertainties, three coping strategies can be distinguished:
1. More scientific research
Scientific uncertainty is seen as a temporary shortcoming of knowledge. More research will create more certainty. However, more research will often create more complexity and uncertainty, creating an even complexer problem.
2. Build scientific consensus
Uncertainty is seen as a lack of unequivocalness. Different scientists have different opinions, it is not clear who is right. The solution is to install expert panels that judge the value of the underlying scientific research and make build scientific consensus. In this strategy scientific uncertainty and dissent, which can be very useful to policy-making, is not mentioned.
3. Openness about scientific uncertainty
Uncertainty is unavoidable and always plays a role in complex and politically sensitive topics. Dissensus and political values play an important role in the political debate. A robust policy has to be designed, that is independent of different scientific interpretations. Risk in this scenario is that politicians may forget the scientific consensus that also exists (Van der Sluijs 2006). These scenarios are summarised in table 1.
Scientific uncertainty as… Policy strategy Strength Weakness
Lack of knowledge More scientific research Searching for scientific certainties Creating illusionary certainty
Lack of unequivocalness Build scientific consensus Exposing consensus Underexposing dissent
Fact of life Openness about uncertainties Exposing dissent Underexposing consensus
Table 1. Overview of strengths and weaknesses of three policy strategies to deal with scientific uncertainties (Van der Sluijs 2006)

Strengthening the climate debate
   The linear model is reflected in the scenarios 1 and 2. But, as the Dutch history shows us, more scientific research won’t end the political discussion about the truth and value of climate science. Also scientific consensus building, as done by the IPCC, won’t guarantee consensus about the political solution of the problem of global warming, as is shown by the failure of Copenhagen in December 2009 and more recently Bonn.
   The IPCC certainly played, and still plays, an important role in placing climate change on the political agenda and creating a solid basis to start political negotiations. Although a diversity of scientific visions is reported in the different chapters that deals with specific topics, these different visions don’t always end up in the summary for policy makers and the synthesis report. This is the case for more alarmistic views that reflect the opinion that the global warming may proceed faster and more extreme than now foreseen as well as for more sceptical opinions that question the human impact on climate change compared to e.g. the role of the sun.
   When there is more space for uncertainties and different scientific opinions and better communication about these uncertainty, climate science will depoliticise. When there is debate about these dissent views and when these views are offered space in the scientific agenda, dissent scientists are forced to base their arguments on published scientific work instead of trying to influence politics using outdated or incorrect scientific arguments. In this way, climate science becomes depoliticised and the political debate will move to the political arena. In this arena there will be more space for debate about political and moral values and visions that are important in the discussion about climate change. The debate will shift from science to politics, also depoliticising science.

Van der Sluijs, J.P. (2006). ‘Uncertainty, assumptions and value commitments in the knowledge-base of complex environmental problems’. In: Guimarães Pereira Â, S. Guedes Vaz & S.Tognetti (eds.); Interfaces between Science and Society. Sheffield: Green Leaf Publishing. 67-84.
Van der Sluijs, J.P., R. van Est & M. Riphagen (2010). Room for Climate Debate: perspectives on the interaction between climate politics, science and the media. The Hague: Rathenau Instituut.
Pielke jr., R.A. (2007). The Honest Broker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Anonymous said...

Is climate change climate changing?

Anonymous said...

What I don't like about most climate change "deniers" is that many of them disparage climate science without taking responsibility for their own position. If mitigation and adaptation measures are delayed or canceled because of somebody's counter-arguments this person should also stand up and take the consequences if climate change does actually happen.

Now my key point: If the deniers and scepticists are integrated into the political process, they cannot hide anymore but they will have to stand up and take responsibility as well. And if society is following their advice, they should also be accountable if it was the wrong advise.

Anonymous said...


Do alarmists take any responsibility for anything? Alarmists can tell us anything, without ever taking any responsibility. They are the only righteous people on planet earth?! But who pays THEIR bill? THIS is really a funny kind of scientific process ... :-(

We talk about science here, don't we?


ingno said...

Anomymouse #1,
Why should the "deniers" take responsibility for ANYTHING but the science? At the bottom of all this there is a scientific question, is it not? And that is what most "deniers" are concerned with. Leave the political descisions, and the responsibility, to the politicians. There is a wide range of possibilities, whatever the science says. The politicians cannot blame the scientists. Only if a scientist steps out of his or her role as a scientist and say things like "tax all CO2", or "increase the CO2-emmissions", then they are on par with any ordinary citizen that has a vote.
Ingemar Nordin

Hans von Storch said...

I find this issue of responsibility interesting, in particular the two comments

"If the deniers and scepticists are integrated into the political process, they cannot hide anymore but they will have to stand up and take responsibility as well. And if society is following their advice, they should also be accountable if it was the wrong advise."


"if a scientist steps out of his or her role as a scientist and say things like "tax all CO2", or "increase the CO2-emmissions", then they are on par with any ordinary citizen that has a vote."

I would agree to both statements, which seem to be from the opposite ends of our spectrum - and hope that we may consensually be able to deal with this issue of responsibility. How would one do this? Maybe, one should collect publicly voiced political conclusions and demands by scientists (deniers, skeptics, mainstream, alarsmists), including myself, log them, ask the respective person if she/he really said so, and revisit the assertion after, say, 1 year and after 5 years.
Could be done on a web-blog.

Anonymous said...


"Denier" is an unacceptable term for scepticism, even if you put in quotation marks.

After all the scientific flaws, the lies, the groupthink we have seen and the so called "consensus" about global warming, I understand - and I always understood - my responsibility and my position as a manner to keep on for "scepticism" - a basic and absolutely essential function of research and knowledge.

Therfore I can't see any personal responsibility for the damage that has been done by alarmism, fellow travelling, the Kyoto protocol and all the opportunism following the agenda written in the name of neo-malthusianism, cleptocracy and scientific silliness.

Do not invite me jump into the boat while it is obviously sinking.


Hans von Storch said...

Renes/6 - your comment was not really a valid comment - mostly ranting, words like "cleptocracy and scientific silliness" are not helpful but merely insulting for some. Any chance that you may behave in future? Or provide arguments instead of declarations? Otherwise your next contribution will not be welcome and simply deleted. -- Hans von Storch

Werner Krauss said...

@ Hans #5
you write:
"Maybe, one should collect publicly voiced political conclusions and demands by scientists (...)"
I think, this is not necessary. They are already collected, inclusive your very own statements - for example on your website, in the scientific publication record etc. Accessible to everyone. The same is true for statements and demands from Latif, Schellnhuber, Hansen or other scientists.

And, by the way, there is no need for public tribunals. But, I guess, this was not your intention?

Anonymous said...

Dear Hans von Storch,

It wasn't my intention to offend people doing a good and serious job on the different fields of science.

Unfortunately we have seen some others and we still can see them at work.

The invitation to take responsibility would make sense if I could not hear the clattering of the hidden chains and handcuffs waiting to shanghai some naive sailors to work or to row on a galley.

Besides the continuing debate on the scientific basis (radiative forcing, positive and negative feedbacks / temperature measurements) there is a lot of literature pretending AGW-influences on all kind of things. I mean, just pretending it, without any proof or evidence. We might call it "climate Kitsch", counting by thousands of publications meanwhile.

I rarely heard apologies from the alarmist side for this kind of stuff, not even a clear distancing from its heralds and their worst exaggerations.

Some of the claims remember me Sebastian Brant's "Narrenschiff" (Ship of fools) rather than a rational scientific and political process.

No Sir, I won't row on such a galley before there is a new course layed besides the well known written in opportunistically biased political and economical agendas.

Sciences deserves - and needs - a better approach, clearly including scepticism instead of condemning or replacing it by chimera called "consensus".

I hope you will acccept this point of view on - what I believe it to be- one of the most important and indispensable elements of any scienticif work or debate.
Besides that I hold a big hope on your work on the field and your contributions to the next IPCC reports.


Hans von Storch said...

renes/9 - you are welcome to express your opinion as anybody else, but you have to pay attention to the rules given in the sidebar of this blog: We do not want to see insults, ... lengthy tirades, ... forms of disrepect to opponents. ... When violating these rules, postings will be deleted.

Declarations that the "others" are stupid and kind of gangsters are not helpful to build a dialogue across the aisle. Instead of general declarations, let us try to discuss issues with arguments.

Anonymous said...

I do not call "the others" being gangsters generally (even if some of them might be called so).

I am simply defending scepticism and its important role against insults and impertinence like the ones uttered by Anonymus/2.

But OK, I'll keep silent from now on.


Anonymous said...

Hans von Storch #5,

About responisbility. The problem with IPCC, as I see it, is that it mixes different tasks. To give a "state of the art" is one thing. But as soon as this is put in the political context of giving advice to policy makers, then that context infringes on the first task. Suddenly a "consensus" is needed, more or less definite answers are demanded etc. Even though we all know that such things must be artificial. Scientist should take responsibility for the science-part of it, even if that means admitting uncertainties and the existence of different opinions. The politicians must take responsibility for the decisions they make, and they have to accept the nature of science such as it is. It is no use for them to pretend that "the scientists told them so and so". Maybe politics would benefit from learning more about the scientific methods and how science proceed? And the scientists should not be so naive as to believe that they are not exploited if their theories fit a political agenda.

I agree very much with Nils Roll-Hansen that we can learn a lot about this mechanisms by looking at historical examples, both from the political perspective and from the scientific situation at the time.
Ingemar Nordin

Anonymous said...

Or provide arguments instead of declarations

Let's have a try.

The use of the term "denialist", which is pretty much unknown outside climate wars, may have two reasons.

A) Trying to silence the critics by comparing them to holocaust deniers.

B) Meaning the critics are denying something obvious. (Otherwise it wouldn't have any sense, since in every discussion, both sides deny and propose something)

A is not acceptable. Neither B, because you are supposed to demonstrate your thesis is obvious, and not to be just calling names to your critics. And in case you have demonstrated the thesis, the name calling is not needed.

Does it work?

itisi69 said...

By being sceptical sceptics *did* take their responsability...

Most AGW followers and politicans did nothing else than parroting the dogma's of climatology.

Hans von Storch said...

Denialist / skeptic - one of the problems is to find a "name" for those who have many questions, say on the hockeystick, or on the way temperature records are construcuted, if the solar effect is really stronger than mostly expressed, and the like, and those who claim that the whole is a big ideologically based hoax. Thus, the group of "skeptics" is really very diverse, and as explained elsewhere here on the blog there seems a certain tendency "to accept the alarmists' foes as my friends" (whatever they say). I guess we need a topology of skeptics/denialists, whatever you want.
A motive for using the certainly bad term "denialist", apart of using the holocaust-dimension to smear the opponents, may be the legitimate wish to discriminate between the "normal" skeptics and the radicals, some of which claim that CO2 levels in 1942 were already hgher than today.
-- Hans von Storch