IPCC Manipulating Climate Report Summary to Favor Wealthy Nations

Yves here. This IPCC whitewash stands in stark contrast to a report included in Links today, summarized in the Independent, US to be hit worse than almost any other country by climate change, report says. Note also that the first IPCC reports, in 2007, also suffered from pressure to water it down, but then it was China that was particularly aggressive in wanting the findings toned down, since the position of developing nations has been that since the West burned a lot of carbon in order to develop, they have the right to do so too to enable their citizens to achieve a comparable standard of living. The wee problem is that the world can’t even begin to sustain its current population living at advanced economy levels. Gaius also discusses the advanced v. developing economy conflict.

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and frequent contributor to DownWithTyranny, digby, Truthout, and Naked Capitalism. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius, Tumblr and Facebook. Originally published at at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive  here. Originally published at DownWithTyranny

Global warming projections taken from an earlier IPCC special report, Emissions Scenarios, published in 2000 (graph reproduced here). We’re still on the red path.

From time to time, the IPCC (the UN Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change) issues special reports along with its more general, every-five-years-or-so Assessment Reports. (The latest assessment report is AR5 from November 2014. It can be accessed here.)

These special reports cover subjects ranging from Safeguarding the Ozone Layer and the Global Climate System, published in 2005, to Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation, published in 2012. (The full list is here.)

They’re about to release a new special report, Global Warming of 1.5 °C, that details the risks if global warming rises above 1.5°C (but stays below the official target of 2°C) “in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” This is in response to concern expressed at the Paris meeting by especially vulnerable nations that two degrees warming is still too much.

Note that many of the (initially) most vulnerable nations are also among the poorest — small island nations like Kiribatu, the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Bangladesh, to name just a few. Of course, every nation will ultimately be vulnerable. Florida, for example, is one Typhoon Haiyan away from a panicked collapse in all real estate prices and mass exodus.

Thus this conflict isn’t just about how much fossil fuel its owners get to turn into wealth (a lower warming limit means significantly lower fossil fuel sales); it’s also about what wealthy nations must do to help the poorer ones, if anything. It is in this context that nations at the Paris climate conference discussed which global warming limit they should target. About that discussion, climate writer KC Golden said this:

Climate justice advocates, led by the world’s most vulnerable nations, are pushing in Paris to move the target to 1.5 degrees C. Science, sanity, and moral responsibility are with them, but rarely are those enough to win the day. Sober COP-watchers gave the drive for 1.5 little chance to prevail, as Big Fossil continues to box the negotiators.

(“COP” means “conference of the parties,” meetings at which representatives of nations that are part of the UN’s climate mitigation efforts make decisions.)

So keep this in mind as you read on: there are two issues here, justice and money, not just the obvious one, money.

Controlling the Summary Means Controlling Global Response

A final note. Most of the IPCC’s publications contain literally volumes of data, and each publication contains a “Summary for Policymakers,” a 20-or-so-page executive summary for politicians who will determine climate policy for their governments. The Summary for Policymakers is the “here’s what you need to know” explanation for non-scientific decision-makers.

As a result, no one in power reads the reports themselves. Instead, people with actual policy control rely on the Summary only to tell them what to think. This makes control of the summary critical to controlling what actually gets done. If the underlying report contains data that screams, “Warning; extreme danger!” and the Summary says, “There could be a problem sometime, but no one knows when or for sure,” only the Summary will be acted on. The Summary could also simply exclude (be silent about) important findings in the scientific parts of the report.

Apply that idea — that manipulating these Summaries matters to people who want to manipulate the world’s response to climate change — to the especially sensitive special report that’s coming and you will learn a lot about the critical issues emerging around global warming. Again, the issues are justice and money, not just money.

Wealthy Nations Are Manipulating the Latest IPCC Report Summary

Let’s start with the money issue. This is from the Guardian, which has obtained comments about what appears to be manipulation of the Summary for Policymakers being added to the report on 1.5°C global warming:

Climate study ‘pulls punches’ to keep polluters on board
‘True risks’ of warming played down to placate fossil-fuel nations

Warnings about the dangers of global warming are being watered down in the final version of a key climate report for a major international meeting next month, according to reviewers who have studied earlier versions of the report and its summary.

They say scientists working on the final draft of the summary are censoring their own warnings and “pulling their punches” to make policy recommendations seem more palatable to countries – such as the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia – that are reluctant to cut fossil-fuel emissions, a key cause of global warming. “Downplaying the worst impacts of climate change has led the scientific authors to omit crucial information from the summary for policymakers,” said one reviewer, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The article identifies much of the missing information.

Cuts made to the final draft of the summary include:

• Any mention that temperature rises of above 1.5C could lead to increased migrations and conflict;

• All discussion of the danger of the Gulf Stream being disrupted by cold water flowing from the Arctic where more and more sea-ice is melting;

• Warnings about the dangers that 1.5–2C temperature rises could trigger irreversible loss of the Greenland ice sheet and raise sea levels by 1–2 metres over the next two centuries.

Other cuts from the summary include the sentence: “Poverty and disadvantage have increased with recent warming (about 1C) and are expected to increase in many populations as average global temperatures increase from 1C to 1.5C and beyond.”

The original summary also stated “at 2C warming, there is a potential for significant population displacement concentrated in the tropics”. Again this is not mentioned in the report for policymakers.

The clear implication of the Guardian article is that fossil fuel countries and companies want to water down the Summary because of the financial benefit: they get to sell more coal, oil and methane (“natural gas”).

Economic Justice and Climate Reparations

The second reason wealthy nations are suppressing the worst information in the upcoming Summary relates to economic justice, climate reparations and the future economic development of poor and developing nations.

Global warming has economic impacts as well. Excised from the latest draft of the Summary is the observation that “poverty and disadvantage have increased” as global warming progresses. This increasing division pits wealthy nations against poor nations on a global scale, an idea also suggested by excised warnings about “significant population displacement.” In other words, explicit in the report, and implicit in what’s being omitted from the Summary, is recognition that not just the acquisition of wealth divides rich nations from poor ones, but also vast difference in climate consequences, at least initially.

This is a justice issue, which almost exactly parallels the national divisions caused by increasing U.S. wealth inequality, one consequence of which was the 2016 voter rebellion that ultimately brought Donald Trump to the White House (and almost put Bernie Sanders there instead). Imagine that disruption on a global scale. As the rich get richer, the poor get angry.

About reparations for climate damage, I wrote at the time the Paris conference concluded: “In a just world, who should pay when California loses its agriculture industry, when south Florida returns to the sea and real estate values collapse, when storms and floods make increasing millions homeless and vulnerable to disease, starvation and chaos? How is the answer not Exxon, the Kochs (Koch Industries is privately owned), Chevron, Total and Shell Oil, the sheikhs of Saudi Arabia, and all the rest?”

Consider also future economic development from a climate justice perspective. Almost all of the wealth created by two centuries of fossil fuel exploitation was captured by nations that burned and benefited from it — primarily the U.S. and Western Europe. Earth’s atmosphere is now flooded with greenhouse gases, so much so that there’s no room for even more emissions without dire consequences for us all.

Yet the rich nations, who’ve already pulled themselves into “first world” status thanks to previous and extensive fossil fuel burning, want to (a) deny the same path — fossil fuel use — to poor, non-industrialized and emerging nations “for the good of the world”; (b) deny that they should share some of the wealth acquired from fossil fuel use to aid in other nation’s development; and (c) deny any reparations at all to vulnerable nations when the crisis caused by first world fossil fuel use hits them early and hard. Poor nations see this stance quite clearly for what it is.

(For the U.S.’s shameful attempt to blackmail poor and vulnerable nations at the Paris talks to give up their justice claims, read “U.S. Offers Vulnerable Nations a Deal, But They Can Never Ask for Climate Money Again.”)

This building conflict between rich and poor nations, which may never be resolved, is a prescription for global war. But it won’t be one with armies fighting armies. This war will look like a global insurgency instead, not city-wide or nation-wide, but planet-wide, with armies of some countries fighting populations in others. In fact, it will look very much like what’s happening between the Israeli army and the people of occupied Palestine, but with much more chaos because the battle space, instead of being greatly constrained, will encompass literally all the world.

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  1. JBird4049

    Oh goody. The stupidity here is so bright it gives sunburns. None of the censoring here is going to benefit the censors because anyone with any knowledge at all will discover it, and it is years, not decades, before the dominos start toppling.

    And here I was looking towards a rewilding effort in North America, but that requires some climate at least remotely like it used to be before the very first Americans arrived around 20 kya, but if California is going to lose its farming…especially with the idiots in charge right now.

    Any successful efforts will require trust. Between the various elites such as the American, British, Israeli, Indian, and Chinese it is decreasing. And of course the world wide class of Deplorables will be taking it in the neck. Those leaders better hope that that effort to colonize Mars works.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    Tim Flannery, in his book The Eternal Frontier: An ecological History of North America and its Peoples, pointed out as long ago as 2001 that the paleohistorical record showed that north America was something of a ‘funnel’ for climate changes – alterations to the worlds climate always seemed to have more dramatic impacts on that continent. So by any rational analysis the US should be the most, not the least, concerned with climate change. I guess its the cultural notion that there are always more lands ‘out there’ to take that has long made the US among the most careless nations of its own rich resources.

    But for the point of the article, it is concerning that the IPCC is bowing to pressure, but I wouldn’t exaggerate its impact. From my observations, governments are increasingly looking to their own scientific advisors for advice, not the IPCC. Thats not necessarily better, it just means the specific wording of the IPCC reports is less relevant.

  3. Sound of the Suburbs

    We don’t look at the carbon footprint of houses in the UK, we look at the energy efficient.

    Big houses take more to heat and aren’t environmentally friendly, but they don’t want anyone thinking that way.

  4. oaf

    “the world can’t even begin to sustain its current population living at advanced economy levels.”

    …the Lemming Wars will leave all other wars forgotten….NostraOafus

  5. John Wright

    The reason that I believe little, other than window dressing efforts, will be done to combat climate change is the policy makers are aware of what has been shown to work and work quickly to slow the buildup of CO2.

    That being a decrease in WW economic activity.

    see https://www.eurasiareview.com/06122011-carbon-dioxide-emissions-rebound-quickly-after-global-financial-crisis/

    “The sharp decrease in global carbon dioxide emissions attributed to the worldwide financial crisis in 2009 quickly rebounded in 2010, according to research supported by the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.”

    Few WW politicians will advocate drastic cuts in energy consumption (AKA “a better lifestyle”) for THEIR constituents.

    I suspect future historians will view many of the economists of today as the poster children for “optimizing the wrong variables, human population and economic growth” as the earth experiences climate change.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I think WW means world wide but that is a guess. I have noticed a pronounced tendency for usages of undefined acronyms. I am only picking on you as a convenient target of opportunity. I think it best to avoid acronyms, especially brand new coinages, and if you use an acronym please PLEASE define it at first usage. I’ll forget it an have to refer back but at least I can.

  6. Synapsid

    The Guardian article says that, according to reviewers of the report and the summary, scientists writing the Executive Summary are censoring what they write in order to make the result more palatable to countries reluctant to limit their “fossil-fuel” emissions (not a very sensible term, that).

    This very thing has happened with each Executive Summary prepared. Why? The reason is that those countries have line-by-line control of what appears in the Executive Summaries. They are doing the censoring, not the preparers of the reports.

    (The report writers could refuse to cooperate, sure, but if there’s going to be any report at all it will emerge from the present process, which is flawed.)

    The Guardian statement is misleading and harmful, a gift to deniers of human-caused climate change.

    1. Dwight

      We need Shadow, or True, Executive Summaries. Written by authoritative experts, with appendices showing what was omitted from or distorted in the official executive summary, and showning why the true executive summary is supported by the full IPCC reports. The full reports are themselves conservative, which should also be pointed out.

  7. Synoia

    Looking at the chart (graph) at the top of this article leads to 2 observations:

    1. 1.5 deg C is below a straight line extrapolation of the current temperature curve.
    2. Systems generally exhibit an exponential growth curve, and the one that see to fit about are the red & green curves which go well past 1.5 deg C.

    What cannot be estimated is the end point of the growth curve, because of unknowns.

    The report appears to be a classic example of “tell the management what they want to hear.”

    1. JBird4049

      The report appears to be a classic example of “tell the management what they want to hear.”

      That always works so well. Tell them what they want to hear because they won’t listen to anything else, which means they won’t see the ginormous iceberg ahead. Don’t worry for them; they will be in the best lifeboat, and in water, before everyone else reaches the divots.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      The IPCC reports are conservative, … very very, very, conservative. They present the happiest outcome of events and dress them in believably. What’s scary for me is that even the IPCC ‘happy-face’ version of Climate Disruption gives me nightmares. Are the summaries really so soothing? If the management really ‘heard’ even the ‘happy-face’ versions of Climate Disruption what kind of management are they providing and are they really the ‘Management’?

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