Skip to content

IPCC Reports: Science or Spin?

October 1, 2010

“Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change.”

Climate scientist Roy Spencer made this statement. He starts by suggesting something highly questionable isn’t open to being questioned. What he seeks to do is suggest, by inference, that the IPCC has an agenda, and this distorts the reports they produce. In other words, Spencer (and others) suggest that the IPCC exaggerates what the science says in favour of anthropogenic global warming. It is perfectly legitimate to question this assertion, since Spencer and others offer no evidence to support it.

Some critics go further, suggesting that the IPCC actively suppresses science that doesn’t support the theory that climate change is being caused by human activities. It is notable this ‘other science’ is rarely produced to support the accusation.

Does the IPCC accurately report the findings of science?

The IPCC was formed to report on a broad range of scientific enquiries into the climate, and our effects on it, and to summarise the science for laypeople. The science they summarise is published so it is simple to compare the primary science with the IPCC reports, and compare both to what actually took place.

There are numerous instances where the IPCC reports, which are summaries of published climate change science, have understated the case – hardly suggesting exaggeration in pursuit of an agenda. Here are some examples:

  • CO2 output from fossil fuels: observed emissions are close to the worst-case projections made by the IPCC, despite them offering a range of potential emission scenarios. (In fact, atmospheric CO2 is increasing ten times faster than any rate detected in ice core data over the last 22,000 years).
  • Sea-level rise is accelerating faster than the IPCC predicted. Actual sea-level rise is 80% higher than the median IPCC projection. By 2100 sea-level rise was predicted by the IPCC to be in the range of 18-59 cm. It is now believed that figure may be far too low, because estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded from AR4 because the data was not considered reliable. (This omission hardly supports the notion that the IPCC seeks to exaggerate global warming trends).
  • Each Arctic summer, sea-ice is melting faster than average predictions in the last IPCC report. The Arctic is experiencing a long-term loss of multi-year ice which is also accelerating.

In many similar cases, the evidence suggests that changes in climate are occurring faster, and with more intensity, than the IPCC have predicted. It is not credible to suggest the reports were biased in favour of the theory of anthropogenic global warming when the evidence demonstrates the IPCC were, in fact, so cautious.

In fact, there is evidence however to suggest that the exact opposite is actually the case, both in terms of the scientific evidence itself (see below) and the way the work of the IPCC is reported. A recent study (Freudenburg 2010) investigated what it calls ‘the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge’, the phenomenon in which reports on science fail to evaluate all outcomes, favoring certain probabilities while ignoring others. They found that “…new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective [that disruption through AGW may be far worse than the IPCC has suggested] than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media”.

Claims that the IPCC is alarmist are not supported by evidence, and there are clear indications that the opposite may be the case.

Footnote: this post was written for SkepticalScience as part of an ongoing project to add ‘basic’ rebuttals of common climate change denial arguments. References for all statements can be found in the intermediate discussion “The IPCC is alarmist“.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. mark houghton brown permalink
    October 2, 2010 12:18 pm

    i agree Graham, and its damn sobering. You deserve to be far more widely read.

  2. Dr. Tom permalink
    October 3, 2010 10:58 pm

    Spencer, as other denialists, continue to ignore or attempt to distort the facts. He contends he receives no support from industry. Makes one wonder how truthful he is!

  3. adelady permalink
    October 4, 2010 1:31 am

    Dr Tom, the sad thing is I think he is truthful – in the sense of being loyal and consistent to the views that he holds.

    Unfortunately, those rather odd views obscure a clear view of what science really has to say. Picture closely examining a graph or a picture wearing glasses that are both scratched and smeared. And refusing to clean them, polish them or get a new pair despite the fact that you can afford them.

    That’s how I see him anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: