The IPCC’s “Political” Scientist

The IPCC’s “Political” Scientist

Georgia Op-Ed Distributed By CEI
April 18, 2002

Environmental activists are up in arms over the Bush Administration’s decision to withdraw its support for Robert Watson as chairman of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the supposed ultimate scientific authority on global warming.  They should be.  Watson has proven to be a master manipulator, willing to twist science to promote a radical anti-energy agenda.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The New York Times characterized Watson as an “outspoken advocate of the idea that human actions - mainly burning coal and oil - are contributing to global warming and must be changed to avert environmental upheavals.”  Watson’s “advocacy” of the environmentalist agenda clouds his scientific objectivity casting doubt on the IPCC’s scientific authority.


Watson presided over the IPCC’s Third Assessment Report (TAR), published last year.  The assessment reports are supposed to be a comprehensive review of the state of climate science in support of the international climate negotiations.  What they have become under Watson’s guidance is a political bludgeon to enforce global warming orthodoxy.


The first inkling that Watson was manipulating the panel’s work for political ends was two weeks before the 2000 presidential election.  A draft of the report’s Summary for Policymakers was leaked to the New York Times, which reported that the IPCC “has now concluded that mankind’s contribution to the problem is greater than originally believed,” and that, “Its worst-case scenario calls for a truly unnerving rise of 11 degrees Fahrenheit over 1990 levels.”  The leak was clearly calculated to aid Al Gore’s campaign.


In January 2001, Watson publicly released the final draft of the summary, even though the report itself was still under revision, producing another media circus.  Watson chimed in that, “This adds impetus for governments of the world to find ways to live up to their commitments…to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.”


The Summary for Policymakers, written by UN politicos rather than scientists, is used by Watson to misrepresent the science.  IPCC lead author Dr. Richard Lindzen, noted that the 35-page chapter that he worked on was summarized in one sentence, and avoided any mention of the many problems with how the models misrepresent key climate processes.


By releasing the Summary for Policymakers before the report itself, Watson assured that its alarmist message was well ingrained in the public psyche before the real science could get a fair public hearing.  Watson’s unorthodox strategy has achieved the desired political impact as the report itself has been largely ignored. 


Unfortunately, the report itself wasn’t free of Watson’s meddling.  The new report estimates that the Earth’s average temperature would rise between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius - or 10.44 degrees Fahrenheit, which the New York Times’ rounded up to 11 - over the next century, a big change from its earlier estimate of 1 to 3.5 degrees C.


The higher prediction is not based on new evidence or on a new understanding of the relationship between greenhouse gases and climate change, but on an unwarranted change in the assumptions about future population growth, economic growth and fossil fuel use.


Stephen Schneider, a professor at Stanford University and staunch proponent of the global warming agenda, expressed reservations in Nature magazine about the new assumptions.  According to Schneider, “This sweeping revision depends on two factors that were not the handiwork of the modelers: smaller projected emissions of climate cooling aerosols; and a few predictions containing particularly large CO2 emissions.”


To come up with the outlandish carbon dioxide projections, for instance, Watson formed a group of academic scientists, environmental organizations, industrial scientists, engineers, economists, and systems analysts, that decided to “create ‘storylines’ about future worlds from which population, affluence and technology drivers could be inferred.”  These storylines “gave rise to radically different families of emission profiles up to 2100 - from below current CO2 emissions to five times current emissions,” according to Schneider.


To get the final “dramatic revision upward in the IPCC’s third assessment,” he wrote, it combined the climate sensitivities of seven general circulation models (GCMs) with the “six illustrative scenarios from the special report” within a simple model to get 40 climate scenarios.


To add insult to injury, these storylines were not subjected to peer review.  In fact, they were added to the IPCC report during a “government review” after the scientific peer review was concluded.


Watson’s actions prove that he is not fit to continue as the head of a scientific review process.  The product of his tenure was not science but advocacy.  It’s time to look elsewhere for the next chairman.