UN Report Blasted By One of its Own Authors

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is coming under heavy criticism from various directions

From the May 2001 CEI UpDate


The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is coming under heavy criticism from various directions. But none has been more devastating than that delivered on March 1 by one of its own lead authors. Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world’s leading atmospheric scientists, told a standing-room only audience at a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition that the IPCC process is driven by politics rather than science.


What are some of the problems with the IPCC process? According to Lindzen, it uses summaries to misrepresent what scientists say. It uses language that means different things to scientists and laymen. It exploits public ignorance about quantitative matters. It exploits what scientists can agree on while ignoring disagreements to support the global warming agenda. And it exaggerates scientific accuracy and certainty and the authority of undistinguished scientists.


The “most egregious” problem with the report, said Lindzen, “is that it is presented as a consensus that involves hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scientists, and none of them were asked if they agreed with anything in the report except for the one or two pages they worked on.”


Indeed, most press accounts characterize the IPCC report as the work of 2,000 (3,000 in some instances) of the world’s leading climate scientists. The emphasis, however, isn’t on getting qualified scientists but on getting representatives from over 100 countries, said Lindzen. The truth is there are only a handful of countries that do quality climate research. Most of the so-called experts served merely to pad the numbers.


“It is no small matter,” said Lindzen, “that routine weather service functionaries from New Zealand to Tanzania are referred to as the world’s leading climate scientists. It should come as no surprise that they will be determinedly supportive of the process.”


Moreover, the IPCC claims that its report is peer-reviewed, which simply isn’t true. Under true peer review, a panel of reviewers must accept a study before it can be published in a scientific journal. If the reviewers have objections, then the author must answer them or make the suggested changes. Under the IPCC review process, however, the authors are free to ignore criticisms. After having his review comments ignored by the IPCC in its 1990 and 1995 reports, Lindzen asked to have his name removed from the list of reviewers (a request that was refused).


The IPCC has resorted to using scenario-building in the summary to paint a frightening picture that isn’t supported by the science. Dr. Lindzen noted that this gives the IPCC significant latitude to come up with scary scenarios. One can assume, for instance, that man will burn 300 years’ worth of coal in 100 years. Plug this into the most sensitive climate model and you will come up with a truly frightening scenario. “People wouldn’t normally take that very seriously,” said Lindzen, “but I think the IPCC understands that the media will report the top number. I don’t think, any longer, that this is unintentional.”


The IPCC also exploits what scientists do agree on to support its agenda. Scientists can more or less live with the idea conveyed in the IPCC report that everything is connected to everything else and everything is uncertain. Scientists agree, for example, that concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased over the last 100 years. They also generally agree that the climate has warmed slightly. There are still uncertainties regarding even those basic propositions, however. Contrary to the impression given by the IPCC, there is not widespread agreement on what these two “facts” mean for mankind. Yet they are deemed sufficient to justify precipitous action.


Perhaps Lindzen’s most devastating critique is of the IPCC’s use of statistics. Its infamous hockey stick graph, for instance, shows that global temperatures have been stable or have been going down in the last 1000 years and that only in the industrial age has there been an anomalous warming of the planet. But if you look at the margin of error in that graph, “you can no longer maintain that statement.”


The margins of error used in the IPCC report are much smaller than traditionally used by scientists. This means that the IPCC is publicizing data that is much less likely to be correct than scientists normally use. The IPCC is playing a statistical shell game that isn’t scientifically valid.


There’s little doubt that the IPCC process has become politicized to the point of uselessness. Lindzen advises U.S. policymakers to ignore it.


Paul Georgia ([email protected])  is an environmental policy analyst at CEI and managing editor of the Cooler Heads Coalition newsletter.