We should all be dead by now, thanks to overpopulation and resource depletion. The few of us remaining should be scavenging a landscape denuded of life by acid rains and UV rays. Thankfully, we are not. Also still standing are the scientific institutions and the global bureaucracies that predicted our premature demise. One of those is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The job of the IPCC is to provide a review of climate-change research to policymakers. The bulk of climate policymaking occurs under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which meets yearly to try to wrangle a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the 2015 UNFCCC meeting in Paris, a loose deal was struck. It aimed to limit global warming to 2°C, with a looser agreement to aim to limit it to 1.5°C. Subsequently, the UNFCCC asked the IPCC to compare global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C for a report to be published this year. So far, so boring.
But before the report was even published, it began to excite climate alarmists. In September, the Guardian reported leaked details from the report’s summary for policymakers, claiming that government interference had forced scientists to ‘water down’ their findings and ‘pull their punches’. The claim that ‘temperature rises of above 1.5°C could lead to increased migrations and conflict’ was cut from the final draft, it reported.
It is usually climate sceptics, not alarmists, who point out that the IPCC’s summaries are subject to political interference. These summaries tend to be much more alarmist than what the actual science says in the reports’ technical chapters. In 2014, for example, the summary for policymakers warned that climate change can increase the risks of conflict and migration. But this was totally unsupported by the technical parts of the document.
This year’s IPCC’s report has been a disappointment to many climate activists, including the apparent source of the leak, Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP) and the Grantham Research Institute (GRI). The GRI is named after its billionaire benefactor, Jeremy Grantham. Both the CCEP and the GRI are chaired by the world’s leading climate technocrat, Nick Stern, author of the UK government’s review of the economics of climate change in 2007.
The problem for Stern, his financial backers, researchers and PR men is that their political agenda depends on science identifying dramatic risks, which can act as a spur to action: catastrophic increases in the frequency and intensity of storms, flooding and drought, devastating changes to agricultural productivity, increases in diseases and poverty, impacts across society that could lead to civil conflict and war for resources. But so far, signs of these dramatic consequences have not materialised. As a result, these activists, researchers and technocrats are now at odds with the science.
That’s not to say that this year’s IPCC report gives nothing to alarmism. But it tells the alarmists that they will have to wait longer, that the apocalypse has been delayed. It also adds important caveats. Take, for example, the claim that ‘Any increase in global warming will affect human health… Risks from some vector-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever, are projected to increase with warming from 1.5°C to 2°C.’ At face value, this appears to be a clear injunction from science that the 1.5°C target is preferable to the 2°C target. However, digging into the technical chapters of the report reveals that incorporating estimates of global adaptation to climate change into projections of its future trajectory ‘reduces the magnitude of risks’.
What this means is that these risks can be overcome by ‘adaptation’, even as the temperature rises. According to the two most authoritative estimates, the number of deaths caused by malaria has fallen dramatically in recent decades. While malaria has been eradicated from North America and Europe, it remains in Africa. Vulnerability to malaria remains strongly correlated with poverty, not meteorology. This ought to be read as an argument for development. It is ideology, not science, which turns the IPCC statement of risks into an argument for emissions reductions.
None of which is to say that global warming does not create risks. It does. But they are not the risks that climate technocrats have hoped to capitalise on. There are no immediate, looming catastrophes that can easily be detected in statistics which can provide unambiguous instruction to governments. Climate activists and technocrats need this threat of catastrophic risks to sustain their political arguments in lieu of any positive agenda. Though the most alarmist edges have been smoothed out of the IPCC’s output, it is still very much driven by ideology.