IPCC5 – the science settled (or otherwise) – ducks comment on the policy response

In almost all confidence tricks, illusions, or items of stage magic there is a significant step at which the illusion is created. The step is ALWAYS far earlier than the mug assumes, even after having been conned. The “reveal” almost always occurs well AFTER the switch has been safely completed, and if needed the trick can be extended for as long as is necessary to achieve the switch. The switch occurs in this controlled and earlier moment: an apparently insignificant, or at least incidental event where a moment of humour, or distraction, can further shield the switch.

The woman disappears from the box (or at least the bottom half of the box) not while the stage magician is struggling to push the metal dividers through her torso, but from the moment she slips effortlessly into the box. The magician’s effort? – that’s merely part of the razzmatazz. The attractive assistant’s effortlessness? – well what were you looking at? The sequencing of her “feet” appearing at the end of the box, or something attractive and shimmering somewhere else?

No matter how closely you scrutinise the “reveal” you will never discover the “magic” because what is being “revealed” is entirely free deception, so devoid of sleight of hand, that all you are left with is an sense of the incredible – “I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it”. In fact a good illusionist will draw you in to search the “reveal” for the magic, confident that you won’t find it, BECAUSE it didn’t happen then.


Anthropogenic global warming, predominantly CO2 emissions, is a settled science truth. The modern global economy is heavily reliant on energy, often in non-obvious ways, and our energy is heavily reliant on combustion of various fuels. Food, and health services, are two life critical areas that are surprisingly dependant on fossil fuels in various steps of the systems.

To reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere by humans, the response can be categorised in to one of three ways: Abatement, Removal, or Management.

Carbon Dioxide Abatement – reducing the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere.

Carbon Dioxide Removal – technologies that will remove CO2 either at emitted source, or from the environment.

Solar Radiation Management – technologies that will reduce the planetary thermal gain from the sun, giving an equivalent (and this is the challenge) planetary climate effect.


IPCC5 has now been revealed. The Warsaw Climate Change Conference is occurring from 11 to 22 November 2013. And the science is settled. Only so called embarrassing dinosaurs such as Australia are not signing up to deep cuts to future CO2 emissions. (Just as a quiet aside Japan post Fukushima is walking away from nuclear power, AND walking away from commitments to 25% reductions on 1990 emissions levels. Japanese abatement has been strongly premised on 30% nuclear power generation, something which is not now going to occur, and at least as a negotiating point Japan is at -ve 3% reduction).

And the science is VERY settled. “The Physical Science Basis” IPCC5 report is 2,216 pages of incredibly impressive science. How could anyone credibly argue against it – I certainly couldn’t.

But the “con” is in substituting the very settled, very comprehensive, modelling and measurement of global warming with the very NOT comprehensive, very NOT modelled, and very NOT measured evaluation of policy response. Let me say it very clearly, because this is the illusion – the “science” referred to is NOT the policy response of abatement, but is the measurement and modelling of the effect. The settle science is ONLY referring to the “phenomena” not the “policy response”.

In fact hiding in plain view are around 2,000 words in which the illusion is described. The policy response of abatement, over other strategies is simply not meaningfully addressed by IPCC.

7.7.4 Synthesis on Solar Radiation Management Methods

But the level of understanding about SRM is low, and it is difficult to assess feasibility and efficacy because of remaining uncertainties in important climate processes and the interactions among those processes. Although SRM research is still in its infancy, enough is known to identify some potential benefits, which must be weighed against known side effects (there could also be side effects that have not yet been identified).

Understanding is “low” does not match a “Science is settled” view.

Carbon Dioxide Removal Methods

An intentional removal of CO2 by CDR methods will be partially offset by the response of the oceanic and terrestrial carbon reservoirs if the CO2 atmospheric concentration is reduced. This is because some oceanic and terrestrial carbon reservoirs will outgas to the atmosphere the anthropogenic CO2 that had previously been stored. To completely offset past anthropogenic CO2 emissions, CDR techniques would therefore need to remove not just the CO2 that has accumulated in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times, but also the anthropogenic carbon previously taken up by the terrestrial biosphere and the ocean. Biological and most chemical weathering CDR methods cannot be scaled up indefinitely and are necessarily limited by various physical or environmental constraints such as competing demands for land. Assuming a maximum CDR sequestration rate of 200 PgC per century from a combination of CDR methods, it would take about one and half centuries to remove the CO2 emitted in the last 50 years, making it difficult—even for a suite of additive CDR methods—to mitigate climate change rapidly. Direct air capture methods could in principle operate much more rapidly, but may be limited by large-scale implementation, including energy use and environmental constraints.

If SRM were used in order to avoid some consequences of increasing CO2 concentrations, the risks, side effects and shortcomings would clearly increase as the scale of SRM increase. Approaches have been proposed to use a time-limited amount of SRM along with aggressive strategies for reducing CO2 concentrations to help avoid transitions across climate thresholds or tipping points that would be unavoidable otherwise; assessment of such approaches would require a very careful risk benefit analysis that goes much beyond this report.

It is important to understand that this is IPCC commentary on IPCC process – not some extremist denier. If a policy response OTHER than abatement is undertaken then IPCC5 suggests – assessment of such approaches would require a very careful risk benefit analysis that goes much beyond this report.

And THAT is very far from what is publically understood. The current public, and indeed policy making, understanding is that the science on climate change is settled, the ONLY response is abatement, and the debate, such as it is, is only over how much, and how soon.

The current understanding is it is reasonable to be NOT pursuing Removal or Management and this in the words of IPCC5 “goes much beyond this report”.


Using IPCC5 data… where are we now?

0.8C is the temperature rise already being experienced

0.3C is the additional temperature rise which will be experienced due to already released CO2

2.0C is the target maximum temperature rise for the future

No policy alternative to abatement is being researched to a reasonable level of confidence. Global Climate Change Conferences are earnestly making binding commitments to 5% and even 25% reductions in carbon emissions, when clearly the figures need to be nearer to 80% and 95%.

The science of anthropogenic climate change may well be settled. However the global policy response is anything but settled, is riddled with inconsistencies, and cannot conceivably deliver on its stated aims, of limit temperature rise to 2C if the only policy being pursued is abatement.

None of this would over worry me, excepting two points. First, there is an enormous opportunity cost to the $B and $T being spent on abatement without any reasonable expectation of success (limiting temperature gain to 2C). I am thinking Micah challenge, elimination of Malaria, water and sanitation for all, AND $T left for other things. Second, when this particular circus unwinds the credibility of science based policy making will be substantially damaged. I don’t expect this to me soon, but I do expect this to be in my lifetime.

I would invite you to read IPCC5 “The Physical Science Basis” – particularly Chapter 7. It in the words of the IPCC themselves very clearly lays out that the policy response is not “settled science”.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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