Only a week to go before the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) begins in
Durban, South Africa, where world governments will again attempt to
draft a global plan to control carbon emissions so as to stave off
catastrophic man-made global warming. At the moment, however, the
world’s governments seem more intent on warding off catastrophic
government-made fiscal disasters. If for no other reason, Durban is
heading for the dustbin of UN climate meetings.
with economic and fiscal crises isn’t the only reason Durban seems
doomed. Another issue would be what looks like a growing realism in
climate science, including within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), the science arm of the UN climate machinery. In a
summary report last Friday, the IPCC rang climate alarm bells on
extreme weather events that weren’t all that alarming.
The report summarized the “key findings” of a Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters,
to be released next February. For warmists looking for the smoking
cigarette butts of climate change, the report was a major setback.
Despite a few headlines that mostly exaggerated its findings, the report
actually concluded there was little or no evidence of man-made global
warming to date as measured in extreme-weather events. As for the
future, nothing much can be expected for another 20 or 30 years. The big
impacts were projected way off at the end of the 21st century.
report was so lame as a climate-warning device that Media Matters, the
U.S. watchdog group, observed Monday that it was “almost totally
ignored” by the TV networks. Not a word on CNN, Fox, MSNBC, ABC or CBS.
Media Matters’ concern was that the key headline message — warning of
more extreme heat waves, floods, droughts and storms — had failed to
reach the people.
That the report’s message was missed is beyond
dispute, but the message missed is not the one Media Matters wanted to
hear. Take, for example, the report’s treatment of hurricanes. David
Suzuki and other green activists have often claimed that hurricanes like
Katrina are the product of man-made global warming and human
consumption of carbon-emitting fossil fuels produced by evil oil
companies. But the new IPCC report said it did not have evidence that
there has been an increase in hurricane activity or intensity. In the
language of the IPCC, “There is low confidence in any observed long-term
(i.e. 40 years or more) increase in tropical cyclone activity (i.e.
intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in
Headlines such as “Katrina not likely
caused by global warming” or “Hurricanes not on rise” could have been
written off this report. As for major rain/precipitation events, the
report said there have been “statistically significant trends” in some
regions, although those trends have shown decreases in events as well as
increases. Droughts are also hard to identify. There is “medium
confidence” that “some regions” have experienced more intense and longer
droughts, but in “some regions” droughts have become “less frequent,
less intense or shorter.”
Floods around the world are often cited
in media as evidence of global warming. But the IPCC report downplays
its support for this idea.
There is limited to medium
evidence available to assess climate-driven observed changes in the
magnitude and frequency of floods at regional scales because the
available instrumental records of floods at gauge stations are limited
in space and time, and because of confounding effects of changes in land
use and engineering.
No wonder the TV networks
ignored the story: Most of their extreme-weather coverage over the last
few years blaming global warming appears to have been wrong.
the message down even further was the IPCC’s upfront definition of what
it means by climate change: “Climate change may be due to natural
internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic
changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use.” In this
definition, man-made climate change brought on by carbon emissions
amounts to only one part of the system. The role of natural forces is
likely larger than carbon emissions.
If the recent past evidence
of man-made global warming is thin, what about the future? Here again,
the IPCC report offers little headline fodder.
changes in climate extremes under different emissions scenarios
generally do not strongly diverge in the coming two to three decades,
but these signals are relatively small compared to natural climate
variability over this time frame. Even the sign of projected changes in
some climate extremes over this time frame is uncertain. For projected
changes by the end of the 21st century, either model uncertainty or
uncertainties associated with emissions scenarios used becomes dominant,
depending on the extreme.
Not exactly a green light
for governments and politicians in Durban to charge ahead with radical
carbon-reduction schemes and targets. If carbon emissions are causing
global warming, extreme events won’t be showing up for another 20 or 30
years. Beyond that, the models are tricky. Still, the IPCC produced a
number of projections that some extreme events would increase. It is
“virtually certain” that warm daily temperature extremes will occur in
the 21st century. But it is “likely that the global frequency of
tropical cyclones [hurricanes] will either decrease or remain
For some, the new report is a welcome
change. Roger Pielke Jr., a long-time critic of IPCC climate models,
said: “The IPCC should be congratulated for delivering a message that
cannot have been comfortable to deliver. The IPCC has accurately
reflected the scientific literature on the state of attribution with
respect to extreme events — it is not there yet, not even close, for
events such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, bushfires and on other
topics there remain enormous uncertainties. That is just the way that it
is, so that is indeed what the IPCC should have reported.”
real “extreme event,” however, may be the IPCC report itself, a
pre-Durban warning of pending climate catastrophes that is short on
catastrophes. It’s an IPCC science document that doesn’t give the UN
policymaking arm meeting in Durban enough hot science to justify action.