Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
March 30th 2010 print

Des Moore

Climate inquiry, now

The State of Climate report can only be described as offering a grossly inadequate assessment of both past trends and possible future trends in climate. The many inadequacies offer the Coalition an opportunity to demand an independent inquiry into the science being used to back the dangerous warming thesis.

What State of Climate do we really have?

Over the past six months or so there has been a remarkable change at both official agencies and research institutions in attitudes of the believers in the dangerous warming thesis. Reflecting the Copenhagen flop and the Climategate exposure of uncertainties within research bodies, the previous out of hand dismissals of sceptical views have moved to an acknowledgement that those views should not be ignored and that uncertainty does exist. It has now become almost respectable to be a sceptic. Mind you the warmists are still quick to assure us either that the “basic” science remains valid or that we are now in an era of supposed Post-Normal science where the uncertainties are so great and the issues so important that conventional methods of first obtaining all relevant information before taking preventative action cannot wait but must rely on assessments by “knowledgeable” experts.

A major difficulty with either of the latter assurances is that whichever science is used is now showing marked problems in public (which many knew about but were not previously heard). The IPCC (which itself undertakes no scientific research) is now under an independent review instituted by the United Nations (for what that may be worth) and increasing numbers of individual scientists and groups of scientists are publicly revealing numerous possible explanations of the increase in temperatures other than increased greenhouse gas emissions. Evidence has also emerged suggesting that official agencies have made inappropriate additions to “raw” temperature data and have omitted to explain that some of the increase in temperatures is obviously due to natural causes. In short, claims of a scientific consensus behind the dangerous warming thesis are even less convincing than they were. Even a major supplier of analysis to the IPCC – Dr Jones, the (now suspended) head of the East Anglia University Climate Research Unit – recently acknowledged that the science is not settled. 

The most publicised IPCC error is the now admitted mistake that Himalayan glaciers are in danger of melting by 2035 but there are many others. These include the notorious and laughable attempt to show, by analysis of rings of trees apparently chosen to suit the predilections of the researcher, that global temperatures have only increased since industrialisation; that 40% of the Amazon rain forest is at risk of destruction; that African agricultural production is likely to be cut in half; that coral reef degradation will be extensive; that glacier melt will occur in the Andes and Alps; that extreme weather related events are causing rising costs; and that the Netherlands is 55% below sea levels. No surprise that the revelations of analytical and data errors in IPCC reports and other analyses have affected public opinion too: in the US, for example, less than 40% now think warming is due to human activity. 

Egged on by governments in defensive positions the response from warmist agencies and individuals has been to conduct a world-wide counter attack. Some governments have themselves felt it necessary to take part, such as in the UK where TV advertising has used nursery rhymes to expose potential climate problems to children if governments fail to control climates! To date these responses seem to have been a dismal failure and the weaknesses in their analyses have actually provided ammunition that discredits their positions. 

This is certainly true of the six page joint report by the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology on State of Climate published on 15 March, which has a concluding page with four headings viz, “Australia will be hotter in coming decades”; “Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades”; “It is very likely that human activities have caused most of the global warming observed since 1950”; and “Climate change is real”. This is not to deny that the decision by CSIRO and BOM to at last make a public contribution to the debate on global warming is not very welcome. It is: taxpayer-funded agencies should make their positions as clear as possible to the general public on an issue that has important public policy implications. 

But let us look at the main points made in this report. 

First, on temperatures it starts by saying that temperatures in Australia have increased by 0.7 of a degree since 1960 and claims “the long term trend is clear”. But no evidence is adduced to support a clear long term trend and no qualifications are made to the 0.7 increase since 1960. 

As to the latter, the increase of about 0.6 of a degree in 1976-77 from the Great Pacific Climate Shift is generally acknowledged as a naturally induced change. And any claim that the 0.7 increase reflects increased CO2 emissions would have to explain why published Australian temperatures show no increase before 1960 (from 1910) whereas global temperatures and emissions do; and related to that whether there is a warmist bias in the “adjustments” made to raw temperature data to produce what the Bureau claims to be “high quality” results. An examination of adjustments made by the Bureau to Darwin temperatures, with help from an Australian IPCC lead author, certainly suggest a marked bias. An adjustment that took account only of the change in location of the weather station in 1940 would show very little increase in the Darwin temperature from 1910 to today whereas the “high quality” data shows a distinct warming trend. There is reason to believe that “warmism” may also be reflected in other “high quality” data published by the Bureau. 

In short, it cannot be ruled out that the temperatures published for Australia are too low in the early part of last century and that the resultant warming “trend” is at the least overstated. What is needed is a published paper by the BOM explaining the basis on which adjustments have been made to the raw data in Australia. 

As to the long term trend claimed to be “clear”, the aforementioned doubts about the interpretation of the 0.7 of a degree increase since 1960 provide little or no statistical basis for the projection in the report of an increase in Australian average temperatures of 0.6-1.5 degrees by 2030 and of 2.2-5.0 degrees by 2070 (which is greater than the IPCC’s global projection to 2100). This is not to suggest that there has been no upward movement in temperatures or will not be in the future: one would expect some warming (and sea level rise) in the period since the end of the Little Ice Age in the early 19th century. But the only basis for the report’s high projection would have to be that as greenhouse gases increase so too will temperatures. 

In fact, in the concluding section on “What This Means” the report claims “there is greater than 90% certainty that increases in greenhouse gases have caused most of the global warming since the mid-20th century” and that “international research shows that it is extremely unlikely that the observed warming could be explained by natural causes alone”. This, of course, is simply repeating the IPCC line. But neither that organisation nor the CSIRO/BOM report explain why there are lengthy past periods when increases in CO2 were accompanied by no increase in temperature or even a fall. 

There is also very strong evidence to suggest that there is no linear relationship between increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and increased temperatures. The MODTRAN calculation indicates that a doubling of CO2 concentrations would only increase temperatures by 0.3 of a degree. That suggests very much less than 90% certainty, which is in any event not normally accepted in scientific circles as sufficient to warrant acceptance. 

It is of some interest that, in an interview on ABC PM on 15 March, the Chief Executive Officer of Bureau of Meteorology, Dr Greg Ayers, disclaimed any responsibility for the projections of climate and temperatures in the State of Climate and confined himself to what he claimed has happened in recent years. It must be assumed, however, that this joint report does not indicate any difference of view between CSIRO and BOM about the future outlook for climate. 

Second, as to the report’s projection that “Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades”, this comes after a statement that over the past 50 years “total rainfall on the Australian continent has been relatively stable”. The report also fails to note that annual average rainfall has increased from 1970 by almost 13 per cent compared with the period since the beginning of the century. In short, no basis is provided for the projection. One is left to assume that, if temperatures were to increase as projected, the report is taking it as given that this would lead to lower rainfall. But there is no substantive evidence from the past that higher temperatures are accompanied by lower rainfall: rather the contrary. In reality, the report would have had a better case for projecting some improvement in rainfall. 

Third, as to the report’s claim that “the rate of sea level rise increased during the 20th century”, an examination of the data actually published in the report shows that the faster rate increase was so small – from about 1.6mm a year to about 1.7mm a year- as to be insignificant. The report also says that from 1993-2009 the global average rise increased to 3mm a year (these presumably refer to the new satellite measurements). But even if increases continued at that rate, the total rise by 2100 would be only about 28cms, which is well within the range of 18-59cms predicted in the 2007 IPCC report. Most countries (including Australia) would over time be readily able to adapt to a 28cm rise. In short, the report provides no basis for the alarmist warnings last year by Prime Minister Rudd and the Department of Climate Change, said to be based on CSIRO advice, that hundreds of thousands of Australian homes are at risk from sea level rises. 

The Prime Minister should be asked whether in the light of the CSIRO/BOM report he will revisit those warnings and send appropriate advice to local government and other authorities dealing with property development along Australia’s coast lines. 

Fourth, the report also claims that “sea surface temperatures around Australia have increased by about 0.4 of a degree in the past 50 years”. However, no reference is made to either the major difficulties in obtaining accurate measurements of sea surface temperatures prior to 2004 or to the new system introduce in that year. This new system appears to have produced much more reliable measurements – and guess what? As shown in a graph in the report (but not mentioned in the text), sea surface temperatures have recently moved down slightly. 

Fifth, while the report correctly points out that global CO2 concentrations have risen over the last century to about 386 ppm, it goes on to say that this “is much higher than the natural range of 170-300 ppm that has existed for at least the past 800,000 years and possibly the past 20 million years”. Leaving aside the fact this historical picture is, I understand, a matter of some dispute amongst paleo-geologists, this still raises the question as to why there is much indirect evidence that temperatures were higher in lengthy periods in the Middle Ages and the Greco Roman period than now. Given that this was the case, it is difficult to see how it can be claimed that “high” temperatures reflect “high” rates of emissions. 

Overall, the State of Climate report can only be described as offering a grossly inadequate assessment of both past trends and possible future trends in climate. It certainly provides no basis of support for government action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. But the many inadequacies do offer the Coalition an opportunity to demand an independent inquiry into the science being used to back the dangerous warming thesis.