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September 16th 2010 print

Bob Carter

Combet and climate change

New Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, has started his term by calling for the application of commonsense to the debate over global warming policy. Even more important is the application of some independent scientific analysis to the alarmist advice rendered by the UN’s now discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

IPCC advice has passed its use-by date:
adaptation to natural climate change is the key 

New Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, has started his term by calling for the application of commonsense to the debate over global warming policy. 

Well, yes, but even more important is the application of some independent scientific analysis to the alarmist advice rendered by the UN’s now discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Last year, in preparation for defeating the government’s anti-carbon dioxide (emissions trading) bill in the Senate, Senator Fielding invited four independent scientists to audit the IPCC advice that was being provided to Climate Minister Penny Wong through her department. 

These scientists concluded:

(i) that whilst recent increases in greenhouse gases play a minor radiative role in global climate, no strong evidence exists that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing, or are likely to cause, dangerous global warming;

(ii) that it is unwise for government environmental policy to be set based upon monopoly advice, and especially so when that monopoly is represented by an international political (not scientific) agency. 

The Fielding Four therefore called for a commission of enquiry into the evidence for and against a dangerous human influence on climate. 

By happenstance, a review of the IPCC has recently been completed by the independent Inter-Academy Council, based in Holland. Amongst its criticisms were that the IPCC panel made extensive use of non-peer reviewed publications (including lobby group brochures and reports), gave inadequate attention to assessing uncertainties regarding global warming, used misleading and trivializing terminology in referring to warming risk, and failed to represent the full range of scientific views on the issue. 

Many other internationally recognized scientists have also attempted to exert a moderating influence on the IPCC’s overly alarmist advice. For example, in December 2007 (Bali conference) and December 2009 (Copenhagen conference) large groups of more than one hundred specialists signed letters to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking him to restore some scientific balance to IPCC’s operations.

As Tom Harris, Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition, points out, these letters and other similar statements were ignored by the Secretary General. This has led the Washington Times and Vancouver Sun to headline recently, respectively, that “"U.N. climate agency needs investigating”, and “Ban Ki Moon didn’t heed concerns about climate panel”.

Interestingly, similar criticisms of the IPCC were made as long ago as 2005 in a UK House of Lords select committee report. Clearly the IPCC has long-term form, and its complete failure to take heed of constructive criticism means that basing climate policy on its advice is fraught with hazard. Yet IPCC advice remains the foundation upon which Australian climate policy is set. 

Southeastern Australia, which has been suffering the cumulative damage inflicted by many years of natural drought, has just received an abrupt reminder of the power of equally damaging, though also strongly restorative, natural rainfall and flooding. Last year, parts of the same region was devastated by the natural bushfires that erupted on Black Saturday, Feb. 7th

The argument, often heard, that such shorter term events are “just weather” and not a climatic hazard is both wrong and scientifically naïve. Though for statistical purposes it suits meteorologists to define climate as a 30-year average of weather, Mother Nature recognizes no such distinction. For it is an equal reality that weather is simply the daily happenstance of climate, and that the same physical, chemical, geological and biological processes affect both. 

Active volcanos are absent from the Australian continent, and our geological context also precludes the common occurrence of earthquakes of the type that recently devastated Christchurch in New Zealand. Climatic and climate-related events are undeniably Australia’s greatest natural hazards.

It therefore behoves Australian politicians to stop nanny-stating people over speculative dangerous warming – alleged to be wrought by carbon dioxide emissions, following the IPCC-inspired legend that is marketed relentlessly by the Greens – and to focus instead on better protecting the populace against known natural climate vagaries by being prepared to adapt to them. 

Adaptation is profoundly precautionary against possible human-caused, as well as natural, climate change. For the range of natural climatic variation that needs to be prepared against well exceeds the virtual reality human changes that are speculated by computer models. 

This week, the first major speech by the new Secretary of State for the Environment in the UK’s centre-right coalition government, Caroline Spelman, focused on the idea that adapting to climate change will in future “be at the heart” of the UK’s global warming policy agenda, because “we need to prepare for the best and worst cases which a changing climate will entail for our country”. 

Could it perhaps be the case that implementing sensible policy to deal with real (natural) climate hazard actually requires the mix of uncertainty and compromise that only a coalition government can bring? 

Minister Combet, the team is yours, the ball is at your feet and the net beckons. 

Bob Carter is author of Climate: the Counter Consensus.

The four independent scientists who advised Senator Fielding regarding the limitations of IPCC policy advice were Bob Carter (geologist), Bill Kininmonth (meteorologist), David Evans (computer modeller) and Stewart Franks (engineering hydrologist). Their report can be consulted here …