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August 19th 2013 print

Tony Thomas

Spot the error. The IPCC can’t

For almost two decades the IPCC has presented its case for imminent climate catastrophe with the help of a map that is not merely wrong but patently absurd. So much for accuracy, rigour and a purported willingness to fix mistakes

Leaked reports of the Fifth IPCC Report, due next month, say the IPCC experts are now 95% sure that human activities and emissions are the main cause of global warming since the 1950s.[1]

The same IPCC experts remain 100% sure that the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas are homes to tropical forests, and that they have been since 1995.

But given a doubling of global CO2, they expect the central US tropical forest belt to shift eastwards to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois, even stretching east to Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Looking at my own part of the world, I see that the IPCC has Papua-New Guinea, Indonesia and the Philippines currently covered in savannas, dry forests and woodlands. But with global CO2 doubling, the prairies of south-east Asia will surge northwards to Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, even southern China.

India, as in the map below, acquires tropical forests through about 70% of its area. For some reason, the IPCC’s tropical forest belt of northern Australia (most Aussies believe it is gum-tree land) advances south by about 1000km, such that tourists towns like Cairns and Townsville become surrounded by Congo-like vegetation, suitable for imported bonobos and, maybe, okapi.

Turning to South America, the Amazon rainforest is already mysteriously transformed by the IPCC into savannas, which with CO2 doubling will advance across the whole top half of South America.


It’s a funny old IPCC world. An error, perhaps? Nah. All these assertions are in the all-important Synthesis Report of 1995, where for the first time the IPCC plumped for “discernible” human-caused global warming.

The IPCC’s forest weirdness has been pointed out to the IPCC experts for at least for the past six years. The first chair of the IPCC was Bert Bolin (from 1988-97). In 2007 he footnoted in his 2007 book, A History of the Science and Politics of Climate Change: The Role of the IPCC  (p253):

As a curiosity, it might be interesting to note that there is a major error in Figure 2 of the (1995)  Working Group 11 summary for policy makers in that the two eco-systems ‘Savannah, dry forests, woodland’ and ‘Tropical Forests’ have been interchanged, but I have not seen this corrected anywhere in the IPCC publications.

I came across the footnote early last year when scribbling a piece for Quadrant  on the IPCC’s origins. I looked up the IPCC maps and,  five years after Bolin’s prompting, they remained unchanged.

So in February, 2012, I wrote off to Renate Christ, the IPCC’s secretary in Switzerland, carefully following the steps for a complainant as outlined in a 2011 IPCC protocol for error correction.

An error in a  ‘Synthesis Report’ has to set off special alarm bells in the IPCC. Responsibility, the protocol says, rests with the IPCC chair (Dr Pachauri) himself. Both he and the co-chairs of the relevant working group at the time of the assessment, “will be kept informed of the evaluation and participate as appropriate.”

The protocol’s details are even more stringent: All Working Group co-chairs and the executive committee have to get involved. They, in turn, may need to consult their predecessors about it.

I was gratified to get an email back within 48 hours from Jonathan Lynn, communications head, filling in during Dr Christ’s absence.

Thank you very much for reminding us that this needs dealing with.

On the face of it, it looks pretty straightforward, but it’s a bit complicated for our internal procedures, as it involves an old report whose working groups have long disbanded.

Still, I’ve forwarded it to our Executive Committee (which includes Dr Pachauri) and I assure you it’s being worked on.

Best wishes, Jonathan Lynn.

Lovely! Except a year and a half later, on August 18, 2013, I looked up the maps again, and again nothing had changed, despite even Dr Pachauri and his executive committee’s close attention to the matter.  Maybe correcting what the IPCC’s  own ex-chair Bert Bolin described as a “major” error isn’t considered a priority?  

I fear this is another instance of what Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has documented in her Delinquent Teenager book on the IPCC: the IPCC says one thing and does the opposite.[3] Just for example, the IPCC demanded of its authors that, for the 2007 report, all non-peer-reviewed citations had to be flagged as such. When the report came out, Laframboise did a count. Out of the 5,587 non-peer citations, a grand total of six, or 0.1%, were flagged.

The 2011 error protocol arose from Dr Pachauri’s aggressively-wrong reaction to the IPCC’s 2007 melting-Himalayan-glaciers gaffe. These glaciers were forecast to vanish by 2035, leaving half a billion thirsty Asians.

Pachauri (who says he has two Ph.Ds but has only one) in November, 2009, initially roasted the Himalaya complainant.[4] This person was Vijay Raina, an eminent Indian glaciologist. Pachauri accused Raina of practicing ‘voodoo’ and  ‘magical’ science, and making indefensible accusations. He added that the glaciologist had no business questioning such an eminent body as the IPCC.[5]

Pachauri had apparently not even read the brief section complained of, as its bad arithmetic and dubious provenance (gossip recycled by the activist Worldwide Fund for Nature), spoke for themselves. Indeed, the single Himalayan glaciers page in the 2007  report , comprising 497 words, had to be corrected for nine separate errors.[6]

Pachauri’s venom was too much for the respectable scientific community, and within a few months he was compelled to invite the Inter Academy Council (IAC), a peak international science body, to report on IPCC procedural reforms to prevent more errors and loss of credibility.

The IAC reported in August 2010 that as a result of the Himalayan nonsense and Climategate Mark 1, “public confidence in climate science has waned”.[7] But, it added hastily, neither the Himalayas gaffe nor Climategate Mark 1 undermined the IPCC’s main findings about humans now causing global warming. (Its source for that conclusion was none other than the IPCC’s integrity specialist Peter Gleick, who later, in early 2012, confessed to using deception to obtain internal documents from a conservative US think-tank The Heartland Institute).[8]

On error correction, the IAC said,  “The communications challenge has taken on new urgency in the wake of recent criticisms regarding IPCC’s slow and inadequate responses to reports of errors in the (2007) Fourth Assessment Report. Such criticisms underscore the need for a media-relations capacity to enable the IPCC to respond rapidly and with an appropriate tone to the criticisms and concerns that inevitably arise in such a contested arena.”[9]

As a result of this IAC critique, the  IPCC  governing panel at its May 2011 Abu Dhabi session issued a detailed and gorgeous  12-page protocol and flow charts for error correction.[10] The protocol includes: “If the error is in a Synthesis Report, responsibility rests with the current IPCC Chairman.

“At the start of the process, the claimant is informed by the IPCC Secretariat about the next steps … The claimant will again be informed at the conclusion of the process.

“Errata are posted on the IPCC and WG  (Working Group) or TF (Task Force) websites after the conclusion of the process. A short explanatory statement about the error may also be posted.”

Well, as a bona fide IPCC error spotter, I was indeed informed about the ‘next steps’ 18 months ago. But the process of reversing the green and brown color boxes has not yet been concluded.

Perhaps the IPCC experts have a wicked sense of humor, and their reports are an elaborate practical joke. In that case, the egg’s on my face; I’m so damned credulous. #

Tony Thomas trusts the IPCC. He blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com

[1] http://www.trust.org/item/20130816133815-ao2wt/?source=hptop

[3] http://www.amazon.com/Delinquent-Teenager-Mistaken-Climate-ebook/dp/B005UEVB8Q

[4] http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2012/3/the-fictive-world-of-rajendra-pachauri

[6] ibid

[8] http://science.time.com/2012/02/20/climate-expert-peter-gleick-admits-deception-in-obtaining-heartland-institute-papers/

[10] https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ipcc-principles/ipcc_error_protocol.pdf