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Latest IPCC Findings Undermine Climate Change Claims

Latest IPCC Findings Undermine Climate Change Claims

Working Group 2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released the final version of its contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. The WG2 report contains 1,731 pages of text, figures, boxes, footnotes and references, the first 832 of which list every negative impact climate change is having or could conceivably have on the Earth, its physical state, its ecosystems and the people who populate it. I doubt that anyone has ever read it from beginning to end. I certainly haven’t.

IPCC Report

But the report’s mind-numbing length hasn’t stopped people from interpreting it the way they think it should be interpreted. And because no one bothered to read the fine print everyone thinks the IPCC is saying that the adverse impacts of human-caused climate change are already being felt:

Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. (Barack Obama)

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans … ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.(New York Times)

The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. (Guardian)

But that isn’t what the IPCC is saying. A single sentence on page 4 of the Summary for Policymakers puts the IPCC’s conclusions in a different perspective:

Attribution of observed impacts in the WGII AR5 generally links responses of natural and human systems to observed climate change, regardless of its cause.

That’s right. Regardless of its cause. Working Group 2 isn’t claiming that these observed impacts are necessarily a result of human activities. They could equally well be the result of natural climate change – the IPCC makes no distinction. And if they are, then President Obama, the New York Times, the Guardian and all the others who believe that the adverse impacts of human-caused climate change are already being felt have got it wrong.

The key question here is clearly what fraction of the observed impacts of climate change that the IPCC identifies is human-caused and how much natural. Let’s see if we can put some probabilities on this.

Related: China’s Emissions Could Negate Global Efforts Against Climate Change

The Working Group 2 report highlights nine specific claims regarding the physical impacts of climate change in Section A-1 of the Summary for Policymakers (I increased the number to ten by dividing one claim into two.) Three are non-specific, irrelevant or unintelligible and are not discussed:

In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.

Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes. These differences shape differential risks from climate change.

Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty.

The remaining seven are discussed below in order of appearance (note that I’ve removed superfluous wording in some cases in the interests of brevity):

Claim 1: Glaciers continue to shrink almost worldwide due to climate change.

Evaluation: The world’s glaciers are unquestionably shrinking overall because of climate change. But is the climate change anthropogenic? One way of checking is to compare glacier behavior with an anthropogenic climate change metric to see whether the two coincide, which they should if one caused the other. Such a comparison is shown on the graphic below, which plots the Oerlemans estimates of global glacier length change since 1700 with the GISS estimates of net anthropogenic radiative forcings since 1880 (earlier values can be assumed to be close to zero if not exactly zero):

Anthrop Forcings

Oerlemans glacier shrinkage vs. GISS anthropogenic forcings

And the timing doesn’t match. According to Oerlemans the world’s glaciers began to shrink in the early 1800s but according to GISS anthropogenic forcings didn’t become significant until after 1950 (the ~0.2 watts/sq m of forcing in 1950 would have generated only about 0.1C of warming). Oerlemans’ results also show no sign of acceleration in the shrinkage rate after 1960.

These results imply that something other than human interference initiated the glacier shrinkage and that human interference didn’t make any detectable difference when it finally did become significant. (Glaciologists acknowledge that human activities are not the only contributor to glacier shrinkage, as the following quote from Nature attests: “The widespread idea that glacier retreat is the sole consequence of increased air temperature is overly simplistic. Glaciologists have known for more than 50 years that glaciers are sensitive to a variety of climate variables, not all of which can be attributed to global warming.”)

Conclusion: There is good evidence to suggest that much if not substantially all of the glacier shrinkage over the last 200 years was a result of natural climate change.

(Note: Section A-1, curiously, does not mention either sea level rise or Arctic sea ice retreat. However, the Jevrejeva et al. sea level reconstruction closely tracks the Oerlemans glacier plot with the Y-scale inverted, so the above comments would also apply to sea level rise. The recent retreat of Arctic sea ice is another case where climate change was undoubtedly the cause, but whether the climate change was anthropogenic is again open to question, and the ice lost in the Arctic was largely offset globally by ice gained in the Antarctic anyway.)

Claim 2: Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges ….. in response to ongoing climate change. See Figure SPM.2B

Evaluation: Here is Figure SPM.2B:

Marine Taxonomic Group Mean Change

Figure SPM.2B: Average rates of change in distribution (km per decade) for marine taxonomic groups based on observations over 1900–2010. Positive distribution changes are consistent with warming (moving into previously cooler waters, generally poleward). The number of responses analyzed is given within parentheses for each category.

Multiplying the distribution change rates by the 11-decade 1900-2010 interval of measurement gives total shifts of a few hundred kilometers for most taxa but over 1,000 km for zooplankton and around 5,000 km for phytoplankton. If this latter estimate is correct then the phytoplankton that now inhabit the temperate and sub-polar oceans must have migrated there from the tropical oceans over the course of the last 100 or so years, surviving a 15-20C water temperature decrease on the way.

Conclusion: The observations are suspect.

Claim 3: While only a few recent species extinctions have been attributed as yet to climate change, natural global climate change at rates slower than current anthropogenic climate change caused significant ecosystem shifts and species extinctions during the past millions of years.

Evaluation: None of the species extinction attributions stands up to scrutiny. There is still no proven instance of a species extinction caused by anthropogenic climate change. Section of the WG2 report, “Observed global extinctions”, acknowledges this:

Most extinctions over the last several centuries have been attributed to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, or invasive species, and these are the most important current drivers of extinctions. Of the more than 800 global extinctions documented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature only 20 have been tenuously linked to recent climate change.

Buried somewhere in the text of the report there may be evidence to support the claim that extinctions millions of years ago occurred when the climate was changing more slowly than it is now, but paleotemperature records that go back this far don’t provide enough detail to tell us how rapidly the global climate was changing on the century-scale, and paleotemperature records that go back thousands of years, such as the GISP2 ice core record, suggest that climate was changing at least as fast as it is now in the late Pleistocene:

Late Pleistocene Temperature Changes

Rapid late Pleistocene temperature changes in the GISP2 record

Conclusion: Climate change, human-caused or natural, fast or slow, has so far caused zero species extinctions.

Claim 4: Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts. See Figure SPM.2C.

Evaluation: Here is Figure SPM.2C:

Impaact Of Climate Change On Yields

Figure SPM.2C: Summary of estimated impacts of observed climate changes on yields over 1960–2013 for four major crops in temperate and tropical regions, with the number of data points analyzed given within parentheses for each category.

And here is actual world grain production over the 50-year period when human-caused climate change was allegedly cutting crop yields by up to two percent a decade:

World Grain Production

Conclusion: Any overall negative impact that climate change, human-caused or natural, might be having on crop yields is being swamped by positive impacts from other factors, one of which is presumably higher atmospheric CO2.

Claim 5: Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.

Evaluation: This statement implies that climate change has increased the severity and frequency of extreme weather events but doesn’t overtly claim that it has, which is good because the Working Group 1 report concluded that it hasn’t. According to this summary of key statements on extreme weather events compiled by Roger Pielke Jr. WG1 in fact failed to identify robust trends in any extreme weather events:

“Overall, the most robust global changes in climate extremes are seen in measures of daily temperature, including to some extent, heat waves. Precipitation extremes also appear to be increasing, but there is large spatial variability”

• “There is limited evidence of changes in extremes associated with other climate variables since the mid-20th century”

• “Current datasets indicate no significant observed trends in global tropical cyclone frequency over the past century … No robust trends in annual numbers of tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes counts have been identified over the past 100 years in the North Atlantic basin”

• “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale”

• “In summary, there is low confidence in observed trends in small-scale severe weather phenomena such as hail and thunderstorms because of historical data inhomogeneities and inadequacies in monitoring systems”

• “In summary, the current assessment concludes that there is not enough evidence at present to suggest more than low confidence in a global-scale observed trend in drought or dryness (lack of rainfall) since the middle of the 20th century due to lack of direct observations, geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. Based on updated studies, AR4 conclusions regarding global increasing trends in drought since the 1970s were probably overstated. However, it is likely that the frequency and intensity of drought has increased in the Mediterranean and West Africa and decreased in central North America and north-west Australia since 1950”

• “In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low”

Conclusion: Climate change, human-caused or natural, has to date caused no significant increases in the intensity or frequency of extreme weather events.

Related: Are The US And China’s Climate Goals Realistic?

Claim 6: At present the worldwide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small … and is not well quantified. However, there has been increased heat-related mortality and decreased cold-related mortality in some regions as a result of warming.

Evaluation: The World Health Organization publishes occasional reports purporting to demonstrate that climate change is killing/will kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, but the WG2 report correctly describes these and other similar studies as “not well quantified”. On the question of climate change causing increased heat-related mortality and decreased cold-related mortality it’s generally accepted that cold kills more people than heat, so:

Conclusion: Global warming is good for you.

Claim 7: Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change.

Evaluation: Violent conflict increases vulnerability to everything.

Conclusion: Quoted from Section 12.5 of the WG2: “Several studies examine the relationship between short-term warming and armed conflict. Some of these find a weak relationship, some find no relationship, and collectively the research does not conclude that there is a strong positive relationship between warming and armed conflict.”

That completes the review of the claims listed in section A-1 of the Summary for Policymakers. The report does, however, briefly discuss ocean acidification on page 47 of the Technical Summary, concluding as follows:

Few field observations to date demonstrate biological responses attributable to anthropogenic ocean acidification.

And that concludes the investigation. There is no good evidence linking human activities to any of the observed impacts of climate change listed in the Summary for Policymakers of the WG2 report.

Obama et al. indeed seem to have got it wrong.

By Roger Andrews

Source – www.euanmearns.com  

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  • Russ Brown on December 07 2014 said:
    If you are limiting your remarks to the manifold effects that
    are occurring, you are avoiding the most critical issue.

    The rising temperature during the last 50 years is statistically significant beyond any shadow of doubt. Each of the ten-year periods had significant increases, and the cumulative increase has an infinitesimal probability of error.

    The potential effect would be far more dangerous than you can imagine.
  • Michael Cunningham on December 07 2014 said:
    Good article, I've forwarded it to Judith Curry for possible reference in her blog.
  • DM on December 08 2014 said:
    Whilst there were some interesting/useful facts contained in this article, there were a number of issues to.

    1. Your analysis of Glacier melts doesn't take account of things like the Little Ice Age, since obviously as the temperature returned to normal you'd find glacier melt whose baton is then picked up and continued on by any modern anthropogenic warming occurring.

    4. You assert the rise of food production in order to assert increasing yields.
    But of course the metric you've used is entirely wrong. What should be looked at is yield per unit area not total yield (since we may just be farming more area now compared to 50 years ago) and also using comparable agricultural techniques so that like is being compared with like (otherwise we might be comparing a modern sophisticated agribusiness with older techniques). Whist technological improvements are relevant, if you want to look at whether plants are fundamentally being affected you need to try to compare comparable techniques.

    Overall, the media I have read (eg the Guardian newspaper) hasn't portrayed many of the global effects as happening now, so much as happening soonish. Food is portrayed as being promoted by climate change for the early duration of any warming before then being negatively impacted.

  • simon on December 08 2014 said:
    No surprise then that this article appears on a fossil fuels website.

    If you'd like an analogy as to how the scientific & wider community sees Climate change deniers like the author of this article, think back to the times when they thought the Earth was flat, & couldn't believe this preposterous idea that the earth was somehow a globe...

    Its sad to read this article, which just brings home how silly some people really are...
  • Hops on December 08 2014 said:
    This article is a classic example of the ways in which someone who doesn't like the solution (less use of fossil fuels) can misconstrue data and cherry pick IPCC statements to make a false case for business as usual.
  • GregL on December 08 2014 said:
    I was surprised by the conclusions in this article because it runs counter to all that I have read outside of the climate change denialist literature. Generally, oilprice.com has articles based in facts and not ideology. So I started digging to find out what gives.

    (1) The author isn't a climate scientist, but rather a geologist with a background in mining. That doesn't disqualify him (I'm an accountant and computer scientist and I feel free to comment), but it means that we need to beware that he may misinterpret the science.

    (2) I checked the data in the first presentation (The dual scaled chart in "claim 1"). The glacier section of AR5 WGI (4.3) speaks to the great expansion of data since AR4. But the single study used above preceeded AR4 by two years. However, the study itself is paywalled and I can't compare it directly to the data in AR5.

    So I moved on to the other scale "GISS Anthropomorphic Forcings". I found the data at http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/Fe.1880-2011.txt and that is where I discovered dishonesty by the author. The author says the data is "the GISS estimates of net anthropogenic radiative forcings since 1880 (earlier values can be assumed to be close to zero if not exactly zero)". But that is not true.

    On http://data.giss.nasa.gov/modelforce/ the data is described as "effective global climate forcings employed in our current global climate simulations (e.g., Hansen et al. 2007a,b), relative to their values in 1880." Thus 1880 is set to zero because it is the base year for the data set, not because the forcings were zero for that year or previous years.

    Also, the table doesn't just cover anthropomorphic forcings but also includes volcanoes and solar forcing. And here is the evidence of data manipulation that can't be explained as mere misunderstanding. Look at two years, 1884 and 2000. The 2000 number includes volcanoes and solar or it would have been 1.365, not the 1.594 on the graph. But 1884 excludes the effects of the eruption of Krakatoa which had a forcing of -3.332 to send to total forcing for that year to -3.294.

    Deliberate data manipulation that benefits the author's argument nullifies the entire article as far as I'm concerned. Or, more accurately, it means that I stopped researching at that point and dismissed the entire piece.
  • Bill Butler on December 08 2014 said:
    The author of the article is willfully misconstruing information.

    Glacier mass and length will respond to whatever climate forces are present.

    The decline in glacier size up to 50 years ago was a result of an increase in total solar irradiance from the low point that occurred in the Maunder Minimum. Since the mid 1950s, solar irradiance has been decreasing – especially over the last 2 decades. See chart at: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/sorce/data/tsi-data/

    The decrease in total irradiance during the last few decades should have cooled the earth had there been no anthropogenic forcing. Instead the earth has continued to warm.

    The World Glacier Monitoring Service

    “The moraines from the Little Ice Age mark maximum Holocene glacier extents in many mountain ranges. From these positions, glaciers around the world show a centennial trend of ice wastage which has been accelerating since the mid 1980s.”

    Note the phrase: “ice wastage which has been accelerating since the mid 1980s.”

    The quote is from page 25, “Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures” report published by the World Glacier Monitoring Service. http://www.grid.unep.ch/glaciers/pdfs/glaciers.pdf

    An up to date chart showing the acceleration in glacier loss over the last two decades can be seen at:
    World Glacier Monitoring Service

    A characteristic of Global Warming Deniers is that they willfully misconstrue observations in an attempt to promote their preconceived political objectives.
  • Paul Litely on December 09 2014 said:
    A characteristic of CO2 Global Warming promoters is that they willfully misconstrue observations in an attempt to promote their preconceived political objectives.
  • Matt on December 09 2014 said:
    I wanted your graph "Oerlemans glacier shrinkage vs. GISS anthropogenic forcings" to be useful, that would make an interesting case study. The problem is that the Y-axis units are given as (m). A relative measure "Normalized" should have no units. Moreover, if the 1950 length is the point of normalization, it should have the value of one (1) on the Y-axis. What does the chart as presented really mean? Of course I see the timing of glacier decline is inconsistent with forcing...that is your point. But the graph label makes no sense, so I can't share it in other dissensions.
  • Kevin Steinbach on December 09 2014 said:
    Everyone knows that global warming is occurring and the world is doing it itself as part of its cycle. Its a living organism and as soon as it heats it up, it will cool it down. The impact us humans have had on it has been negligible at least
  • Kee on December 09 2014 said:
    I totally disagree with the author on Claim 4, where it is presumed that higher CO2 is leading to higher grain yields. As commented above, the higher grain production is mostly due to higher acreage of grain, as well as the advances in agricultural technology (e.g. use of fertilizer, pesticides, GM crops, understanding of soil science, etc.) All these technology advances are the main factors in improved grain production over the decades (even when considering yield of grain per acre of land) compared to a rise in atmospheric CO2.
  • Oliver K. Manuel on December 17 2014 said:
    Exaggerated claims about the CO2-induced changes in global climate are only a small part of post-1945 “scientific” misrepresentation of the energy that powers the cosmos – creating, destroying and sustaining atoms, lives and worlds: Einstein’s 1905 discovery that mass is stored energy: E = mc^2 !

    Aston’s valid 1922 concept of “nuclear packing fraction” to identify energy was replaced in textbooks after WWII with von Weizsacker’s deceptive concept of “nuclear binding energy.”

    Nuclear binding energy (B.E.)

    _ a.) Exaggerates proton repulsion
    _ b.) Minimizes neutron repulsion
    _ c.) Is higher for radioactive H-3 than stable He-3; for unstable C-14 than stable N-14
    _ d.) Is even less accurate after the nuclear structure changes at ~150 atomic mass units (amu) to make NEUTRON REPULSION the dominant nuclear force in the neutron-rich cores of heavy atoms, many planets, ordinary stars like the Sun, and galaxies with mass greater than 150 amu.

    The autobiography of the Japanese nuclear scientist that took and retained possession of Japan's atomic bomb plans from 1945 until his widow returned them in 2002 - Kuroda’s autobiography explains the importance this misunderstanding of nuclear energy and its importance in deciding the winner of WWII: “My Early Days at the Imperial University of Tokyo”


    See Aston’s 13 June 1936 lecture and responses from the audience on pages 5-8
  • Gerald Wilhite on December 28 2014 said:
    Fortunately we are witnessing a rapid global decline of support for activist pseudo-scientists and their blind followers who still believe the failed hypothesis that global warming is caused by human CO2 emissions.

    It is an established fact that the world has not had any surface global warming for 18 to 26 years. The only place that global warming exists is inside the bowels of IPCC computer models.
  • zfell on January 06 2015 said:
    "A single sentence on page 4 of the Summary for Policymakers puts the IPCC’s conclusions in a different perspective..."

    At least make an effort to not make conclusions for the IPCC that contradict their own. They have already released a conclusion: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/prpc_syr/11022014_syr_copenhagen.pdf

    I urge everyone to read IPCC's press release instead of wasting their time here.

    Titled: Concluding instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report:
    Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts, but options exist to limit its

    "The report expresses with greater certainty than in previous assessments the fact that emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic drivers have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century."
  • DevilsPrinciple on January 15 2015 said:
    The greatest source of warming is the Sun. CO2 has always existed on this planet and is necessary. The term "climate deniers" is utilized by those who have a political agenda with no objective and really no clue as to what they're really discussing. Here's a laughable example :

    "The report expresses with greater certainty than in previous assessments the fact that emissions of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic drivers have been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century."

    With ZERO facts to support it.
  • Ridiculous on January 19 2015 said:
    Wow, how did OilPrice.com allow drivel like this to be published on their website? How can you expect to be taken seriously or considered a credible source of information when you publish garbage like this?

    The reasoning in the article is atrocious, and anyone familiar with the topic and the IPCC reports can't point out some of the most obvious trash here. Just a few examples:
    - Andrews points out the IPCC WG2 just looks at impacts of climate change, and doesn't consider attribution, as if this were some sort of scandalous bombshell. Well DUH. WG2 doesn't consider attribution of climate change, it's WG1 that looks at that. WG1 concludes "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century." He falsely claims the IPCC makes no distinction between natural and anthopogenic climate change, a bald faced lie, as it does just that in WG1. At first I thought he was just a moron, but he cites WG1 later in the piece, so he clearly knows it exists. I don't know how to escape the conclusion that he's deliberately lying and misrepresenting the IPCC reports.
    - Claim 1, Glaciers: Even assuming the graph is not misleading (which is very questionable, given how misleading everything else in this article is), the reasoning here is totally flawed. As Andrews points out that humans aren't the only thing influencing glacier size, which means glacier size shouldn't be expected to change in step with anthropogenic forcings (since other factors are at play). Duh. And Andrews totally ignores the relevant part of the IPCC reports which looks at attribution of ice melt to humans, which is the WG1 report. According to the WG1 SPM, it's very likely that humans have contributed to Arctic sea ice loss, likely that they've contributed to glacier retreat, and human activity will majorly influence melting over the 21st century (E5). Also a factual point: Antarctica is not gaining ice, it's losing ice, however the extent of sea ice is growing, even as the mass is shrinking.
    - Claim 3, Species extinctions: The IPCC quotes in this piece clearly say 20 extinctions have been linked to climate change, but none conclusively. It obviously does not follow from that that no species have gone extinct from climate change, and yet bizarrely that's what Andrews concludes.
    - Claim 4, Crop yields: Crop yields depend on a number of factors other than climate change. Climate impacts have not overpowered the other forces driving crop yields up. That doesn't mean climate change isn't having a major negative impact on crop yields! And the IPCC does consider the CO2 fertilization effect...
    - Claim 5, Extreme weather events: Continuing the pattern of cherry-picking and distorting the IPCC's finding, Andrews takes a list of things where a strong impact of climate change isn't discernible, and then conclude there's no impacts discernible anywhere. Can you see what's wrong with that reasoning? See the map on page 7 of WG2 SPM for a map of impacts, with degree of confidence that the impact was due to climate change indicated. For just one illustration of the error, note that it's possible for there to be no discernible trend in flooding on a global scale, and at the same time there being some instances of flooding which you can conclude with a high degree of confidence are caused by climate change.

    My take away from all this is that Andrews is a fraud. I have to say, seeing this article posted here has made my esteem for OilPrice.com plummet more than recent oil prices (har har). But seriously, how on earth did trash like this receive editorial approval?

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