A few days ago I had an email exchange with the head of a leading evangelical environmental organization who was-as he has been for years-incredulous that I would question the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
He, like many evangelical leaders, believes the IPCC is an objective, scientific body producing reliable, even-handed reports on the state of climate science. Because they believe that, they are nearly impervious to evidence against catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW).
The IPCC does reflect some excellent scientific work. But that excellence (albeit mixed with some mediocre to poor work) is to be found in the thousands of pages of technical reviews rarely seen by any but the scholars who work on them-almost never by journalists who shape public opinion, or by legislators and regulators who shape public policy.
What the journalists and policymakers see is almost exclusively the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of each IPCC report. And since that's what they see, that's what the public hears about, and that's what informs legislation, regulation, and international agreements.
It is in producing the SPMs, during "government approval sessions," that whatever scientific objectivity is in the technical documents disappears, overwhelmed by political agendas.
Last week we got a peek inside the process that produces the SPMs-a process driven by politics and, frankly, contemptuous of science.
Robert N. Stavins (Professor of Business and Government, Director of the Environmental Economics Program, and Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group at Harvard) served as Co-Coordinating Lead Author of Chapter 13, "International Cooperation: Agreements and Instruments," of Working Group III (Mitigation) of the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
On April 25, Stavins posted to his blog a letter he wrote to IPCC leaders that laid bare how politics swamps science in producing the SPMs.
"I was surprised by the degree to which governments felt free to recommend and sometimes insist on detailed changes to the SPM text on purely political, as opposed to scientific bases," Stavins said. He continued:
The general motivations for government revisions-from most (but not all) participating delegations-appeared to be quite clear in the plenary sessions. These motivations were made explicit in the "contact groups," which met behind closed doors in small groups with the lead authors on particularly challenging sections of the SPM. In these contact groups, government representatives worked to suppress text that might jeopardize their negotiating stances in international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
… Such involvement-and sometimes interference-with the scientific process of the IPCC was particularly severe in section SPM.5.2 on international cooperation.
… nearly all delegates in the meeting demonstrated the same perspective and approach, namely that any text that was considered inconsistent with their interests and positions in multilateral negotiations was treated as unacceptable. In fact, several (perhaps the majority) of the country representatives in the SPM.5.2 contact group identified themselves as negotiators in the UNFCCC negotiations. To ask these experienced UNFCCC negotiators to approve text that critically assessed the scholarly literature on which they themselves are the interested parties, created an irreconcilable conflict of interest.
… it became clear that the only way the assembled government representatives would approve text for SPM.5.2 was essentially to remove all "controversial" text (that is, text that was uncomfortable for any one individual government), which meant deleting almost 75% of the text ….
… the process the IPCC followed resulted in a process that built political credibility by sacrificing scientific integrity. …
In light of all that, it's not surprising that Stavins blogged, "Several of the [Coordinating Lead Authors] … commented that given the nature and outcome of the week [of negotiating the SPM], the resulting document should probably be called the Summary by Policymakers, rather than the Summary for Policymakers."
Why is it so important that "government representatives worked to suppress text that might jeopardize their negotiating stances," that "any text that was considered inconsistent with their interests and positions in multilateral negotiations was treated as unacceptable"? Why is it particularly important that this was "particularly severe in section SPM.5.2 on international cooperation"?
Because international negotiations are what the IPCC ultimately is all about. It exists to serve the UNFCCC, the aim of which is to produce an international treaty declaring wealthy, developed countries, especially the United States, guilty for causing global warming and therefore obligated to pay reparations to developing countries-effectively redistributing hundreds of billions, eventually trillions, of dollars.
That this is the real aim of the UNFCCC and the IPCC is clear from the words of IPCC Co-Chairman Ottmar Edenhofer, who said shortly before the climate summit in Cancun in 2010:
… it's a big mistake to discuss climate policy separately from the major themes of globalization. The climate summit in Cancun at the end of the month is not a climate conference, but one of the largest economic conferences since the Second World War. … we redistribute de facto the world's wealth by climate policy. … One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore ….
The bottom line is that advocates of global wealth redistribution-enemies of the free-market economies that raised the West from poverty to prosperity-control the IPCC, especially at the most critical juncture: communicating to the public, the media, and policymakers. No matter how good the science and economics behind the massive technical reports, global socialist politics overwhelms it and holds captive the minds of millions who never see below the surface.
But knowing this truth about the IPCC-that in its most crucial function it is fundamentally political, not scientific-can set climate activists in and out of politics free to consider, with open minds, the voluminous evidence that leads many thousands of scientists to deny CAGW and to hold instead that while human activity surely does contribute somewhat to global warming, natural causes far outweigh it; the consequences could well be more beneficial than harmful; and the harms of trying to minimize warming probably outweigh the benefits.
Recognizing these truths, activists and politicians currently dedicated to fighting global warming can devote their energies to the far more important tasks of economic development for the billions of people still living in abject poverty and suffering the high rates of disease and premature death that come with it. Helping them build societies that respect liberty, property, and the rule of law, and that therefore produce the wealth that enables people to adapt to climates from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert, will do far more to protect them from harm than fighting global warming.