General Comments on the Leak of the Second Draft of WGI of the IPCC Assessment Report 5

First of all, it is an extremely impressive scientific endeavor in terms of the number of scientists involved in each topic or chapter, and the number of references that contribute to it in terms of seven more years of scientific research that go into it. The process is still in an intermediate state. New research can be added for another two and a half months, until March 15 of 2013. Also, there are comments of 800 reviewers to be considered in modifying and upgrading the report. Then the report has to be approved by the countries of the UN, and released in September of 2013.

What are some of the effects of the release of the second draft of Working Group I Assessment Report 5 Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis” ? For people like me who are interested in the results and want to communicate it to the public it is a very interesting boon to advance knowledge and see what the assessment of all of the research is that can be agreed as established by the experts. I am also impressed that it will be available in easily accessible internet form. I bought the previous assessment in a volume that is so heavy and unwieldy that it is hard to access. As in Assessment Report 4, the text and the figures will also be made available in a form that they can be downloaded and copied into other blogs and publications for discussion and information.

In comparison to my own field of high energy physics, it is not unusual for experiments to first get agreement on preliminary results, and then put them out at conferences and in press releases. The final results and publications can take a half year or a year later to appear in publications. So that is not unlike what has happened to the IPCC WGI draft, and it doesn’t really hinder the scientific process. It may not provide diplomatic difficulties, since it is the science part of the report, and not the summary for countries to act on.

The challenges of climate change skeptics have to be considered first from the viewpoints of the vast fossil fuel industry program of creating the illusion of doubt, and in funding Republican congressmen who back them with an average of a million dollars per election for each. The early release of the draft gives proponents of action an entire year extra to argue for mitigation and adaptation based on the latest research, and to show the unanimity in the scientific community on the results of the assessment. It also allows insurance companies, businesses, and various levels of government to formulate relevant policies to mitigate and adapt to threats.

As to serious skeptics, it is surprising that the entire draft was released by a skeptic, just to really discuss one sentence, which he took as relevant to the discussion of the effects of  cosmic ray variations on climate. Since skeptic websites are working over the whole report, and scientific blogs are defending the report, the drafters of the report can work on responses to the challenges almost a year earlier than they otherwise would have been able to. This gives them time to modify the presentation and even include other research and figures to counter the attacks. The advantages of the leak really belongs to the drafters in all of these many ways.

The argument that the drafts are public property because some of the authors work on government funding is not really true at the present time. Publicly funded investigators are required in the US to make their data available after a year or several years, depending on the time needed for analysis. But the drafters are still gathering science results until March 15 of 2013 (ides of March, et tu Brutus), and the time for comments had just ended and they were still being evaluated. It won’t be a year after data collection and evaluation until March 15 of 2014, at the least.

Finally, on the political front, there are two years until the next election. Typically, new legislation is proposed in the first year following an election, to ride on the public endorsement of proposed policies. Difficult policies are not brought up in the year of the election. So the main results of the leaked WGI science report can be used in the political arguments for 2013, rather than in 2014 where they wouldn’t be acted on. This early release of the draft significantly increases the possible political impact of the report. On the other hand, the WGIII on Mitigation of Climate Change is not due out until April, 2014. Since there are no professional penalties on skeptics that release drafts of reports, it is very possible that drafts of WGII and WGIII will be released ahead of their final reports.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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