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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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How the IPCC is more likely to underestimate the climate response

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

Numerous papers have documented how IPCC predictions are more likely to underestimate the climate response.

Climate Myth...

IPCC is alarmist

"Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change." (Roy Spencer)

"Unquestionably, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed to build the scientific case for humanity being the primary cause of global warming. Such a goal is fundamentally unscientific, as it is hostile to alternative hypotheses for the causes of climate change."

Climate scientist Roy Spencer made this statement. He starts by suggesting something highly questionable isn’t open to being questioned. What he seeks to do is suggest, by inference, that the IPCC has an agenda, and this distorts the reports they produce. In other words, Spencer (and others) suggest that the IPCC exaggerates what the science says in favour of anthropogenic global warming. It is perfectly legitimate to question this assertion, since Spencer and others offer no evidence to support it.

Some critics go further, suggesting that the IPCC actively suppresses science that doesn’t support the theory that climate change is being caused by human activities. It is notable this ‘other science’ is rarely produced to support the accusation.

Does the IPCC accurately report the findings of science?

The IPCC was formed to report on a broad range of scientific enquiries into the climate, and our effects on it, and to summarise the science for laypeople. The science they summarise is published so it is simple to compare the primary science with the IPCC reports, and compare both to what actually took place.

There are numerous instances where the IPCC reports, which are summaries of published climate change science, have understated the case - hardly suggesting exaggeration in pursuit of an agenda. Here are some examples:

  • CO2 output from fossil fuels: observed emissions are close to the worst-case projections made by the IPCC, despite them offering a range of potential emission scenarios. (In fact, atmospheric CO2 is increasing ten times faster than any rate detected in ice core data over the last 22,000 years).
     
  • Sea-level rise is accelerating faster than the IPCC predicted. Actual sea-level rise is 80% higher than the median IPCC projection. By 2100 sea-level rise was predicted by the IPCC to be in the range of 18-59 cm. It is now believed that figure may be far too low, because estimates of contributions from Greenland and Antarctic ice-caps were excluded from AR4 because the data was not considered reliable. (This omission hardly supports the notion that the IPCC seeks to exaggerate global warming trends).
     
  • Each Arctic summer, sea-ice is melting faster than average predictions in the last IPCC report. The Arctic is experiencing a long-term loss of multi-year ice which is also accelerating.
     
  • The body of scientific literature has consistently shown that human greenhouse gas emissions are responsible for more global surface warming than has been observed over the past half century, whereas the IPCC only says that greenhouse gases are responsible for "most" observed warming over this timeframe.

In many similar cases, the evidence suggests that changes in climate are occurring faster, and with more intensity, than the IPCC have predicted. It is not credible to suggest the reports were biased in favour of the theory of anthropogenic global warming when the evidence demonstrates the IPCC were, in fact, so cautious.

In fact, there is evidence however to suggest that the exact opposite is actually the case, both in terms of the scientific evidence itself (see below) and the way the work of the IPCC is reported. A recent study (Freudenburg 2010) investigated what it calls 'the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge', the phenomenon in which reports on science fail to evaluate all outcomes, favoring certain probabilities while ignoring others. They found that "...new scientific findings were more than twenty times as likely to support the ASC perspective [that disruption through AGW may be far worse than the IPCC has suggested] than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media".

Claims that the IPCC is alarmist are not supported by evidence, and there are clear indications that the opposite may be the case.

Basic rebuttal written by GPWayne


Update July 2015:

Here is the relevant lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial

Last updated on 5 July 2015 by skeptickev. View Archives

Printable Version  |  Offline PDF Version  |  Link to this page

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Comments 26 to 50 out of 121:

  1. The sulfate measurements over the last few centuries krisbaum @25 claims do not exist: (Source)
    "Figure 1: (a) Sulfate concentrations in several Greenland ice cores and an Alpine ice core. Also shown are the total SO2 emissions from sources in the US and Europe. The inset shows how peaks due to major volcanic eruptions have been removed by a robust running median method followed by singular spectrum analysis."
  2. Krisbaum, There is ample opportunity to challenge the "experts" appointed to write the IPCC reports if you can document that they are not qualified. Can you provide an example of a single one who was not qualified? Please do not waste my time claiming anyone who has a different opinion from you is unqualified, suggest only people who are really not experts in the field. The entire IPCC report is put online for comments before the final review. You, Exxon-Mobile, Anthony Watts and anyone else interested can comment and ask for changes in the wording or conclusions. How could you get more unbiased review than that? The SPM is reviewed word by word by representatives of all the countries. It is released in advance so that anyone interested can read it and develop their arguments (the draft of the scientific report is already on line for review when the SPM is written). Are you suggesting that the Bush Administration did not look out for oil interests and keep in mind the deniers arguments in this word by word review? In fact, the governments of oil producing countries, with help from the USA, diluted the conclusions of the scientists in the SPM. Your suggestion that the IPCC is alarmist is backwards, it reduces the conclusions to make AGW seem less of a problem. Are you suggesting a committee to review the work of the IPCC (which is essentially a big committee)? Who will appoint the members of this committee? If not the governments (who set up the Intergovernmental PCC) than who? Maybe you can select the members of this duplicate committee. Perhaps I can appoint a committee to oversee the one you appoint. Your suggestion is absurd. Please consider your arguments before you present them here and make sure that they make sense. Do you realize that the IPCC has only a handful of employees? The work is all done by volunteer scientists. The IPCC only coordinates the process.
  3. Tom Curtis addressed the claims in post 25 above, I thought I'd add that, historically, the serious study of atmospheric aerosols dates back to the time when atmospheric sciences started being a field of their own and separated from geology, inthe late 1800s. Seminal work on the subject was published by Aitken in 1888, 1891, 1894, 1895. As of today, aerosols are the focus of intense work, and several scientific journals are exclusively dedicated to the subject.
  4. Tom Curtis; Greenland aerosol measurements tell you nothing, it is fairly common knowledge that aerosols do not travel far from their source typically 10km or so. You need localised measurements to get any kind of global pattern. Michael Sweet; 'The entire IPCC report is put online for comments before the final review. ' Yes it is, but the final version is the responsibility of authors, and they declare what changes will be incorporated into the final version and which wont. Sure here's an example of appointing non-experts; http://www.pik-potsdam.de/members/richardk/ Richard Klein .. An IPCC Lead Author at the age of 25 - back in 1994 after completing a geology degree 2 years prior. at 28 he was promoted to the most senior role - Coordinating Lead Author..
  5. 'The SPM is reviewed word by word by representatives of all the countries. It is released in advance so that anyone interested can read it and develop their arguments (the draft of the scientific report is already on line for review when the SPM is written). Are you suggesting that the Bush Administration did not look out for oil interests and keep in mind the deniers arguments in this word by word review? ' Micheal Sweet; The point is; they hold a plenary with politicians and together create the SPM for release into the world before the main report has been released!!! How can the summary be validated against the main report or scrutinised correctly by external scientists? (-Snip-) (-Snip-).
    Response: [DB] All-caps usage (forbidden) converted to bold; moderation complaints and sloganeering snipped.
  6. Michael; And to reply to your final part. My suggestion is that, considering the report produced by the IPCC is being used to decide one of the most critical fates of humanity - spending trillions on alternative energy in effect - there could be an external policing of their processes. I'm sure you can work out for yourself how this could work in the future - the rest of the world seem to be capable of such ideas - take law enforcement and the state for example. Do you see judges doubling as policemen and appearing on their own jury for a crime they've been accused of?
  7. krisbaum at 09:49 AM on 4 August, 2012 Man... you imply the IPCC is doubling as police force and judge?! For a crime they commited?! What kind of power do you think the IPCC has, besides gathering scientific papers and putting them together in a report?
  8. sorry guys i'd love to communicate more, but the moderator keeps 'snipping' my views
    Response:

    [DB] Comments constructed to comply with the Comments Policy never need moderation. Comments in violation of it, such as yours, invite moderation. As do complaints about moderation.

    This is a moderated forum in which the science of climate research and climate change is discussed. The no-holds-barred, anything-goes discussions commonplace on fake-skeptic blogs have no place here. FYI.

    Moderation complaints struck out.

  9. Alexandre; They produce the report used by governments to convince the world about global warming & the science behind what we know at present. It has to be one of the most important documents on the planet at present. It is used to decide the fate of trillions of dollars of investment through carbon taxes or emissions trading schemes.
  10. Oh and this New Scientist article talks a little bit about the use of grey references (reference to un-peer reviewed sources and other grey literature). http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn21940-climate-panel-adopts-controversial-grey-evidence.html
  11. krisbaum at 10:08 AM on 4 August, 2012 Actually, 1)it's not really being used in practice 2) and governments struggle to ignore it, instead of convinceing themselves, let alone anyone else but that's beside the point. They gather information from openly available sources. Certainly not the offender, or judge, or police officer of the world. "Ignored scientific comittee" would be closer to the mark, I guess. If you disagree, could you please make my day and point to any meaningful measure to cut down emissions that has actually been taken? With or without the IPCC's report help?
  12. Alexandre, It is here in Australia - the IPCC is quoted as the definitive place to go to for climate change science/recommendations. It was pivotal in the stern report brought out in the UK, and without it there wouldnt be a Carbon Tax in Australia. I think the police analogy came across wrong. What I mean is, they produce a report but there is no external auditor or group of people that have no vested interests, scrutinising the report and how its generated. So Alexandre - ther's your meaningful example - the Carbon Tax in Australia.
  13. Michael Sweet; ' In fact, the governments of oil producing countries, with help from the USA, diluted the conclusions of the scientists in the SPM. Your suggestion that the IPCC is alarmist is backwards, it reduces the conclusions to make AGW seem less of a problem' Well, this alarms me just as much as the opposite. No government should have their hands in diluting or concentrating such a report. Its my point exactly. At least we agree that politics is getting in the way ;).
  14. krisbaum: "My suggestion is that, considering the report produced by the IPCC is being used to decide one of the most critical fates of humanity - spending trillions on alternative energy in effect - there could be an external policing of their processes." This represents a fundamental error in analysis on your part, krisbaum. The IPCC ARs gather the existing science and integrate it into a readable summary. If the IPCC did not exist, the science would still be there saying the same thing, and the probable outcomes would be just the same (or arguably worse). You imply the IPCC is a bad idea and subject to corruption. I say not having the IPCC is a worse idea. I can imagine a version of the IPCC that is worse than nothing at all, but the current form is far, far from that. I agree that the process can improve, but I fail to see how a few errors and loose practices (recognized and in correction) are justification for condemning the whole process. You also seem to assume that all of the regular SkS posters bow before the IPCC and are oblivious to its problems. No. In fact, they are so aware, from having to explain it daily, that they know where practice is sound and where it needs work. It is a large project with many aspects. It does inform the world, and it does a much better job than individuals trying to piece together the science and then explain it and the implications to the world.
  15. DSL; There is no error in my analysis - the problem is much wider than 'a few erros and loose practices'. You have countless IPCC staff who are inexperienced scientists and not experts. They determine what to include and what to not include from the science - and that doesnt just mean peer reviewed, they also include other grey literature. Something like 1/3 of the references in the last report are grey literature - WWF reports, Greenpeace, news, un-peer reviewed.. etc.. If you believe this kind of working practice is acceptable then fair enough, I on the other hand think its not. The world needs people who believe and are passionate. I have no problem with activists, climate activists or environmentalists - on the contrary - if it wasnt for some of these people, but - you have to consider people's vested interests and take precautions to make sure those interests dont get in the way. It would be like the IPCC obtained funding and had 1/3 of its staff filled with Exxon employees. What would you think then?
    Response:

    [DB] "You have countless IPCC staff who are inexperienced scientists and not experts."

    Participants here are not allowed to simply make things up as they please. You will need to furnish source citations for extravagant claims such as this. Else moderators will intervene.

  16. *if it wasnt for these people we'd have polluted water, rivers and probably be dead by now.
  17. Krisbaum - governments govern. That's what they do. They do it will if their policy is well-informed. To suggest that government should not be involved is absurd. They requested the report. Yes, the editors make their decisions but every decision is transparent. Which one do you agree with. You want audit by others with no vested interests - what like the scientists of the world? That was the idea in drawing up the IPCC. Who do you propose should do this audit? the uninformed? And whose choses the auditors? And would you then demand audit of the auditors if you still didnt like the answer. Note that "grey literature" was only used by WG2 in the absence of any other. However, you are challenging WG1 but so far I dont see a basis for that.
  18. "You have countless IPCC staff who are inexperienced scientists and not experts. They determine what to include and what to not include from the science - and that doesnt just mean peer reviewed". The IPCC doesnt have countless staff - it has next to none. The review decision is by lead authors who are not IPCC staff and are chosen as the experts in their field.
  19. krisbaum at 10:23 AM on 4 August, 2012 Actually, you have made my day. Thanks. I think these news broke here at SkS too but I somehow missed it. And ok, you realize the police/judge/offender juxtaposition was a bit too much. Thank you again for being this open minded. So your main criticism is that the process does not garantee the quality of the information. You even imply that it has vested interests, and is therefore biased (correct me if I read too much from your comment). I will set aside for a moment the fact that it is painfully and repeatedly reviewed by thousands of scientists from all over the world before publication - including countries that make great efforts afterwards to ignore it in pratice. After 22 years, we have had time to check some of the main projections, and they are basically right. Even too conservative sometimes (sea level rise). Where would you say the report missed the point and got carried away by its "bias"? (it's bedtime here in Brazil, so see you tomorrow)
  20. 'To suggest that government should not be involved is absurd. ' Thats correct, the government should not be involved in generating the report. Like I mentioned before, do you have the police judging their own court cases? Do you have the government enforcing their own laws? We have separate entities for a reason. 'what like the scientists of the world? That was the idea in drawing up the IPCC. Who do you propose should do this audit? the uninformed?' Its pretty easy to find people that have no vested interests in the IPCC's conclusions. You dont need to audit what the auditors write - you just need a cross-check from another external party. Over a 3rd of their sources are grey like i mentioned, yet Pachauri declares all sources 'peer reviewed literature'. So he says one thing and does another. Let it be clear the shortfallings of the report, or enforce your standards. Grey literature is used throughout the whole IPCC report. The fact you admit there was grey literature is enlightening. Dont you therefore see it a problem Pachauri tells everybody that its peer reviewed when its not?
    Response:

    [DB] "Grey literature is used throughout the whole IPCC report."

    Please provide a link to a reputable source that documents the usage of such literature in WG1, or, failing that, provide a link to that portion of WG1 in question and to the grey literature on which it was based. Note that fake-skeptic blogs are not reputable.

    Failure to provide such a link will result in further moderation of your comments here.

  21. DB - i cant furnish your request unless I know what your interpretation of 'reputable' is ????
    Response: [DB] Either something like a commentary paper in a peer-reviewed journal or showing directly which section of WG1 was based on which specific piece of grey literature. It was your statement; it is incumbent upon you to be able to furnish documentation supporting it...or to withdraw the assertion.
  22. How about showing us a portion in WG1 (the scientific basis) that is based on 'grey literature.' Failure to do so will lead to the inescapable conclusion you simply made that up.
  23. Don't expect SkS readers to fossick around in that mess. Cite one portion from WG1 that is based on 'grey literature.' If you're familiar with the details it won't take long. We're waiting.............
  24. Rob, I think it would fairer to suggest the krisbaum is reading frothing-at-mouth denialist sites and prefers to believe what he is told there. krisbaum, you are implying lead authors have "vested interests" in results. What is the basis of this belief? By the way, I would be perfectly happy for Exxon staff to be reviewing and writing what they would so long as they are Exxon's scientists. I am oil man. By your interpretation of the world, I should be a rabid anti-AGW activist because AGW threatens my current position. In fact, I mostly find widespread acceptance of the IPCC conclusions among my colleagues and client's scientists.
  25. 'Rob, I think it would fairer to suggest the krisbaum is reading frothing-at-mouth denialist sites and prefers to believe what he is told there.' I think its a little unfair you can write such things about me - I havent been nasty to anybody here.
    Response:

    [DB] "I havent been nasty to anybody here"

    Actually, your very first comment in this forum contained sufficient vitriol towards a regular member of this forum that the entire comment necessitated immediate deletion. Nevertheless, can all participants exercise more discretion in their comment formulations, please?

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