Policy: Environment & Energy

House panel takes hard look at UN climate change process

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Opinion,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Climate Change,United Nations,Energy and Environment,Lamar Smith

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology is set Thursday to hold a hearing titled, “Examining the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process.”

What's that “process” about? It seems to imply something unethical or corrupt in the very guts of how the IPCC works, maybe governments buying scientists to fit their politics? I've always been suspicious of the IPCC's claim that its work is “policy-relevant,” not ”policy prescriptive.” Why say that unless, like Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon, you're guilty?

And what are we to make of the famous "I" in IPCC? Why is that most critical element in the panel’s design “intergovernmental” instead of “international” or non-governmental?

I asked committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, for some clarification. What does the “intergovernmental” mean? He said, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1988, by 28 countries - it's now up to 195 nations - which negotiated an agreement to form the panel, with the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program providing the bureaucracy to manage operations.”

So, a handful of governments formed the IPCC. Is the panel just creating science to fit the policy agendas of dominant governments? Smith replied, “Well, the IPCC does not perform science itself and doesn’t monitor the climate, but only reviews carefully selected scientific literature.”

That clarifies a few things. Face it, the IPCC is a costly ceremonial group of scientists (who are also official representatives of their governments) – under mandate to study only man-made climate impacts – created and funded by agenda-laden governments that use it to justify the actions of their policymakers. How can any process coming out of that mess be clean?

Smith has invited testimony from four highly-credentialed scientists with deep experience in the IPCC, distinctive views and razor tongues:

• University of Sussex Professor Richard Tol. He recognizes climate change but is no catastrophist – he resigned earlier this year as a lead author of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report because it was too alarmist and put too little emphasis on opportunities to adapt to climate changes. His ultra-rational position: “The first rule of climate policy should be: Do no harm to economic growth. But the IPCC was asked to focus on the risks of climate change alone, and those who volunteered to be its authors eagerly obliged.”

• Colorado State University emeritus Professor Roger Pielke Sr. He said in 2005, “the evidence of a human fingerprint on the global and regional climate is incontrovertible.” Nevertheless, his technical argument that CO2 is not the culprit that the IPCC makes it out to be has set poorly socialized climate believers howling. Pielke says that CO2 is important, but “has contributed, at most, only about 28 percent to the human-caused warming up to the present. The other 72 percent is still a result of human activities.”

• In the true-believer corner, we have much-honored Princeton Professor Michael Oppenheimer, weighing in with more than two decades as chief scientist of the Environmental Defense Fund ($111.9 million revenue in 2012) and still a science adviser. He has played important roles as a lead author of several IPCC reports, including a special report on climate extremes and disasters. He’s by far the hearing’s most experienced insider – he was there before the beginning and, as an EDF official, helped pressure the U.S. government to ask the WMO and UNEP to organize the IPCC bureaucracy.

• Last, Daniel B. Botkin, professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has served with both the IPCC and President Obama's National Climate Assessment. His view of the NCA may also apply to the IPCC's assessment: “The executive summary is a political statement, not a scientific statement.”

Botkin treated panic over sea level rise thus: “The sea level has been rising since the end of the last ice age, 12,500 years ago.”

Botkin also scolded the NCA for its extreme weather forecast: "It is inappropriate to use short-term changes in weather as an indication one way or another about persistent climate change.”

Like hurricanes. Let me tell you about hurricanes. The most deadly hurricane in U.S. history killed 8,000 people in 1900 in Galveston, Texas. My grandfather was one of the last out before the storm - then a young Houston streetcar operator dispatched across the Galveston causeway to bring as many people out as possible - and one of the first back among rescuers. As a child I listened to him tell how the crews could find no place to bury the dead, so they took thousands of corpses on barges out into the Gulf of Mexico, weighted them, and dumped them - until some floated back. Then the crews built funeral pyres on the beach, burning bodies day and night for several weeks. More people died in that 1900 Galveston storm than in all 300 or so cyclones since then combined. Of the 10 deadliest U.S. hurricanes, only one struck in the past 50 years, Katrina in 2005 with 1,836 victims. Does global warming make hurricanes safer?

Obama and the IPCC don’t talk about that. I asked Smith whether the governments that pay for the IPCC have the power to tell it what they want.

Smith responded: “The United States is by far the IPCC's largest funder - over $43 million since the beginning (over four times more than second-place Germany), and that's just for the basic UN bureaucracy, not including many more millions for technical support, experts, meetings, and translations. But it's true that the U.S. administration makes its wishes known to the IPCC through State Department delegations of political appointees.”

But doesn’t that mean that the administration exercises what amounts to agenda setting and veto power over IPCC reports?

“It’s time to examine that whole process," Smith responded.

And so they will. You can watch the fireworks here.

CORRECTION: This column has been changed to correct the date of the "Examining the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process" hearing.

RON ARNOLD, a Washington Examiner columnist, is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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