Monthly Archives: September 2013

Who is attending the Stockholm IPCC meeting?

The IPCC plenary meeting IPCC-36 at which the final wording of the AR5 WG1 SPM will be agreed is now underway in Stockholm.  The agenda is here and the IPCC has issued a press release giving more information about the meeting.  Climate scientists and government environment representatives have flown in from all over the world to share their concern over how man’s activities, such as flying, are destroying the planet. The meeting is taking place in a building called The Brewery (cue obvious jokes) and delegates are staying at a variety of 5-star or 4-star hotels for around £150 a night. Who is paying for all this? Taxpayers presumably.

An interesting question arose on twitter on Saturday, in discussions between Bishop Hill, Barry Woods and Mat Collins. Who, exactly, is attending this meeting?  The meeting will approve the SPM, after “subjecting it to line-by-line scrutiny”. But who is doing the scrutinising? Who takes the decisions if there are disagreements? Given that this is where the final wording of the document that goes out to policymakers is agreed, these seem to be fairly important questions. Is there a list of attendees?

Here are two relevant recent tweets:


Government officials will outnumber scientists 5-1 at meeting in Stockholm this week. Summary For Policymakers or By Policymakers?


Key thing to remember about process: the scientists have the last word on what’s written in the report summary, not the governments.


Drafts, reviews and leaks

Here is an IPCC factsheet summarising how the drafting and reviewing of the IPCC report works, and another one giving further details for the case of AR5 WG1. The timing of the review process can be seen here.

The draft reports

The IPCC WG1 authors wrote a First Order Draft (FOD), and this was reviewed by “expert reviewers” from Dec 2011 – Feb 2012. The authors then revised the report, coming up with a Second Order Draft (SOD), that was reviewed by experts and Government representatives from Oct – Nov 2012.  A final draft was then produced, and the SPM of this final draft was reviewed by Governments only during June and July 2013.  The final stage of the revision process takes place at the meeting in Stockholm this week, 23-26 Sept, where the SPM is gone through line by line and agreed.

Who are the “expert reviewers”?

And why are they in quotation marks? Well, some people advertise the fact that they serve as “expert reviewers” for the IPCC as if this gives them increased credibility. But the fact is, virtually anyone can apply to be a reviewer, and almost all applications are accepted (one of the few exceptions, I believe, is that applications from journalists are not accepted).

I have already written about my experience of reviewing AR5 at the Making Science Public blog.   To register as a reviewer, you give your details and say which sections of the report you would like to review. There is a space for relevant publications, but if you don’t have any, you can leave that blank. You are then asked to tick a box saying that you have the necessary expertise to act as a reviewer.  So the “experts” are self-selected! I was confirmed as reviewer number 948. Anthony Watts was given “a shock”  by being accepted as reviewer 1029.  In total, about 1500 reviewers registered for the FOD, and a similar number for the SOD (a second registration process was needed to review the SOD).

The next stage is that you receive an Invitation Letter that explains the process and states that the draft reports are confidential and may not be cited, quoted or distributed. You have to agree to this, by ticking a box, before you can get access to the draft report.  At this stage, some of those who had applied to be reviewers dropped out (including Steve McIntyre), because they were not prepared to agree to this restriction. If you do tick this box, you get access to the draft report (not just the chapters you expressed an interest in) and you are sent an Excel file to write your comments in.

For the FOD, 659 reviewers submitted a total of 21,400 comments, indicating that the majority of those who signed up either were not prepared to agree to the confidentiality restriction, or simply did not get round to submitting comments – perhaps they just wanted to look at the draft report rather than comment on it. Over the entire review process, over 54,000 review comments were made. Each of these comments has to be responded to by the IPCC authors.  Eventually, all comments and author responses will be made publicly available, although it is not yet clear exactly when this will happen. (For the AR4 report, comments and responses are here at Harvard, in a rather un-user-friendly format.)

Since the draft reports cite research papers that have been accepted but not published, reviewers have the right to see these papers. I requested three such papers and received the following response from the IPCC: “Please find attached a copy of the non-published literature you requested. For security reasons, the attached copy is an encrypted version of a pdf. The copy can be viewed by a software (LockLizard) which is provided free of charge and is simple and quick to download. Below you will find instructions on how to download the software, register the license, and view the protected file.” Take a look at the LockLizard website – especially the video at the top. This gives an insight into the secrecy paranoia of the IPCC. These are research papers on climate science, soon to be published, but in the view of the IPCC they are closely guarded secrets. The Windows-only software does not work on my Linux computer, and when I asked for an alternative format the IPCC refused, so I was unable to see these papers.

The leaks

Given the large number of reviewers, it was almost inevitable that there would be leaks. In fact, it could be argued that it’s surprising that there weren’t more leaks.

The first leak was of an earlier rough draft of the report (not mentioned above), known as the “Zero order draft” (ZOD), see here and here, back in December 2011.

As far as I know, there was no leak of the FOD. The most high-profile leak was that of the SOD, in December 2012 (see also here).  The leaker was Alec Rawls (son of the renowned philosopher John Rawls). He explains the reasons for leaking the report, which are essentially  public interest.  Rawls remarks that the timing of his leak, in December 2012, came after the end of the SOD review process, so it cannot be claimed that the leak interfered with the review process.  When looking at the files, be aware of a slight confusion: there was no SPM in the FOD; the SPM associated with the SOD is confusingly labelled “First Order Draft”, even though it is a summary of the material in the SOD!

More recently, in August there were leaks of the near-final version of the SPM.  It has been suggested by some people that these were deliberate leaks from the IPCC to sympathetic journalists who could be relied on to promote alarm.

My comments

I wrote only about 30 comments on the FOD and 20 on the SOD. I have uploaded my
comments on the FOD and comments on the SOD.
Many of my comments on the FOD criticised the common IPCC trick of comparing a short-term trend with a longer-term trend. This is misleading, since for any signal which fluctuates up and down, short term trends are likely to be larger than long-term trends. For example, for a random walk (which is probably not a good model for the climate), the trend is expected to be inversely proportional to the square root of the length of the time interval.
My comments on the SOD were critical of some exaggerated and misleading claims in the SPM, but welcomed the apparent acceptance of some of my FOD comments on trend lines (you don’t get to see a direct response to your comments, you have to infer from the revised version).

Have other people made their review comments public? If so, where are they to be found?

What’s the point?

Some have raised the question of what is the point in bothering with taking part in the IPCC review process. There have been repeated complaints that valid, critical comments have been ignored by the IPCC authors.
Another potential problem is that the IPCC authors are free to do whatever they like with the final version of the report, for example introducing completely new ideas, claims and graphs that were not in the draft versions and therefore have not been subjected to expert review.

IPCC basics

This extremely dull post is a collection of basic reference information and links about the IPCC and the upcoming Fifth Assessment Report, to be launched on Friday 27th Sept.

IPCC history

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in 1988, jointly by the United Nations (UN) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). It has produced four main reports prior to the imminent Fifth Assessment Report (AR5):

  • 1990 First Assessment Report (FAR)
  • 1995 Second Assessment Report (SAR)
  • 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR)
  • 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4)

There have been a number of suggestions recently that AR5 may be the last of these large reports. Arguments for this include the idea that the process of producing these mammoth reports is so slow that by the time they are published they are already out of date;  there is also the issue of leaks of the report. I suspect there will be much argument about this – for the IPCC to stop producing these reports could be seen as an admission that climate change is not such a serious problem as previously claimed.

In addition to the main reports, the IPCC produces other reports such as the 2012 Special Report on Extreme Events (SREX).  See IPCC timeline factsheet for more details.

IPCC structure

The IPCC is divided into three main sections, or Working Groups:

Each of these groups produces its own contribution to the full report, but not at the same time. It’s the WG1 Report that is coming out at the end of September. According to the IPCC timeline, the WG2 and WG3 Reports will come out in March and April 2014.

IPCC AR5 authors

The list of authors involved in writing AR5 is here.

There are three categories of authors. Each chapter has usually two “Coordinating Lead Authors” (CLAs). Then there are about ten “Lead Authors” (LAs).  There are many more “Contributing Authors”, who presumably play a more minor role and are not listed in the file linked above.

In addition to the authors, each chapter has three or four “Review Editors”. Their role is to oversee the expert review process and ensure that all comments have been handled satisfactorily by the chapter authors.

See this document, Annex 1, for full details of the roles of authors and review editors.

IPCC AR5 WG1 sections

The chapters of the AR5 WG1 Report are as follows:

Chapter 1:  Introduction
Chapter 2:  Observations: Atmosphere and Surface
Chapter 3:  Observations: Ocean
Chapter 4:  Observations: Cryosphere
Chapter 5:  Information from Paleoclimate Archives
Chapter 6:  Carbon and Other Biogeochemical Cycles
Chapter 7:  Clouds and Aerosols
Chapter 8:  Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing
Chapter 9:  Evaluation of Climate Models
Chapter 10:  Detection and Attribution of Climate Change: from Global to Regional
Chapter 11:  Near-term Climate Change: Projections and Predictability
Chapter 12:  Long-term Climate Change: Projections, Commitments and Irreversibility
Chapter 13:  Sea Level Change
Chapter 14:  Climate Phenomena and their Relevance for Future Regional Climate Change

In addition to the 14 chapters, there is the Summary for Policymakers (SPM), a Technical Summary and several annexes.

There are more details here about exactly what is covered in each chapter.  Note that this chapter structure is quite different from that of AR4, which could complicate direct comparisons between the new report and the previous one.

Next Post: Drafts, reviews and leaks

A new blog for the new IPCC Report

For some time I have been thinking about starting a blog. The imminent arrival of the 5th Assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) seems a good time to start.

This blog will initially focus entirely on the AR5 Report, though it may move on to other topics later. I won’t be commenting on what may or may not be in the report, until the final version comes out. Here’s a reminder of the timescale:

  • 23 – 26 Sept: IPCC Working Group 1 meets in Stockholm to agree on the final wording of the Summary for Policymakers (SPM)
  • 27 Sept: Press conference with webcast (see recent IPCC announcement)
  • 27 Sept: SPM posted online
  • 30 Sept: Final draft of the full WG1 Report released (see this IPCC announcement)

The IPCC Working Group 1 has set up a shiny new website for the new report, containing lots of useful background information about the process. That’s where the SPM will be posted on 27th Sept.

What finally tipped me over into setting up this blog was a misrepesentation of the role of the IPCC by Met Office climate scientist and IPCC author Peter Stott. Stott writes

The IPCC is an international scientific organisation that provides research-based information about the risk, effects and consequences of human-influenced climate change.

But this is not correct. If you look at the role of the IPCC at the main site or the new one given above, they refer to climate change without the addition “human-induced”. Furthermore, if you look up their definition of climate change, it is clear that it covers man-made and natural changes:

Climate change in IPCC usage refers to a change in the state of the climate that can be identified (e.g. using statistical tests) by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity

Next post: IPCC basics

By the way, if anyone else is thinking of starting a blog, it really is very easy. You just sign up with WordPress and you can be blogging in about half an hour.


Update September 19: The Met Office have promptly updated their website, so it now says “The IPCC is an international scientific organisation that provides research-based information about the causes and consequences of climate change, including both human-influenced and naturally-occurring climate change.”