Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Sat Jan 11, 2020 1:40 p

The Rise of theIPCC (1990s)

Global warming was now firmly in place as an international issue.

In many countries it was hotly debated in national politics.

The scientific community itself was taking up the topic with greater enthusiasm than ever.

Conferences proliferated, demanding time from researchers, government officials, and environmental and industry lobbyists.

As one conference delegate put it, a "traveling circus" of greenhouse effect discussions had begun.

In the early 1980s there had been only a few conferences each year where scientists presented papers on climate change, but in 1990 there were about 40, and in 1997 more than 100.

International diplomatic negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were launched in a Ministerial Conference that brought representatives from 66 nations and various international organization to Noordwijk, the Netherlands in 1989.

Most of the representatives hoped for an agreement that would do for CO2 what the Montreal agreement had done for ozone.

Drafts called for freezing emissions by the year 2000, followed by reductions.

However, greenhouse warming did not yet command the universal scientific consensus that had formed quickly for the ozone danger.

Nor was there dramatically visible proof like the "ozone hole" images to sway the public.

Above all, vastly greater economic and political forces were at stake.

The Republican administration in the United States, congenitally opposed to regulation of industry, refused to consider a deadline on emissions or any other definite action; Britain, Japan, and the Soviet Union followed the American lead.

The Noordwijk conference limped to an end with a declaration that the industrialized nations should stabilize greenhouse gas emissions "as soon as possible."

This was a step forward, however small; in diplomacy every word counts.

Most informed people understood by now that the climate change issue could not be handled in either of the two easiest ways.

Scientists were not going to prove that there was nothing to worry about.

Nor were they about to prove exactly how climate would change, and tell what should be done about it.

Just spending more money on research would no longer be a sufficient response (not that governments had ever spent enough).

For the scientists were not limited by the sort of simple ignorance that could be overcome with clever studies.

A medical researcher can find the effects of a drug by giving a thousand patients one pill and another thousand patients a different one, but climate scientists did not have two Earths with different levels of greenhouse gases to compare.

Our neighbor planets Mars and Venus, one with almost no gases and the other with an enormous amount, showed only lethal extremes.

Scientists could look at the Earth's own climate in different geological epochs, but they found no record of a period when CO2 was injected into the atmosphere as rapidly as was happening now.

Or they could build elaborate computer models and vary the numbers that represented the level of gases, but critics could point out many ways the models failed to represent the real planet.

These hardly seemed convincing ways to tell the civilized world how it should reorganize the way everyone lived.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:40 p

Of course, people make all their important decisions in uncertainty.

Every social policy and business plan is based on guesswork.

But global warming was still invisible.

It would not have become an issue at all except for scientists.

Somehow the scientists would now have to give the world practical advice — yet without abandoning the commitment to strict rules of evidence and reasoning that made them scientists in the first place.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, inevitably under the judicious chairmanship of Bert Bolin, established itself as the principal source of scientific advice to governments.

The IPCC's method was to set up independent Working Groups to address the various issues.

Following a proposal by UNEP's Tolba, three of these set to work simultaneously.

Working Group I — the one principally covered by these essays — would assess the physical science of climate change; groups II and III would address respectively impacts of climate change and policy responses.

Unlike the First World Climate Conference, the Villach meetings, and the workshops of the Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases, this was a large-scale, prolonged, and explicitly policy-oriented undertaking.

The IPCC worked hard to draw nearly all the world's climate experts into the process through meetings, drafting of reports, and a great volume of correspondence.

Experts contributing their time as volunteers wrote working papers that drew on the latest studies, including some not yet published.

These were debated at length in correspondence and workshops.

Through 1989, the IPCC scientists, 170 of them in a dozen workshops, worked hard and long to craft statements that nobody could fault on scientific grounds.

The draft reports next went through a process of review, gathering comments from virtually every climate expert in the world.

As political scientist Shardul Agrawala remarked, this "peer review was ad hoc, based more on a tradition of scientific conduct and trust than on any political norms."

It was much like the process of reviewing articles submitted to a scientific journal, although with far more reviewers.

Another political scientist put it in more general terms: the work of the IPCC was in accord with "the rules, norms and procedures that govern science at large."

The scientists found it easier than they had expected to reach a consensus.

But any conclusions had to be endorsed by a consensus of government delegates, many of whom were not scientists at all.

The elaborate IPCC process, however, had educated many bureaucrats and officials about the climate problem, and most were ready to act.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:40 p

Among the officials, the most eloquent and passionate in arguing for strong statements were representatives of small island nations.

For they had learned that rising sea levels could erase their territories from the map.

Far more powerful were the oil, coal, and automobile industries, represented not only by their own lobbyists but also by governments of nations living off fossil fuels, like Saudi Arabia.

The negotiations were intense.

Only the fear of an embarrassing collapse pushed people through the grueling sessions to grudging agreement.

Under pressure from the industrial forces, and obeying the mandate to make only statements that virtually every knowledgeable scientist could endorse, the IPCC's consensus statements were highly qualified and cautious.

Even so, complete deadlock was avoided only by accepting the Working Groups' summaries as they stood.

The prestige of the scientists, as scientists, was strong enough to give the authors an effective veto power over attempts to water down statements until they were meaningless.

The result was not "mainstream" science so much as conservative, lowest-common-denominator science.

The conclusions were neither the findings of scientific experts nor the political statements of governments — they were statements that the scientists agreed were scrupulously accurate and that the governments found politically acceptable.

So when the IPCC finally announced its conclusions, they had solid credibility.

Issued in 1990, the first IPCC Report concluded that the world had indeed been warming.

Much of this might be caused by natural processes, the report conceded.

The scientists predicted (correctly, as it turned out) that it would take another decade before they could be confident that the change was caused by the greenhouse effect... by which time it would be that much harder to arrest the warming.

Drawing on computer studies, the panel thought it likely that by the middle of the next century the world might find itself warmer by somewhere between 1.5 and 4.5°C (roughly 2.5 to 8°F).

The report specifically rejected the objection, raised by a small group of skeptical scientists, that the main cause of any observed changes was solar variations.

The IPCC also drew attention to potent greenhouse gases other than CO2, hinting at economically sound steps that the world might take at once to reduce future warming.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:40 p

The report did not silence the scientists who held that global warming was unlikely.

The IPCC consensus, hammered out through a wearisome cycle of negotiations among leading experts, offered no certainty.

And no single statement, however tentative, could represent the views of all scientists on such a complex and uncertain matter.

To find out what the entire community of climate experts felt, several different people conducted surveys in the early 1990s.

The responses suggested that most scientists felt their understanding of climate change was poor, and the future climate was highly uncertain — even more uncertain than indicated by the IPCC's report (at least as the news media described it).

Nevertheless, a majority of climate experts did believe that significant global warming was likely to happen, even if they couldn't prove it.

Asked to rank their certainty about this on a scale from one to ten, the majority picked a number near the middle.

Only a few climate experts (perhaps one in ten) were fairly confident that there would be no global warming at all — although as they pointed out, scientific truth is not reached by taking a vote.

Roughly two-thirds of the scientists polled felt that there was enough evidence in hand to make it reasonable for the world to start taking policy steps to lessen the danger, just in case.

A considerable minority thought there was a risk that greenhouse warming could yank the climate into a seriously different state.

On one thing nearly all scientists agreed: the future was likely to see "surprises," deviations from the climate as currently understood.

The IPCC had written its report in preparation for a Second World Climate Conference, held in November 1990.

Influenced by the IPCC's conclusions, the conference wound up with a strong call for policy action.

This induced the United Nations General Assembly to call for negotiations towards an international agreement that might restrain global warming.

Lengthy discussions, arguments, and compromises led to draft documents and finally a 1992 gathering of world leaders in Rio de Janeiro — the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, dubbed the "First Earth Summit."


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Sun Jan 12, 2020 1:40 p

The great majority of countries, led by the Western Europeans, called for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

But the administration of President George H. W. Bush in the United States consistently rejected any targets and timetables unless they were entirely voluntary and non-binding.

No agreement could get far without the United States, the world's premier political, economic and scientific power — and largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

The American administration, attacked by its closest foreign friends as an irresponsible polluter, showed some flexibility and made modest concessions.

Negotiators papered over disagreements to produce a compromise, formalized as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).

Future world climate conferences, like the landmark Kyoto Conference of 1997 described below, were formally "Conferences of the Parties" of the FCCC.

In these conferences formal decisions would be made by consensus in a plenary of all parties, that is, all nations that signed the treaty — essentially all the world's nations.

The Framework Convention included targets for reducing emissions, but the central point was a solemn promise to work toward "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system."

The convention was signed at Rio by more than 150 states.

However, its evasions and ambiguities (just what was "dangerous anthropogenic interference"?) left governments enough loopholes so they could avoid serious action to reduce greenhouse gases.

Few governments did more than pursue inexpensive energy efficiency initiatives, avoiding any sacrifices for the sake of the climate.

But the agreement did establish some basic principles, and it pointed out a path for further negotiation.

The Rio meeting and the FCCC inaugurated an era of great hopes for solving the climate problem.

A historian of the negotiations leading to the Framework Convention thought it "remarkable that it was achieved at all," given the scientific uncertainties and the huge potential economic stakes.

He ascribed much of the success to the strength of the physical-science report from the IPCC’s Working Group I.

The scientists' report had "seized the intellectual high ground from the moment it was published," undercutting efforts by the United States and others to claim that uncertainty called for delays.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Mon Jan 13, 2020 1:40 p

The 1995 IPCC Report and Kyoto

The IPCC had established a cyclic international process.

Roughly twice a decade, the panel would assemble the most recent research and issue a consensus statement about the prospects for climate change.

That would lay a foundation for international negotiations in a Conference of the Parties, which would in turn give guidelines for individual national policies.

Further moves would await the results of further research.

In short, after governments responded to the Rio convention, it was the scientists' turn.

Although they pursued research problems as usual, published the results for their peers as usual, and discussed the technical points in meetings as usual, to officialdom this was all in preparation for the next IPCC report, scheduled for 1995.

So the experts went back to work.

There were more of them every year as concern about climate change spread in the scientific community, and each successive IPCC report had a much larger group of authors than the one before.

This was driven not only by an increase in scientific research but also by political concerns in the broadest sense.

The early IPCC was dominated by geophysicists and other physical scientists.

But to many people, especially in developing countries, the problem of global warming involved not just physics but social and economic questions.

It was the developed industrial countries that had dumped most of the extra CO2 into the air, gobbling up resources while the rest of the world struggled to avoid starvation.

And the poverty and geography of developing nations left them especially vulnerable to climate change.

Admitting its shortcomings, the IPCC reorganized itself.

Although the world's attention continued to focus on the IPCC’s Working Group I, which addressed the physical science, increasing funding and attention went to the other two Working Groups, which addressed the likely impacts of climate change and the policies needed to mitigate the damage, recruiting experts in fields ranging from epidemiology to economics.

Meanwhile funds were raised to support scientists from developing countries.

The first job was simply to pay for their travel to attend meetings, but gradually over the years many ways were found to increase not only their representation but their participation in research.

In particular, each Working Group would be co-chaired by one scientist from a developed country and one from a developing country.

Meanwhile in 1990 the governments of developing nations pushed the United Nations to create an International Negotiation Committee, a forum for policy questions that went beyond the subjects the IPCC scientists were supposed to address.

The committee played a major role in working out positions for the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change; in 1995 it was replaced by a Secretariat of the FCCC.

In 1995 yet another intermediary, a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice, was setup to help arbitrate between the worlds of science and diplomacy.

This body, which eventually included representatives of nearly all the world's governments, argued out what the scientists' pronouncements really meant for policy-makers.

That provided not only a forum to explore political differences, but a way to get the scientists to clarify their statements, and ultimately a certification of the reliability and significance of the IPCC's findings.

Non-governmental organizations, ranging from oil companies to Greenpeace, took an important part in the discussions.

Industry lobbyists and environmental group staff members showed up at the major conferences by hundreds and later by thousands, handing out reports and bending ears; their pronouncements were considered as seriously as the findings of state agencies.

In the sometimes chaotic but thoroughly open debates, it was plain that every argument, from geophysical to moral, was on the table.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Tue Jan 14, 2020 1:40 p

The process is reminiscent of a phenomenon observed historically in the emergence of parliaments.

Once a nominally representative body has been created, over decades or centuries it will enlarge its representation.

This helps it to acquire prestige — and ultimately some degree of power over decisions.

Meanwhile the scientific experts pored over a great variety of evidence and calculations.

What impressed them most was one bit of new science.

Critics had heaped scorn on computer models of warming, pointing out that the models calculated that greenhouse gases should have caused about 1°C of warming in the past century, which was double what had actually been seen.

New runs of the models, some done especially for the IPCC and completed just in time for its 1995 report, now got results quite close to the actual trend of world climate, simply by taking better account of smoke and dust pollution.

The basic greenhouse effect models had not been intrinsically flawed after all.

Rather, the cooling effect of pollutants produced by human activity had temporarily obscured the expected greenhouse effect warming.

Temperature data from around the world increasingly matched the specific patterns predicted by calculations.

Another arduous process of analysis, discussion, negotiation, and lobbying occupied 400 expert scientists, joined by representatives not only of governments but of every variety of non-governmental interest.

Warned by the close approach to deadlock in 1990, in 1993 the IPCC adopted a formal approach to its crucial summary statements: each would have to be approved, line by line, by consensus at a plenary session of the Working Group.

In 1995 the IPCC announced its conclusions to the world.

While acknowledging many uncertainties, the experts found, first, that the world was certainly getting warmer.

And second, that the warming was probably not entirely natural.

(They added, almost parenthetically, that abrupt and unwelcome climate surprises might be in store.)

The report's single widely quoted sentence said, "The balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."

The weaselly wording showed the strain of political compromises that had watered down the original draft.

The representatives, meeting at a Conference of the Parties in Madrid, had needed a day and a half to hammer out the final sentences in hostile debates.

It was long after midnight, and the official translators had gone home, when the exhausted representatives reached final agreement after Bolin suggested replacing "appreciable" with "discernible."

(He advised that this properly expressed the degree of scientific uncertainty, and the Saudis, representing the oil industry, raised no objection.)

For all its qualifications the message was unmistakable.

"It's official," as Science magazine put it — the "first glimmer of greenhouse warming" had been seen.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Wed Jan 15, 2020 1:40 p

The conclusion was widely reported in the news media, setting off a raucous debate over every nuance of the report.

A main author of the Working Group I report, Benjamin Santer, came under vicious personal attack for making editorial changes — which he had done in obedience to the established procedures.

The IPCC responded by revising its procedures, formalizing the editorial process with additional "review" editors.

It was an example of the flexibility that made the panel unusually effective as an international organization.

The 1995 IPCC report estimated that a doubling of CO2, which was expected to come around the middle of the 21st century, would raise the average global temperature somewhere between 1.5 and 4.5°C.

That was exactly the range of numbers announced by important groups one after another ever since 1979, when a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences had published 3°C plus or minus 1.5°C as a plausible guess.

Since then computer modeling had made enormous progress, of course.

The latest scenarios actually suggested a somewhat different range of possibilities, with a warming as high as 5.5°C or so.

But the meaning of these numbers had been hazy from the beginning — all they represented was what a group of experts found intuitively reasonable.

The scientists who wrote the 1995 IPCC report decided to stick with the familiar figures of 1.5-4.5°C, rather than give critics an opening to cry inconsistency.

In fact the meaning of the numbers had invisibly changed.

The experts had grown a bit more confident that the warming would in fact fall within this range.

(The report did not spell out just how confident they felt, however.)

The figures presented a striking case of an object on the border between science and politics, something that was at the same time fact and rhetoric.

The IPCC process deliberately mingled science and politics until they could scarcely be disentangled.

The IPCC's conclusions cast a long shadow over the next major conclave, the 1997 U.N. Conference on Climate Change held in Kyoto, Japan.

This was a policy and media extravaganza attended by nearly 6,000 official delegates and thousands more representatives of environmental groups and industry, plus a swarm of reporters.

Representatives of the United States proposed that industrial countries gradually reduce their emissions to 1990 levels.

Most other governments, with Western European countries in the lead, demanded more aggressive action.

Coal-rich China and most other developing countries, however, demanded exemption from the regulations until their economies caught up with the nations that had already industrialized.

The greenhouse debate had now become tangled up with intractable problems involving fairness and the power relations between industrialized and developing countries.

As a further impediment, the groups with the most to lose from global warming — poor people, and generations unborn — had the least power to force through an agreement.

The negotiations almost broke down in frustration and exhaustion.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Thu Jan 16, 2020 1:40 p

Yet the IPCC's conclusions could not be brushed aside.

Dedicated efforts by many leaders were capped by a dramatic intervention when U.S. Vice President Al Gore flew to Kyoto on the last day and pushed through a compromise — the Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement exempted poor countries for the time being, and pledged wealthy countries to cut their emissions significantly by 2010.

This was only an initial experiment.

It was due to end in 2012, presumably to be followed by a better arrangement.

Much of the world public thought the arrangement was fair.

But the Global Climate Coalition, an umbrella group representing a number of American and multinational industrial corporations, organized a lobbying and public relations campaign against the Kyoto treaty in the United States, and Congress refused to take any action.

That gave other governments an excuse to continue business as usual.

Politicians could claim they advocated tough measures, casting blame on the United States for any failure to get started.

Yet even if governments had taken up the Kyoto Protocol more aggressively, people on both sides of the debate agreed that it would have made only a start.

It embodied so many compromises, and so many untested mechanisms for setting standards and enforcement, that the agreement could scarcely force a stabilization of emissions, let alone a reduction.

Climate research itself needed better organization on a global scale.

In the mid 1990s WCRP designed a Climate Variability and Predictability project (CLIVAR) to pick up where TOGA, WOCE, and other efforts left off as they were completed.

In 1995 a steering group drafted a scientific plan, and in 1998 delegates from 63 nations met in Paris to officially launch the project.

In the usual fashion, the groups that convened under CLIVAR could not provide any money but simply gave their stamp of approval to research plans which then had to get funds from national governments.


Site Admin
Posts: 25583
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2018 1:40 p


Post by thelivyjr » Fri Jan 17, 2020 1:40 p

Money was not easy to come by.

The United States, the world's principal supporter of climate research, was not generous to science overall in the 1990s.

Among other deficiencies, American computer modelers suffered from a dearth of the most advanced machines.

By the end of the decade, the lead in climate simulation had passed to Western Europe — although science funding was tight there too.

Meanwhile the collapse of the Soviet Union starved important efforts like their ice-drilling station in Antarctica.

(The Russians managed to complete their probe with the aid of French funds and by trading some of their ice cores for American logistical support.)

Yet climate change was now widely recognized as a deeply serious matter, and the one thing governments were willing to do about it was support research.

The international community of climate researchers — and they were now a genuine community embracing many different specialties — was climbing steeply in numbers and funding.

The trend would continue for decades, supporting countless research projects. By now nearly all significant research involved multiple authors, more often than not from different nations.

Controversy and Diplomacy

International diplomacy is a gradual process.

The most important task is to shift attitudes step by step.

Next comes the work, no less slow and difficult, of devising mechanisms to put decisions into practice — for example, ways to measure national emissions and processes to adjudicate quotas.

The mechanisms might be hollow at the start but they could slowly become meaningful.

Financial and industrial interests no longer presented a unified opposition.

The first major industry to become worried had been the insurance business.

In the early 1990s it endured mammoth losses as storms and floods increased, which (perhaps coincidentally) was just what global warming theorists had predicted.

A breakthrough came in 1997 when John Browne, chief executive of oil giant BP Amoco, declared that global warming really might come to pass, and industry should prepare to deal with it.

By the end of the 1990s, several other important companies had concluded that they should acknowledge the risk, and quit the Global Climate Coalition.

Some began to restructure their operations so that they could flourish in a warming world with restrictions on emissions.

Opposition remained powerful.

The world's political system was such that people following "business as usual" did not have to prove that their practices were safe — it was up to critics to show unequivocal proof that a practice was dangerous.

For a topic as complicated as climate change, people can easily find excuses to avoid altering their ways.

Another layer of difficulty was added by the multitude of economic relationships and conflicts among many kinds of nations.

A study of the politics concluded that "virtually no one involved in the negotiations is capable of grasping the overall picture of the climate negotiation process."

That left the experts in a "complexity trap" of scientific and legal technicalities, with no clear and simple way forward.


Post Reply