Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Ferret Cornered

The previous post sets the stage for this translation of freelancer Toralf Staud's article in KlimaRetter on Richard Tol.  Readers of Rabett Run will not be surprised by many of the points Staud makes, but it is all there

An IPCC Author Steals the Headlines

Sensational reports about the World Climate Council in the media:  Richard Tol, environmental economist and Contributing Lead Author of the current IPCC-Report, sharply criticized the panel for allegedly "apocalyptic' statements.  Yet, for half a year he has not participated in writing the text that he no longer wants anything to do with. At the end of the day Tol says that he regrets the dust up.

From Berlin Toralf Staud

The IPCC Working Group II final plenary session has been meeting since Tuesday morning in Yokohama, editing line by line the text of the Summary for Policymakers on climate impacts and adaptation.  At least on the main stage.  Richard Tol had dominated the behind the scenes action.  He told the BBC, that the report verged on being too "apocalyptic", that he could not put up with that and that they should please remove his name from the SPM front page.  A small explosion.

Tol is not just anyone.  The 45 year old, born in the Netherlands, has quite a reputation.  At the moment his is a professor at the University of Sussex.  He has often created controversy in his field.  Tol one of the economists who say that the effects of climate change will be limited - unlike most of the others, most prominently Nicholas Stern or Ottmar Edenhofer.  Tol is also controversial because of his behavior.  His colleague, the economist Frank Ackerman, demonstrates on his website the nasty course of a controversy between the two.  Tol was one who criticized the fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC.  As a sign that critical voices were welcome, Tol was chosen as one of the "Coordinating Lead Authors" - together with the American Douglas Arent he was responsible for Chapter 10 in Volume 2, with the title "Key Economic Secotrs and Services"

Tol's words were noticed by a large number of media - in the UK, Australia and the Netherlands, and finally in Germany.  The first draft of the report, Tol's core accusations, had kept the balance between the risks of climate change and the possibilities of limiting the risks through clever adaptation measures.  This is completely different in the current version of the Summary for Policy Makers. "It is only about the consequences of climate change and the four horsemen of the apocolypse." Tol refers to a -in his words- "very stupid" IPCC statement:  People in war zones are especially vulnerable to climate risks.  Tol contrasts this with a reference to the currently most gruesome war on the planet:  "I believe that people in Syria fear chemical weapons more than global warming."  Which is of course true, but no climatologist would disagree.

"The IPCC report underestimates the economic risks of climate change" according to one Tol critic

In discussions with other IPCC scientists (who will not agree to be quoted because of the ongoing negotiations) they appear stunned.  While they sweat in grueling meetings in Yokohama, Tol steals attention with around with cheap polemics.  As far as the accusations, there is nothing to them.  On the contrary, the latest progress report stresses much more strongly than earlier ones, how to adopt to those already unavoidable climate change.

Tol has been openly attacked by Robert Ward of the London School of Economics.  Ward was one of the external referees of the current IPCC reports.  For one thing, he says that Tol is playing dirty.  For another that the Report (with Tol's participation) excessively downplays the economic consequences of climate change.

Already in January Ward had written to the IPCC, because he had discovered errors in passages that Tol had worked on.  Tol had, according to Ward, very late in the editing process (and thus after the reviewing had been completed) added a passage to the report "that was based on his own research.  In that passage it was claimed that the published literature shows that a warming of a few degrees Celcius is conducive to the global economy - this passage has a number of errors and is based on estimates which leave out the greatest potential risks of climate change (e.g. melting of the Greenland ice sheet)."

Tol admits that there were indeed minor errors, that were fixed.  Above all he denies Ward's accusations of miscalculations and not following IPCC refereeing procedures.  Some weeks ago Tol attacked Ward on his blog.  The IPCC Secretariat would not issue a statement on this because of the ongoing final plenary meeting.

Does an economist have the competence to evaluate the IPCC Chapter on Agriculture or Health?

But back to Tol's fundamental criticism of the IPCC.  In a follow up question about exactly which IPCC statements he thought alarmist, Tol named three areas.  The passages relating to agriculture "downplayed" adaptation possibilities and technical progress.  Secondly, in discussions of fatality from diseases, there was too little discussion of the effects of cold and too much emphasis on malnutrition.  Thirdly, in relation to war  the IPCC relied too much on "a handful of questionable studies that are of the view that climate change will lead to more conflict."  As of the publication deadline Tol had not answered a follow up question of how an economist could judge if the selected experts author had properly evaluated the wide research literature on agriculture, medicine and military subjects. (See PS at the end of the article).

There has been no response of the IPCC Secretariat. (UPDATE: 27.03 The IPCC has now released a statement in which it stresses that the IPCC Reports are always team products and naturally do not reflect the views of a single author.  The complete text can be found here).  In response to KlimaRetter, spokesman Jonathan Lynn merely pointed out that Richard Tol is one of a total of 309 responsible lead authors responsible in Working Group II.

And about his statement that he would not longer sign the policy summary (SPM), Lynn commented slightly sarcastically that he (ER-Tol) had not taken part in writing the current version, but had separated from the writing group in the previous year.  He had refused "repeated requests of the Working Group leader, Chris Field, to cooperate further."  Therefore his name no longer is included on the title page.


Jeffrey Davis said...

Climate Change and mass migrations are two facets of the same phenomenon. While academic studies are welcome, we've already got the Bible as a witness to that. Tol should carefully read The Book of Joshua: a hungry tribe emerges from the desert and kills every man, woman, child, and animal in the region to make way for their own.

William M. Connolley said...


EliRabett said...

Spelling Nazi.

chek said...

The IPCC is likely better off not having the taint of the GWPF attached even by proxy.

We know how much deniers hate proxies.

Paul S said...


I thought it was an American thing for a minute so patriotically read it as 'Cornoured' in retaliation.

Steve Bloom said...

Hmm, this pretty thorough trashing of all of the climate economics models, Tol's included, appeared on the Nature website Friday. I didn't notice it until today due to a tardy press release. It seems very likely Tol knew it was coming. Did he then move to preempt media coverage? I strongly suspect so.

This needs its own post.