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Human role in climate change now virtually certain: leaked IPCC report

A leaked draft report by the world’s top climate scientists has found that is virtually certain that humans are causing climate…

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), which says it regrets the leak of it’s latest major report. AAP Image/Paul Miller

A leaked draft report by the world’s top climate scientists has found that is virtually certain that humans are causing climate change but parts of it have been wildly misinterpreted by climate change deniers, experts said.

The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was prematurely published on a blog called Stop Green Suicide by blogger Alec Rawls, who obtained the document as a reviewer.

The draft report, which was still undergoing a peer review process, said that “there is consistent evidence from observations of a net energy uptake of the earth system due to an imbalance in the energy budget.”

“It is virtually certain that this is caused by human activities, primarily by the increase in CO2 concentrations. There is very high confidence that natural forcing contributes only a small fraction to this imbalance.”

Rawls drew attention to another part of the report about the effect of cosmic rays on global warming, saying in a statement that “admission of strong evidence for enhanced solar forcing changes everything.”

However, this section had been taken out of context and could not be used to cast doubt on the idea that human activity is warming the globe, said Steve Sherwood, one of the authors of the report and Co-Director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales.

“I think the most interesting aspect of how this has been blogged by the climate deniers is that it reveals how deeply in denial they are,” he said in an email to The Conversation.

“If they can look at a short section of a report and walk away believing it says the opposite of what it actually says, and if this spin can be uncritically echoed by very influential blogs like WattsUp, imagine how wildly they are misinterpreting the scientific evidence. This should open people’s eyes as to the credibility of the alternative ‘views’ they are serving up.”

Prof Sherwood said he had no comment on the contents of the report, which he described as “an unfinished work in progress.”

“It has not fully incorporated feedback from the broader science community, has not been approved by the government bodies or UN, has not yet incorporated the most up-to-date work,” he said.

“The official version will come out in September and will be a better, more accurate, more readable and more consistent reflection of the science.”

Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a researcher of climate change denial at the Cognitive Science Laboratories at the University of Western Australia, said the premature leak of the report was “dishonourable.”

“Science is one of the most transparent endeavours humans have ever developed. However, for the transparency to be effective, preliminary documents ought to remain confidential until they have been improved and checked through peer review,” he said in an emailed comment.

“The leak of a draft report by a reviewer who has signed a statement of confidentiality is therefore regrettable and dishonourable.”

“However, what is worse than the leak itself is the distortion of the content of the draft chapter by some deniers (no, they are not skeptics),” he said.

Prof Lewandowsky said that the report’s statement that humans have caused global warming was a “virtual certainty” meant it’s authors had 99% confidence in that view.

“That’s up from ‘very high confidence’ (90% certain) in the last report published in 2007,” he said.

“In other words, the scientific case has become even stronger and has now reached a level of confidence that is parallelled only by our confidence in some very basic laws of physics, such as gravity or thermodynamics.”

To claim otherwise by cherry-picking part of a sentence out of context is absurd, he said.

“Although it illustrates the standard approach by which climate deniers seek to confuse the public. Climate denial lost intellectual respectability decades ago, and all that deniers have left now is to misrepresent, distort, or malign the science and the scientific process.”

Dr Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the US' University Corporation for Atmospheric Research said Rawls was able to access a draft copy of the report because “any reviewer can sign up to get access to it all, although they sign a pledge not to do what has been done here.”

“He should be thoroughly castigated,” said Dr Trenberth.

“With regard to the report, I think it has a long ways to go to be up to previous standards, but there is still time,” he said.

“The IPCC work is based upon published peer reviewed material and so it is not new. Some of it is, in fact, old and not up to date.”

The IPCC said in a statement it regretted the leak, which “interferes with the process of assessment and review.”

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  1. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    Ultimately the global ecosystem is self correcting and it will eventually remove the cause of the climate imbalance - humans or most of them.

    This will be through famine, disease and conflict over scarce food and water.

    I just hope that Australia, as an island continent and nation, has the political strength and resolve to avoid the worst of it.

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  2. John McLean

    logged in via email @connexus.net.au

    This report is very poor. It fails to consider whether the IPCC report shows any evidence for its ramping-up of previous levels of certainty and for its claims as a whole. The answer is a resounding NO.

    Just like previous reports the claims are based on the output of unvalidated climate models that are shown elsewhere in the report to be flawed.

    What puzzles me is why people are so easily swayed when there's no credible evidence. One cannot help but wonder if there might be alternative motivations.

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to John McLean

      All the models have been validated. The IPCC is a review panel, so all the evidence is already available in the literature. The evidence is very, very clear that humans are causing a change in global climate systems due to increases in greenhouse gases.

      Please start reading the actual science, you know, the stuff published in reputable peer reviewed journals.

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to John McLean

      People just don't want to know :)
      It's like a dark cloud on the horizon, and as it keeps getting closer they hope that if they close their doors and don't look it will go away.

      Wonder what our grandkids will think of that?

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  3. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    This article misses the point that the world, and especially Australia, should have moved beyond debating the cause of global climate change and instead we should be focusing on what is the correct response to this undoubted change to the planet's climate. Gillard's carbon tax is certainly not a sensible or effective response, nor is the Kyoto agreement. Personally, I favour following the prescription outlined in Bjorn Lomborg's book 'Cool It' which says we can do more to save people, nature and the planet by spending part of the trillions of dollars required to reduce global CO2 emissions on economic, health and educational development initiatives in developing countries where the world's 2 billion poor people live.

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    1. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie Masters: "... I favour following the prescription outlined in Bjorn Lomborg's book 'Cool It' ...". Which version? The American one is written relatively much as a popular book, with no graphs. The British book appears more `technical´, with many graphs and with the same note system as in "The Skeptical Environmentalist". In some chapters, the text differs widely from the American version.

      Howard Friel began to check the notes and references in the American version of 'Cool It'. He found…

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  4. John R. Sabine

    Scholar-at-Large

    Here we go again - confusion worse confounded.

    Let's start again by agreeing one fundamental point - there is no such person as a "climate change denier", let alone a "climate denier".

    Everyone, but everyone, believes that there is a climate. Everyone, but everyone, believes that the climate is changing - is now changing, has always been changing ever since the world had a climate and will continue to be changing until the apocalypse hits us.

    What is legitimately believed or denied, however, concerns such important issues as how much is our climate currently changing, in what direction, by what cause(s), with what consequences, do we need to do something about it and, if we do, what can we do and how effective is such action likely to be?

    Let us first sort out the science available to address these issues before we engage any more in what is so common now - a mud-slinging scrum, not an intellectual debate,

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to John R. Sabine

      That is false John, and nothing more than language acrobatics.

      This topic has been in the public sphere since before I was born. If by now people are not willing to accept climate scientists' measurements of human induced climate change, then they are in denial. This really is beyond the point of argument. The only argument left is how best to deal with climate change.

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    2. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to John R. Sabine

      John R. Sabine: "Let us first sort out the science ...". The science is 99% certain, it seems.

      John R. Sabine: "What is legitimately believed or denied, ...". Wouldn't the second option be denial? In the face of 99% certainty, how is that legitimate?

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    3. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to John R. Sabine

      "there is no such person as a "climate change denier", let alone a "climate denier"."

      It's easy to disprove your claim by providing a counterexample, e.g. all of the people who signed this letter deny that the climate has warmed in the past 16 years: http://opinion.financialpost.com/2012/11/29/open-climate-letter-to-un-secretary-general-current-scientific-knowledge-does-not-substantiate-ban-ki-moon-assertions-on-weather-and-climate-say-125-scientists/

      Your fundamental assertion is plainly wrong.

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  5. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    Richard Alley, my favourite climate scientist, gave a talk at the AGU conference last week. He discussed the point raised in this article about radiative forcings. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RffPSrRpq_g

    Now that we have a 99% certainty it is time for governments and industry to take climate change seriously. Scientific certainty just doesn't get any better than this, so lets have a proper response to this massive problem.

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  6. Leslie Graham

    none

    Don't be absurd.
    Everyone knows exactly what is meant by climate change denier. It has long been part of the everyday vernacular.
    The word denier dates from the 15th and simply means 'one who denies'.
    The best dictionary definition I've come accross is this one.

    "...Denialism is the employment of rhetorical tactics to give the appearance of argument or legitimate debate, when in actuality there is none. These false arguments are used when one has few or no facts to support one's viewpoint against…

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  7. James Doogue

    logged in via email @doogue.net

    I almost choked when I read Professor Stephan Lewandowsky quoted saying the leaking of the Draft AR5 by Rawls was “dishonourable”; this coming from a guy who made excuses and exceptions for Dr Peter Gleick’s frauds, forgeries and lies when it suited HIS cause. https://theconversation.edu.au/the-morality-of-unmasking-heartland-5494. Also coming from someone who has tortured data to reveal his as yet unpublished but much criticised 'NASA Faked Moon Landing....' paper.

    Anyway I am please at least…

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Doogue

      Rubbish James. Refer to Richard Alley's talk on solar forcings. They have been neutral or in decline for the period of 21st century warming, so your point is wrong or irrelevant.

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    2. Andrew Vincent

      Marketing . Communications . Multimedia

      In reply to James Doogue

      there are huge volumes of peer reviewed studies providing evidence of a strong correlation between cosmogenic isotopes (proxy for solar activity) and our climate which has been virtually hidden by the IPCC in this report."

      Such as...?

      "Dozens of studies which have found between a 0.4 and 0.7 degree of correlation between solar activity and various climate indices going back many thousands of years, meaning that solar activity “explains” in the statistical sense something like half of all past…

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  8. James Doogue

    logged in via email @doogue.net

    Meanwhile Sherwood and Lewandowsky would rather we all believed that the IPCC draft AR5 is more certain than ever that human carbon emissions are the cause of catastrophic climate change yet the gospel they wish us to trust is riddled with unscientific gems like this from lines 26 to 31 of the Executive Summary of Chapter 7 Clouds and Aerosols just so they can support their anthropogenic climate change predisposition.

    “The net radiative feedback due to all cloud types is likely (>66% chance) positive…

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Doogue

      Refer to the talk by Richard Alley that I posted previously. He covers your concerns.

      Essentially you are wanting to ignore the majority of evidence that show man-made climate change is happening, in favour of the minor uncertainties that determine how big this change will be. The latter does not dismiss the former, but rather is contingent upon the former. This is like arguing about which seat to sit in as the car crashes into a wall.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to James Doogue

      James when you posted above:

      "Sunanda, you back up a poorly written one sided article with an uninformed comment. At least you are consistent. I guess a largely federal government funded media mouthpiece is your calling. An real journalist would have sought some balance for this article."

      you clearly demonstrated your respect for evidence and, thereby, the complete absence of respect your comments deserve. This kind of childish name-calling might be seen as 'evidence' on Watta Up with That, but it doesn't cut it in the real world.

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  9. James Doogue

    logged in via email @doogue.net

    When you put a pot of water on the stove, you can keep the gas flame constant yet the water slowly warms. Climate scientists say there can be no relationship between solar radiation and global warming if they can't see a coincidence between periods where the global average temperage has increased and solar activity increasing.

    Yet you don't need the gas flame to increase for the water to eventually boil. What Dr Alec Rawls and many others have found is that there is a strong correlation between…

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    1. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Doogue

      Alec Rawls is nothing more than a joke. He is a conspiracy theorist with no qualifications in climate science, nor science (as near as I can tell). Thus, he really is out of his depth and has no idea of what he is talking about.

      http://www.desmogblog.com/2012/12/13/major-ipcc-report-draft-leaked-then-cherry-picked-climate-sceptics
      http://errortheory.blogspot.com.au/2005/11/redesigned-flight-93-memorial-still_30.html
      http://environmentcontext.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/alec-rawls-leaks-ipcc-report-but-how.html

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    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to James Doogue

      More debunking in New Scientist

      solar expert Joanna Haigh of Imperial College London. ... says that if Rawls had read a bit further, he would have realised that the report goes on to largely dismiss the evidence that cosmic rays have a significant effect. "They conclude there's very little evidence that it has any effect," she says.

      In fact, the report summary reaffirms that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions are the main reason for rising temperatures. It goes on to detail the many harmful effects, from more frequent heatwaves to rising sea levels."
      http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23005-leaked-ipcc-report-reaffirms-dangerous-climate-change.html

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  10. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    How the he* did he ever get a status as a reviewer?

    He's no scientist? If you don't consider economics hard science of course?

    Was the report going to tax global warming, eh? Leave the peer review to people that work with it, not to economical advisors. That's politics, not science.

    Alec Rawls seems more of a very opinionated individual to me, with a talent of presenting his beliefs on the web. How come those guys always try to get 'leaks', one way or another, to then read them 'as the devil reads the bible' :)

    But take a look at the link to him.

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    1. Sunanda Creagh

      Editor at The Conversation

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Hi Yoron,
      I understand that anyone can sign up as a reviewer as long as they sign a pledge to not release the report prematurely. Thanks.

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    2. James Doogue

      logged in via email @doogue.net

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      As an economist specialising in econometrics, I'd pitch my statistical analysis skills against most climate scientists any day, especially after seeing what passes for analysis in the climate field.

      Sunanda, you back up a poorly written one sided article with an uninformed comment. At least you are consistent. I guess a largely federal government funded media mouthpiece is your calling. An real journalist would have sought some balance for this article.

      I have just re-read 'The Conversation's…

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    3. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Referencing climate denial king Anthony Watts is like saying you don't read science and are proud of it.

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    4. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      James Doogue: "As an economist specialising in econometrics, ...". No qualifications in science, then, let alone climate science. "... I'd pitch my statistical analysis skills against most climate scientists any day, ...". Is that healthy?

      For mine, I've looked at the science and had to admit that I have no chance of understanding anything so complex; not without devoting far more effort to it than I'm prepared to. Given the fact that not one reputable body of scientists disagrees, a healthy mind will accept the view of the overwhelming majority.

      I call it just humility. In your case, it's evidently warranted.

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  11. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    And what the he* does this mean then?

    "Dr Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the US' University Corporation for Atmospheric Research said Rawls was able to access a draft copy of the report because “any reviewer can sign up to get access to it all, although they sign a pledge not to do what has been done here.”

    Is he saying that we all can join up as reviewers? That is about the weirdest statement I've read in some while :) Smolin, send me your papers if you need a reviewer :)

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    1. James Doogue

      logged in via email @doogue.net

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      Perhaps Sunanda didn't like my previous response suggesting that perhaps she could have checked the facts before answering "I understand that anyone can sign up as a reviewer as long as they sign a pledge to not release the report prematurely. "

      Anyway, just so you don't continue to think you might possibly qualify, all reviewers have to apply supplying a detailed background of their qualifications and areas of expertise. Specifically which sections or chapters their expertise relates to. It is then up to Chapter Chairs (sorry Sunanda I previously wrote lead authors by mistake), to vet the appliants.

      If you think Dr Alec Rawls is not qualified then by all means state why you think so and why you might do a better job.

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    2. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      James Doogue: "Perhaps Sunanda didn't like my previous response ...". James, your hectoring over a relatively minor issue gives the appearance of bullying.

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  12. Bernie Masters

    environmental consultant at FIA Technology Pty Ltd, B K Masters and Associates

    David, thanks for the comment. I found The Skeptical Environmentalist to have some faults but I have no problems with its main theme, which is that most global environmental parameters are improving or flat lining. That's not to say that we don't have a huge task on our hands to leave a better world for our grandchildren, but it also doesn't mean that we ignore Lomberg completely. To me, the issue is how do we hold onto current environmental values while global population continues to expand at the…

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    1. David Boxall

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Bernie Masters

      Bernie Masters: "... most global environmental parameters are improving or flat lining." As asserted by a bloke who's been censured for scientific dishonesty.

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  13. James Doogue

    logged in via email @doogue.net

    For an alledgedly academin, expert based web site, a lot of the commentry here is incredibly unsophisticated, unsupported and unsubstantiated.

    David Boxall clearly thinks statistical analysis works differently for climate scientists as it dos for economists. David, we use the same statistical analytical methods and even modelling software!

    Sunanda and Yoron believe anyone off the street can apply to be an IPCC expert reviewer,

    Tim Scanlon thinks a constant heat source cannot heat up another…

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    1. James Doogue

      logged in via email @doogue.net

      In reply to James Doogue

      And I wouldn't mind but it is funded with taxpayers money!

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    2. Tim Scanlon

      Debunker

      In reply to James Doogue

      What a load of strawmen, ad homs and misrepresentations

      The 99% confidence is referenced in this article, good of you to bother reading. Good of you to also read about models and how they have been validated recently.

      How about you read some of the science instead of slagging off at those that have.

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    3. James Doogue

      logged in via email @doogue.net

      In reply to James Doogue

      Tim I read the article, the 99% isn't 'referenced' in the article, it's a statement made by Lewandowsky who is also welcome to produce the evidence of the 99% certainty. It may be certain in his head, but even the IPCC do not claim anywhere near that level of certainty.

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