Another Reason Why IPCC Predictions (Projections) Fail

Written by Dr. Tim Ball, Climatologist

AR5 Continues to Let The End Justify the Unscrupulous Means

Someone said economists try to predict the tide by measuring one wave. The IPCC essentially try to predict (project) the global temperature by measuring one variable. The IPCC compound their problems by projecting the temperature variable with the influence of the economic variable.

Use of circular arguments is standard operating procedures for the IPCC. For example, they assume a CO2 increase causes a temperature increase. They then create a model with that assumption and when the model output shows a temperature increase with a CO2 increase they claim it proves their assumption.

They double down on this by combining an economic model that projects a CO2 increase with their climate model projection. To make it look more accurate and reasonable they create scenarios based on their estimates of future developments. It creates what they want, namely that CO2 will increase and temperature will increase catastrophically unless we shut down fossil fuel based economies very quickly.

All their projections failed, even the lowest as, according to them, atmospheric CO2 continued to rise and global temperatures declined. As usual, instead of admitting their work and assumptions were wrong, they scramble to blur, obfuscate and counterattack.

One part of the obfuscation is to keep the focus on climate science. Most think the IPCC is purely about climate science, they don’t know about the economics connection. They don’t know that the IPCC projects CO2 increase on economic models that presume to know the future. Chances of knowing that are virtually zero as history shows.

On September 1, 2014 we will recognize the 75th anniversary of the declaration of war against Germany. I am not aware of anybody who predicted what happened in that 75 years, or even came close. I am sure people will find someone who foresaw one or two of the events, but not the entire social, economic, technological and political changes. A brief list illustrates the challenge.

  • The Cold War

  • The Korean War

  • The Vietnamese War

  • Global Terrorism

  • The collapse of communism

  • China and India as world powers

  • The Internet

  • Moon and Mars Landings

  • Silicon Chips

  • Space vehicle leaving the Solar System

  • Space Satellites

  • Hubble telescope

  • Fracking

  • The IPCC claim 95 percent certainty about their climate science and presumably about their predictions. The problem is all were wrong from the start. As early as the 1995 Report they had switched to projections. They gave a range of projections or scenarios from low to high, but even the lowest was incorrect. Roger Pielke Jr et al explained the assumptions for the scenarios were unrealistic, especially about technological progress in energy use and supply.

    Most people assume the projections are solely a function of the climate science and climate models, but that is not the case. The climate science is wrong and that contributes to the failed projections because it is the basic assumption of the AGW hypothesis that an increase in CO2 causes a temperature increase. However, the three projections also vary from high to low because of different assumptions about the future society and economy. These estimates of the future primarily determine the amount of CO2 increase that will occur under different economic scenarios. As Richard Lindzen, MIT professor of meteorology said in an interview with James Glassman that the 2001 IPCC Report “was very much a children’s exercise of what might possibly happen” prepared by a “peculiar group” with “no technical competence.” Maybe, but it achieved their political objective of isolating and demonizing CO2.

    After release of the 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR) two papers by Ian Castles and David Henderson (C&H) were published drawing attention to the problems with the emission scenarios used to produce the three projections.1 Castles explained the concerns as follows;

    During the past three years I and a co-author (David Henderson, former Head of the Department of Economics and Statistics at OECD) have criticised the IPCC’s treatment of economic issues.

    Our main single criticism has been the Panel’s use of exchange rate converters to put the GDPs of different countries onto a common basis for purposes of estimating and projecting output, income, energy intensity, etc. This is not permissible under the internationally-agreed System of National Accounts which was unanimously approved by the UN Statistical Commission in 1993, and published later that year by the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD and the Commission of the European Communities, under cover of a Foreword which was personally signed by the Heads of the five organisations.”

    As one commentator noted,

    These two economists have shown that the calculations carried out by the IPCC concerning per capita income, economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions in different regions are fundamentally flawed, and substantially overstate the likely growth in developing countries. The results are therefore unsuitable as a starting point for the next IPCC assessment report, which is due to be published in 2007. Unfortunately, this is precisely how the IPCC now intends to use it submissions projections.”

    The IPCC response was typical of the arrogant superiority and belief in their unassailability that pervades most of their dealings.

    On December 8, 2003 at the Milan COP9 Dr. Pachauri released a press statement which criticized the arguments which Castles in Henderson have been making in this debate.

    Pachauri’s charges against C&H, especially Castle’s, were false personal attacks.

    Richard Tol commented on C&H and the IPCC response.

    Castles and Henderson…. criticized the IPCC for using market exchange rates in the economic accounting used as a basis for its SRES scenarios. This started as a technical dispute. However, the initial IPCC response – which can be characterized as “We are the IPCC. We do not make mistakes. Please go away.” – raised the stakes and turned the debate into one about the credibility of the entire IPCC, a debate that now includes politicians and the public. Howard Herzog of MIT recently summarized this as the “IPCC is a four letter word.”

    The UNFCCC predetermined the results of the IPCC work by directing them to study only human causes of climate change. The IPCC then narrowed the focus to human produced CO2 as the cause of warming. They directed their efforts to proving rather than disproving their hypothesis. Central to this objective was the need to have atmospheric CO2 levels rise constantly because of a constant rise in human production of CO2.

    The IPCC controlled results of rising atmospheric levels with data from warming advocate Charles Keeling’s, and later his son Roger’s, measurements at Mauna Loa. There is fascinating, but disturbing correspondence on this issue between Ernst Georg Beck and Roger Keeling. Beck had to be dismissed because his work showed that 19th century levels of atmospheric CO2 were much higher than used by the IPCC and created by Guy Callendar and Tom Wigley. The IPCC controlled the annual increase in human production of CO2 by producing it themselves.

    In their 2001 Report the IPCC note the increase of CO2 from 6.5 GtC (gigatons of carbon) human sources to 7.5 GtC in the 2007 report. In the FAQ section they answer the question “How does the IPCC produce its Inventory Guidelines?” as follows.

    Utilizing IPCC procedures, nominated experts from around the world draft the reports that are then extensively reviewed twice before approval by the IPCC.”

    In a 2008 article Castles notes about the 2007 Report,

    Unfortunately, the assumptions it uses overstate potential manmade global warming by a large measure.

    In 2001 IPCC based its predictions of substantially warming temperatures during the next century largely on forecasts of explosive growth in Third World economies–and hence emissions–during the twenty-first century. The panel actually predicted Third World nations would grow so fast they would surpass the economies of wealthy Western nations.”

    Economists pointed out the unrealistic assumptions, but in the six years since these IPCC gaffes, little appears to have changed.”

    Richard Tol commented on the changes for AR5.

    IPCC AR5 of Working Group 1 will therefore be based on scenarios-formerly-known-as-SRES. They’re now called RCP.”

    A presentation on Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) by Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice Chair of the IPCC, lays out the challenge.

    1 Ian Castles and David Henderson (2003) Economics, emissions scenarios and the work of the IPCC, Energy & Environment, vol. 14, no. 4.

    Ian Castles and David Henderson (2003) The IPCC emission scenarios: An economic-statistical critique, Energy & Environment, vol. 14: nos.2-3.

    Challenges for AR5

    In a classic bureaucrat flow chart he shows a change in process that among other things appears to make the role of economic development unclear.

    Economic Development Flow Chart


    William Kininmonth, former head of Australia’s National Climate Centre and their delegate to the WMO Commission for Climatology and author of the insightful book “Climate Change: A Natural Hazard” wrote the following in an email on the ClimateSceptics group page.

    I was at first confused to see the RCP concept emerge in AR5. I have come to the conclusion that RCP is no more than a sleight of hand to confuse readers and hide absurdities in the previous approach.

    You will recall that the previous carbon emission scenarios were supposed to be based on solid economic models. However this basis was challenged by reputable economists and the IPCC economic modelling was left rather ragged and a huge question mark hanging over it.

    I sense the RCP approach is to bypass the fraught economic modelling: prescribed radiation forcing pathways are fed into the climate models to give future temperature rise – if the radiation forcing plateaus at 8.5W/m2 sometime after 2100 then the global temperature rise will be 3C. But what does 8.5 W/m2 mean? Previously it was suggested that a doubling of CO2 would give a radiation forcing of 3.7 W/m2. To reach a radiation forcing of 7.4 W/m2 would thus require a doubling again – 4 times CO2 concentration. Thus to follow RCP8.5 it is necessary for the atmospheric CO2 concentration equivalent to exceed 1120ppm after 2100.

    We are left questioning the realism of a RCP 8.5 scenar io. Is there any likelihood of the atmospheric CO2 reaching about 1120   ppm by 2100? IPCC has raised a straw man scenario to give a ‘dangerous’ global temperature rise of about 3C early in the 22nd century knowing full well that such a concentration has an extremely low probability of being achieved. But, of course, this is not explained to the politicians and policymakers. They are told of the dangerous outcome if the RCP8.5 is followed without being told of the low probability of it occurring. 

    One absurdity is replaced by another! Or have I missed something fundamental?

    I don’t think he has. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether it changes anything because the underpinning of the climate science and the economics depends on accurate data and knowledge of mechanisms.

    We know there was insufficient weather data on which to construct climate models and the situation deteriorated as they eliminated weather stations and ‘adjusted’ then cherry-picked data. We know knowledge of mechanisms are inadequate because the IPCC WGI Science Report says so.

    Unfortunately, the total surface heat and water fluxes (see Supplementary Material, Figure S8.14) are not well observed.”


    For models to simulate accurately the seasonally varying pattern of precipitation, they must correctly simulate a number of processes (e.g., evapotranspiration, condensation, transport) that are difficult to evaluate at a global scale.”

    In a perverse way the IPCC acknowledge this with their attempt to claim the “pause” in temperatures of the last 15 years was due to some “deep ocean” process. Again Kininmonth acutely observes the comment in the SPM that, “There may also be a contribution from forcing inadequacies and, in some models, an overestimate of the response to increasing greenhouse gas and other anthropogenic forcing (dominated by the effects of aerosols).” [My emphasis]

    With the inability to explain with confidence the 15 year temperature pause this is rather damning. (Two potential explanations are given for the pause, one with low confidence and the other with only medium confidence – i.e., guesswork.) It is difficult for the acolytes to now shout us down with “The science is settled”!

    Economic projections are even more difficult because of lack of data, an inability to anticipate public feedback and political reaction, but primarily the impossibility of anticipating technology and innovation. That is the critical part of the list of events in the last 75 years that completely changed the direction of history. It guaranteed that any predictions or projections would be wrong – the IPCC projections will be wrong for the same reason, but with the added problem of bad science. They must know this, so it only underscores the political nature of their work.

    They’ve already shown that being wrong or being caught doesn’t matter because the objective of the scary headline is achieved by the complete disconnect between their Science Reports and the Summary for Policymakers. It is also no coincidence that the SPM is released before national politicians meet to set their budgets for climate change and the IPCC. As Saul Alinsky insisted in rules for radicals, the end justifies the means.


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