Cancun

Cancun Climate Platitudes and Predictions

Second dispatch from the United Nations Climate Change conference in Cancun

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Cancun—United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon kicked off the high level segment of the U.N.'s climate change conference yesterday afternoon. Speaking at the plenary session of environment ministers and other high level officials from 194 countries, Ban offered ringing diplomatic niceties such as "a new future must take place here," and that "we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good," and he urged governments "to be flexible and to negotiate in a spirit of compromise and common sense for the good of all the peoples."

Of course, one must realize that as the head of the United Nations, Ban cannot publicly criticize any of its member states. This became painfully clear during a press conference after his speech in which a CBS reporter asked Ban to name the countries that were "stumbling blocks" to the negotiations here in Cancun. Ban smiled gently and basically repeated his earlier statement that he thought progress could be made in the area of protecting forests, climate adaptation, some elements of finance, mitigation transparency, and the Kyoto Protocol. The reporter persisted, asking again which countries were blocking the negotiations. Ban turned to Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, suggesting that maybe she could shed some light on the question.

Of course, Figueres is a U.N. bureaucrat who also knows better than to criticize member states by name. So instead of answering the question, she mildly observed that negotiators are not facing new challenges here at Cancun. Figueres, however, did say that she believed that progress was being made on long term goals as negotiators worked together on a shared vision. With just the slightest hint of tactful regret, Figueres noted that the details of the institutional arrangements for tech transfer and finance deals still needed to be worked out. And, of course, there is the thorny problem of figuring out how to make Copenhagen Accord emission reduction pledges legally binding under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). No country was outed for obstructionism. This is the sort of kabuki theatre that passes as a "news event" most of the time at a U.N. confab.

In contrast, India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh was quite refreshing. At his afternoon press conference Ramesh vigorously defended India's efforts to fight climate change. For example, Ramesh declared that his country is going to double renewable energy production from 4 to 8 percent and nuclear power from 3 to 6 percent by 2020. He pointed out that 70 percent of India's electricity is produced by burning coal. Ramesh then flatly asserted, "Coal will continue to be the mainstay of India's energy economy." He added, "It is the height of romance to think that wind and solar will meet our energy requirements." 

There has been a lot of talk recently about adding refrigerants called HFCs to the list of greenhouse gases to be eliminated under the UNFCCC. Ramesh pointed out that his country had just phased them in after banning their ozone damaging and globe-warming predecessor chemicals—at considerable cost. Ramesh told reporters that India is "not going to accept including HFCs in the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol under any circumstances." By the way, this is the same Ramesh who not-so-refreshingly groused to the Guardian that rich countries hadn't handed over billions in climate change aid to poor countries as they'd promised. But as an advocate, Ramesh can bluntly say what he thinks is in the best interests of his country.

While the diplomats temporized, a series for lectures about the science of climate change provided some interesting fodder. The release of a new United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report [PDF] on the global state of mountain glaciers was particularly interesting. This issue has a history of controversy; the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change undermined its credibility when it published in its Fourth Assessment Report the assertion that Himalayan mountain glaciers could all disappear by 2035. The source of that claim turned out to be a speculative quote from a popular science magazine in 1999.

Given that background, the UNEP report is a bit more circumspect. The report notes that glaciers around the world have been melting since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1850. Recent research suggests that the rate of melting for the majority of glaciers has sped up since 1980. The increase in melting is most likely due to warmer average global temperatures. In some areas of high precipitation, such as Norway, the South Island of New Zealand, and the Karakoram Mountains along the borders of Pakistan, India, and China, glaciers are growing. Nevertheless, the overall trend is melting.

With regard to Himalayan glaciers, Madhav Karki, deputy general director of the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, told reporters that they will be "with us for a long time to come." Melting glaciers do pose problems requiring adaptation like floods and in some areas reduced flows in the rivers they feed. The report suggests that as glaciers disappear, countries will want to figure out how to store water for later release. The basic thrust of the new report is a plea for more money for research.

Another science lecture of note was a presentation from the Hadley Centre, Britain's premier climate research group. At the Bali climate change conference in 2007, I was impressed when Vicky Pope, a climate modeler who is one of the founders of the Hadley Centre, made some risky predictions based on the Centre's updated climate computer model. Three years ago, Pope said, "We are now using the system to predict changes out to 2014. By the end of this period, the global average temperature is expected to have risen by around 0.3 degrees Celsius compared to 2004, and half of the years after 2009 are predicted to be hotter than the current record hot year, 1998." That 0.3 degrees Celsius temperature increase prediction was pretty ballsy considering that the rate of increase had been about 0.2 degrees per decade. In addition, Pope was predicting in 2007 that three of the next six years would exceed 1998's highest ever recorded average global average temperature. The Hadley Centre model foresaw global warming accelerating in the near term.

So during the question and answer period, I quoted her prediction back to Pope and asked if the Hadley Centre still stood behind it. Pope didn't remember the specific 0.3 degree increase prediction, but did say that the Centre was still predicting that half of the 10 next years would be warmer than 1998. Although 2010 is a relatively warm year, it most likely will not exceed the 1998 record. For the original Hadley Centre prediction to come true, three out of the next four years will have to be warmer than 1998. In a private chat after the talk, Pope said that she didn't know what the Centre thought about the 0.3 degrees prediction now. She also said that as far as she knew, her colleagues at the Centre have not gone back to check how well the prediction about number of years exceeding the 1998 average is faring.

Pope did not make any predictions in Cancun. Instead she talked about the puzzling fact that "the rate of warming globally has decreased." Since the late 1970s, the rate of warming as recorded in the Met-CRU [Met Office Hadley Centre-Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia] record has been about 0.16 degrees Celsius per decade. (I note parenthetically that this is down from the 0.2 degrees Celsius rate). Pope noted that, depending on which temperature data set you pick, theirs, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies' set, or NOAA's National Climatic Data Center's set, the rate of warming has dropped to as low as 0.05 degrees per decade or 0.13 degree per decade over the past 10 years. Pope notes that runs of some climate computer models finds that such pauses in projected warming occur at a rate of about one decade in every eight. Thus she concludes that the recent decrease could simply be caused by natural variability and warming will soon resume.

On the other hand, Pope notes that the decline in Arctic sea ice cover was the lowest ever recorded in 2007. Since the satellite record began in the late 1970s, the rate of decline in summer sea ice has been about 0.8 million square kilometers per decade. Pope did hasten to say that the recent large increases might well be the result of natural variations, specifically mentioning that the large 2007 decline seems to have been the result of a specific weather phenomenon. The summer Arctic sea ice may well recover. She also dismisses some of the more alarmist claims that Arctic summer sea ice could disappear by 2030. However, if average temperatures continue to rise as the Hadley Centre computer models suggest, the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summers by 2070. This is 10 years earlier than Hadley projected at the Bali conference.

Pope also mentioned that the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report projected that sea levels might rise by between 21 and 59 centimeters by 2100. Newer evidence suggests that a sea-level rise of 2 meters cannot be ruled out, but an increase of more than 1 meter is currently viewed as unlikely.

Monkton and Frostpaw

One further observation: There has been a lot less climate apocalypse theater at the Cancun conference than at previous ones. However, Frostpaw, the spokes-Polar Bear for the Center for Biological Diversity, did make an appearance at the Cancun Messe convention center. Frostpaw was hunted down by self-described climate realist Lord Monckton. Monckton asserted that polar bears are not endangered by global warming, claiming that their populations have increased from 5,000 in the 1970s to around 25,000 today. Given the remoteness of their habitat it is hard to accurately count polar bears. I will note that in 1971, The New York Times reported that the total population had dwindled to just 10,000 bears and that Alaskan hunters were killing 1,500 annually. More recently, the Polar Bear Specialist Group tried to estimate the world's polar bears population. Looking at data for populations in 15 out of 19 regions, the group estimated that there are around 18,000 polar bears in those areas.

Tomorrow, I will try to figure out a bit more about how the negotiations are going and may drop by the Climate Change Village to assess how glum or gleeful activists at the conference are.

Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey will be filing daily dispatches from the Cancun climate change conference for the rest of this week.

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54 responses to “Cancun Climate Platitudes and Predictions

  1. For example, Ramesh declared that his country is going to double renewable energy production from 4 to 8 percent and nuclear power from 3 to 6 percent by 2020.

    They will do this by slapping together a bunch of nuclear power plants using the same contractors as built the facilities for the Commonwealth Games. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. You don’t understand, not only the plants will reduce emissions by producing, but It will produce has a by product a reduction of population and thus emissions … Who said that radioactive poisoning isn’t useful

      1. Especially if you pro-rate (kind of twisted version of revenue projections in 10-K) all the dead Pakistanis when they get lit up by nukes made with all the bomb-tonium coming out of those unsafeguarded reactors.

  2. Since the satellite record began in the late 1970s, the rate of decline in summer sea ice has been about 0.8 square kilometers per decade.

    This is pretty much nothing. Are you sure you have the number right?

    1. I was just about to say that. Does the Artic sea ice only have about 100ish square kilometers? Because that seem to be what it would take for it to possibly run out by 2070. Or maybe I’m missing something.

      1. Bailey was talking about the rate of decline not the yearly total decline.

        So loss of xxkm2/year in 1970. XX – 0.8km2/year in 1980, xx – 1.6km2/year in 1990 etc…

        I have no idea what xx is but it is apparently melting less each year by a very small amount.

        If this pattern continues, my expert back of the napkin models suggest that in 10 Million years I may have to buy a sweater.

      2. I just saw that Arctic ice alone was something like 10 million square kilometers in November, so I’m thinking it’s maybe .8 million per decade.

        1. Wow, quick fix by Ron. I should refresh before posting something next time. 🙂

          1. Yes, me too. lol.

            So apparently I will need a sweater sooner than I thought.

    2. Sea Ice Extent

      Notice that:
      1. Arctic sea ice disparity is significantly higher in summer than winter.
      2. Antarctic sea ice is running above the 79-2000 average
      3. The trend seems to be moving back towards the average.

      1. The NSIDC says the Arctic continues to decline.
        http://nsidc.org/news/press/20…..mumpr.html

  3. stuartl: Typo fixed. Thanks very much.

  4. ‘Ban offered ringing diplomatic niceties such as “a new future must take place here,” and that “we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good,”‘

    Anything and everything will be justified and rationalized. This is truly a meeting of superior beings, possibly of extra-terrestrial origins. I’m waiting for Commander Obama to give the final speech.

    1. I’m sure it will be something about how we drove the climate into a ditch, and that he won’t allow polar bears to be held hostage because only widows and orphans are carbon neutral but eventually everybody will be, with a few “Let me be clears” sprinkled in for good effect.

    2. I AM NOT OBAMA.

      I REPEAT, I AM NOT OBAMA.

      END TRANSMISSION…

  5. In contrast, India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh was quite refreshing. At his afternoon press conference Ramesh vigorously defended India’s efforts to fight climate change.

    There’s always something refreshing about a chauvinistic bureaucrat defending HIS country’s efforts to do . . . whatever.

    How refreshing.

  6. Monckton asserted that polar bears are not endangered by global warming, claiming that their populations have increased from 5,000 in the 1970s to around 25,000 today. Given the remoteness of their habitat it is hard to accurately count polar bears.

    Wait . . . what? So if Monckton could be wrong because of this fact, wouldn’t the AGW worshippers also be wrong when saying their number is dwindling? Who can say one is wrong and the other is right if the fact is counting bears is difficult????

    I will note that in 1971, The New York Times reported that the total population had dwindled to just 10,000 bears and that Alaskan hunters were killing 1,500 annually.

    Because at that time, the worst threat to humanity and the Earth were Inuit hunters… And maybe bear counting methods were better back then.

    More recently, the Polar Bear Specialist Group tried to estimate the world’s polar bears population. Looking at data for populations in 15 out of 19 regions, the group estimated that there are around 18,000 polar bears in those areas.

    Which is almost double the 1971 number. Yet a) bears are difficult to count and b) global warming is killing them… or something.

    I mean, doesn’t all the bullshit just jump right at your face???

    1. Old Mexican nails it every time.

  7. [Vicky] Pope did not make any predictions in Cancun. Instead she talked about the puzzling fact that “the rate of warming globally has decreased.” […] Pope notes that runs of some climate computer models finds [sic] that such pauses in projected warming occur at a rate of about one decade in every eight. Thus she concludes that the recent decrease could simply be caused by natural variability and warming will soon resume.

    There’s no such thing as natural variability, Vicky, otherwise the “A” in the AGW theory would be nonsense, the theory basically poo-pooing ANY OTHER CONTRIBUTING FACTOR TO WARMING other than humans daring to be alive.

    1. Which is presumably why the decline in the rate of global warming is a “puzzling fact.” A fact is only puzzling if you have a theory/explanation that you don’t want to change/modify. Otherwise, it’s just a fact without the adjective.

      1. The decline in the rate of warming is only puzzling if you don’t consider the possibility that the mean global temperature is simply approaching a new equilibrium value.

        1. The slowing of warming is puzzling because direct observations show the Earth is radiatively imbalanced. We can see that less infrared energy is leaving the planet than is being absorbed, which, when coupled with the slower rate of warming means the excess energy is being stored somewhere, most likely in the deep oceans.

          Remember the Climategate email in which Dr. Trenberth states “. . . it’s a travesty we can’t account form the lack of warming”. He was saying that we don’t currently have the capabilites to track heat flows in the deep oceans.

          1. Wait. This “less is being emitted than absorbed” is based on atmospheric models, right? IIRC, The Greenhouse Effect is that higher frequency photons are absorbed by molecules which re-emit in the IR spectrum. We aren’t measuring that process. Total IR intensity at different altitudes maybe, but re-emitted? No way. I guess my point is — do we really know what that intensity should look like (deflection + reflection + absorption + emission = total from sun — but that’s over all wavelengths. Who is doing the high to low energy balances?) or did we suppose a zero-point? We have a very good idea of the total inbound solar radiation, but I thought recent studies found a lot more IR emission in the upper atmosphere than modelled.

            1. My explanation probably wasn’t as clear as it could be.

              When greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane absorb a photon they re-emit it in a random direction. Some go up, some go down, some get re-absorbed by another greenhouse gas molecule. The end results is that as GHG concentrations in the atmosphere increase, more of this energy gets stuck bouncing around rather than sent directly back out into space. What the satellites find is less of this radiation is leaving the planet, while more is being bounced back down toward the surface.

              We can tie this radiation to specific GHG’s because they only absorb radiation at specific wavelengths (methane and CO2 absorb at very different portions of the spectrum, for example). If you want specific figures and methodology, Skeptical Science has a good roundup of various papers here:
              http://www.skepticalscience.co…..rming.html

              1. Well, I am certainly not going to argue science with you since you know it and I don’t (although what you write certainly makes logical sense to this non-scientist). My comment was more along the lines that Ms. Pope seemed concerned that the fact was “puzzling” b/c it didn’t fit the AGW models but that rather than question the models, this fact had to be explained. However, that is probably reading too much into a single comment.

                Appreciate you taking the time to provide the explanation.

                1. Above comment directed to BW, sorry.

                  1. Well, you’re correct, at least partially. The accuracy of the models is judged by “hind casting”, which means entering data into the models and see how well they reproduce past climate changes. overall they’ve done pretty well, but as you noted there has been some divergence in the last decade between what the models say should be happening and what we’re actually seeing.

                    That’s what is so puzzling. Given what we are observing, why are the models not fully explaining what’s happening with temperatures? The two possible explanations for this are: the heat is going somewhere we can’t track it, or there is some other factor in the climate system of which we are completely ignorant. Of the two, not being able to track the heat properly is the most likely explanation.

          2. “Remember the Climategate email in which Dr. Trenberth states “. . . it’s a travesty we can’t account form the lack of warming”. He was saying that we don’t currently have the capabilites to track heat flows in the deep oceans.”
            OK, this says the current models lack that ability to track what seems to be a major player in the predictions. And yet the predictions are still valid?

          3. That was unnecessarily argumentative.
            Try again: “The two possible explanations for this are: the heat is going somewhere we can’t track it, or there is some other factor in the climate system of which we are completely ignorant. Of the two, not being able to track the heat properly is the most likely explanation.”
            Either way, there seems to be a wrench in the works. And that wrench has caused a decade-long “oops” in the predictions. Doesn’t that argue for a bit of humility regarding the predictions in general? Shouldn’t that humility be explained to the government poobahs attempting to rearrange the world’s economies?

            1. I don’t think you’re wrong, and I expect the most you’d get any climatologist to say is that we understand the earth’s climate system “reasonably” well. Some things like the sun are pretty well nailed down, while others such as heat flows in the oceans are less well understood.

              The ultimate point of the science is to asses the risk. The general consensus (among the scientists) is that both the best case and worst case scenarios are unlikely, though the latter slowly grows in probability if no action is taken to reduce CO2. In a sense it’s akin to insurance. If you’re told your house has a 10% chance to burn down, you’d likely take out an insurance policy.

              We have to decide at what point the risks associated with serious warming necessitate steps to reduce the risk. I understand the libertarian aversion in that regard, because government and business (any concentration of power really) are easily corrupted by those with a mind to do it.

              1. “Asses” should read “assess”. I wouldn’t have these typos if I weren’t too lazy to put down the iPad and walk ten feet to the desktop.

                1. “In a sense it’s akin to insurance. If you’re told your house has a 10% chance to burn down, you’d likely take out an insurance policy.”
                  Regardless of any libertarian principles, we as a society would want to see honest cost/benefit analysis, and the catastrophists seem unwilling to provide the benefit side of that equation.
                  I presume you’re familiar with Hansen’s 1988 predictions for NYC; how, as a scientist, do you separate that sort of BS from what is now claimed?

                  1. Anyone who frames things as a certainty is not speaking as a rigorous scientist. A good scientist speaks in terms of probabilities, which he didn’t appear to be doing in the instance you’re referencing. Maybe it was just an off-the-cuff remark, maybe he was joking or maybe he was engaging in advocacy. I don’t know, and the author of the book doesn’t give us much context

                    My first reaction is to give Hansen the benefit of the doubt, but if he was attempting to make an actual “prediction” then I would consider it unacceptable.

                  2. If you want to look at the current cost-benefit literature, you could try the Stern Review here:
                    http://webarchive.nationalarch….._index.htm

                    Wikipedia has a decent summary of the economics and various sources here:
                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E…..al_warming

  8. You’ve had your daily ration of quintanarooian pulque today!

    1. I only drink tequila Cuervo gold.

  9. An acquaintance went on the National G. ‘polar bear tour’ what, two years ago?
    On return, she mentioned the ice breaking up, the small floes, and the claim that polar bear populations were declining.
    For someone trained in science, I was amazed at the answer to my simple question: “What baseline data do we have for any polar bear populations”?
    She’d have to check; later it turns out there are none.
    So *any* claim of bear populations either rising or falling are simply pulled out of someone’s butt.
    Some “science”.

    1. Now now. Some butts are nicer and better than others. And that’s a fact.

  10. Who can say one is wrong and the other is right if the fact is counting bears is difficult????

    It could be that the difficulty is not so great that you can’t track an increase of 500%, but great enough that you can’t track relatively small fluctuations.

  11. “Gore effect” strikes Cancun Climate Conference 3 days in a row.

    From the “weather is not climate department” ? New record low temperatures set in Cancun for three straight days, and more new low temperature records are possible this week.

    Dr. Roy Spencer, who is in Cancun representing climate skepticism on behalf of CFACT writes on his blog:

    Today’s my first full day in Cancun at COP-16, and as I emerged from my hotel room I was greeted by a brisk, dry, cool Canadian breeze.

    It was 54 deg. F in Cancun this morning ? a record low for the date. (BTW, Cancun is nowhere near Canada).

    Al Gore is not supposed to be here?but it could be that the Gore Effect has announced his secret arrival. We will check into this.

    1. If Gore were there, the air would be sufficiently heated.

  12. Quick question…in the nerdery of jobs past one of the tasks was measuring semiconductor temperatures at a given clock speed. We had precision Fluke resistance-type thermometer. We also had to take into account a specific amount of “slop” in the accuracy of the instrument, which was ~+/- 2C. This was in very controlled lab environment measuring very well understood heating insulator-of a microchip.

    What’s the slop on the instrumentation used for say, a satellite thermometer? I am guessing they are measuring temps indirectly (through infrared-camera for instance). But there will be “slop” there as on any instrument. What’s the process for filtering the slop-noise from the measurement?

    I’m not asking this as some line-in to Dark Conspiracies of Global Warming Inc. either. I’m genuinely curious in a technical problem that must be very bedeviling to deal with given the scope of what they’re trying to measure and the very fine precision (+/- tenths of a degree Celsius) of the data. There is an assumption of accuracy – in the measuring instruments – that I don’t necessarily doubt, but am curious as to how it was arrived at.

    1. The satellites measure temperatures via microwave emissions from molecular oxygen. Infrared is to susceptible to atmospheric interference. Roy Spencer has a post discussing the more technical details here:
      http://www.drroyspencer.com/20…..-produced/

  13. Thanks…just the kind of info I was hoping to get. From a HnR thread on Reason no less…a first!

    1. what’s the process for filtering the “slop-noise” from Cancun?

      1. Earplugs.

  14. What global warming?! I’m freezing my ass off here at home!

  15. Enough bullshit, just tell us we don’t have to sacrifice a single cent in profits. That’s all that matters.

  16. Oil companies|12.8.10 @ 3:56PM|#
    “Enough bullshit, just tell us we don’t have to sacrifice a single cent in profits. That’s all that matters.”
    Strawmen should only be handled by brain-deads under adult supervision; they’re highly flammable.

  17. How about mbt kisumu sandals this one: there are X driving deaths a year- what % of driving deaths (or serious injuries) involve alcohol, or other intoxicating substances? kisumu 2 People are pretty darn good drivers when they are not impaired.

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