Recently, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued one of its working group reports contributing to the Sixth Assessment Report on the current state of the world’s climate. Or in keeping with the fashion for acronyms in global governance, the UN’s IPCC issued the AR6-WG1 of its AR6, but an SFP or Summary for Policy-Makers is also available.
Though full of scientific findings, these U.N. reports are a bastard child of science and politics rather than a strictly scientific document. The wording of almost every paragraph in them has to be approved by the 190 signatory governments. In the past governments have insisted on significant changes in the treaty so that it justified the climate change policies they had already adopted.
Such political pressures will be especially intense this year since in less than two months the U.K. and the city of Glasgow will be hosting the world’s governments for COP26 which stands for the 26th U.N. Conference of the Parties that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. (Or UNFCCC.) Governments need a report that makes a strong case for the admittedly extreme policies of Net-Zero they have already adopted.
Have they got it? That’s not quite clear.
The report itself is a hefty 4,000-page document, and even its SFP is heavy going at 41 pages, which means that the major news analyses that came out on publication day are a tribute to the intellectual powers and speed-reading of the world’s journalists. Or maybe not. As my colleague Tom Finnerty suggested when he listed the various attempts of blue-chip media to match the tabloids in generating fear and anxiety, they wrung more horror from its pages than was really there:
"The Latest IPCC Report Is a Catastrophe" says The Atlantic. "IPCC report’s verdict on climate crimes of humanity: guilty as hell" is The Guardian's headline. Here's USA Today: "Code red for humanity."
As is often the case, however, the tabloids were more accurate in conveying the report’s overall thrust. Writing in the New York Post, Bjorn Lomborg, the moderate Danish climate realist, pointed out that the report was more even-handed than in previous years. It leveled no charges of crimes against humanity, and it balanced the damages caused by climate change with its less-known advantages:
Since the heat dome in June, there has been a lot of writing about more heat deaths. And the IPCC confirms that climate change indeed has increased heatwaves. However, the report equally firmly, if virtually unacknowledged, tells us that global warming means “the frequency and intensity of cold extremes have decreased.”
This matters because globally, many more people die from cold than from heat. A new study in the highly respected journal Lancet shows that about half a million people die from heat per year, but 4.5 million people die from cold.
As temperatures have increased over the past two decades, that has caused an extra 116,000 heat deaths each year. This, of course, fits the narrative and is what we have heard over and over again. But it turns out that because global warming has also reduced cold waves, we now see 283,000 fewer cold deaths.
You don’t hear this, but so far climate change saves 166,000 lives each year.
That’s an important point with a wider application. We know from Lomborg’s own writings (among other sources) that the number of deaths and injuries from all extreme weather events, involving both heat and cold, have fallen dramatically over a long period even when the extreme weather events themselves have risen in number.
The reason is that people build defenses against such weather and adapt to the risk of it or their insurance companies charge higher premiums if they insist on ignoring the risk. If global warming is now helping to reduce deaths from cold—in effect it’s assisting people to adapt—then the cost-benefit analysis of policies to combat climate change becomes much more complicated.
Of course, the headline conclusion of the IPCC report that provides the governments at COP26 with justification for Net-Zero is that global temperatures are continuing to rise—indeed, rising even faster than we previously thought. But as the science editor of the Global Warming Policy Forum, Dr. David Whitehouse, points out, there seems to be a conflict between that conclusion and the U.K. Meteorological Office’s global temperature data base.
His review of the Met’s data for this century shows that global temperatures have barely changed since the last IPCC report in 2014. What we see instead in Dr. Whitehouse’s words is “a long hiatus (2002 – 2014) that was acknowledged by the IPCC (but later denied by some scientists), an intense multi-phased El Nino event and its aftermath (2015 -2020) and now a recent decline to levels where they were when the IPCC published its last report.”
That conflict shouldn’t happen since the actual data on global temperatures should be the bedrock of any theory of global warming. He concludes:
So when you read the new IPCC report and take in the alarmist headlines it will undoubtedly generate, bear in mind that since its previous report in 2014 global temperatures have barely changed, and have declined from their El Nino-inspired peak of a few years ago.
If global warming is not rising as much as the IPCC forecasts suggest, then its consequences, including costs, are presumably not rising as much either. More complexity there for any cost-benefit analysis to handle, and therefore more reason to look at the costs of combatting climate change. After all, if the costs of climate change and the costs of halting or reversing climate change are both high, we need to know how close they are to each other, since that knowledge is vital to choosing the right mix of policies.
What then are the costs of Net-Zero? They're high, we know, and they’re getting higher. Just how high we're about to find out.
Two days before the IPCC report was published, London’s official Information Tribunal instructed the parliamentary Committee on Climate Change to publish the calculations behind its advice to Parliament that the U.K. economy could be decarbonized at modest cost. That’s a big deal because it was the CCC’s advice that was the basis of the decision by MPs to adopt the U.K.’s Net-Zero target in 2019.
Two paragraphs from the Tribunal's report will establish the high importance of this decision:
- 247. We find that there is an extremely strong public interest in enabling scrutiny of the data, models and calculations which underpin the CCC’s conclusion that the a net-zero target could be met at an annual resource cost of up to 1-2 percent of GDP to 2050 (see p 12 of the NZR).
- 248. This is a very significant sum of public money. It has an impact on everyone in the country. Further the NZR recommendations led to almost immediate legislative change to enact the net zero target which will have significant impact on almost every area of the lives of everyone in the United Kingdom over the next 30 years.
The case to compel this disclosure, was brought by Andrew Montford, deputy director of the GWPF, which issued the following statement after the court’s decision:
The ruling, which dismisses almost all of the CCC’s arguments, comes after a two-year battle to obtain the cost calculations. Extraordinarily, the CCC’s case centred around a claim that it had erased and overwritten the relevant information by the time of the FOI request, just six weeks after the publication of the Net Zero report, and indeed changed and lost it further subsequent to the request.
If that is so, MPs acted on information that understated the costs of one of the most important policy decisions they will ever make. That said, it’s fair to add that no one really believed the Committee’s estimates. What might force a reconsideration of policy, however, is if the Committee’s underestimate of Net-Zero’s costs turns out to be outlandishly low.
The Information Tribunal has given the CCC thirty-five days to produce the calculations. The COP26 Glasgow conference takes place eighty-five days later on the November the 1st. Fasten your seat belt, Jimmy, it’s gonna to be a bumpy night.