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The Economist Disses Latest IPCC Report

The Economist has long been in favor of policies to address climate change, but even they realize the IPCC isn’t the holy-grail of unbiased objectivity:

THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a gathering of scientists who advise governments, describes itself as “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral”. Its latest report, the third in six months, ignores that fine distinction. Pressure from governments forced it to strip out of its deliberations a table showing the link between greenhouse gases and national income, presumably because this made clear that middle-income countries such as China are the biggest contributors to new emissions.

It also got rid of references to historical contributions, which show that rich countries bear a disproportionate responsibility. That seems more like policy-based evidence than evidence-based policy and bodes ill for talks on a new climate-change treaty, planned to take place in Paris next year.

The new report is intended to measure how far governments have met their promises, formalised in 2010, to keep the global rise in mean surface temperatures compared with pre-industrial times to less than 2°C. It says they are miles from achieving that goal and are falling further behind.

You often hear about governments having made a ‘promise’ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or keep net emissions below some amount. The problem with this is that governments can’t really make international promises to vastly change the cost of energy in their home country without the consent of the citizens of the country, despite what some appointed bureaucrat has told a bunch of other appointed bureaucrats at a global conference. Citizens of the United States have so far been skeptical of nationwide carbon taxes or cap-and-trade, though there have been state efforts.

Despite all this, The Economist was not impressed with the IPPC analysis of the cost of carbon free energy:

The IPCC still thinks it might be possible to hit the emissions target by tripling, to 80%, the share of low-carbon energy sources, such as solar, wind and nuclear power, used in electricity generation. It reckons this would require investment in such energy to go up by $147 billion a year until 2030 (and for investment in conventional carbon-producing power generation to be cut by $30 billion a year). In total, the panel says, the world could keep carbon concentrations to the requisite level by actions that would reduce annual economic growth by a mere 0.06 percentage points in 2100.

These numbers look preposterous. Germany and Spain have gone further than most in using public subsidies to boost the share of renewable energy (though to nothing like 80%) and their bills have been enormous: 0.6% of GDP a year in Germany and 0.8% in Spain. The costs of emission-reduction measures have routinely proved much higher than expected.

Moreover, the assumptions used to calculate long-term costs in the models are, as Robert Pindyck of the National Bureau of Economic Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, put it, “completely made up”. In such circumstances, estimates of the costs and benefits of climate change in 2100 are next to useless. Of the IPCC’s three recent reports, the first two (on the natural science and on adapting to global warming) were valuable. This one isn’t.

One of the few media outlets which didn’t repeat verbatim what the IPCC wanted the public to here, as The Guardian did: “IPCC climate change report: averting catastrophe is eminently affordable.”

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