This is the English version of « COP24: Le G20 croit-il vraiment aux prévision du GIEC? » that was published on this blog on December 3. It is thus written from a French / European standpoint, with references from both French and English-speaking sources.
To understand the coming fiasco of the COP24, which will follow the fiascos of the COP22 and 23, it may be interesting to answer a question asked last Sunday by the French magazine L’Obs: « But why does nobody seem to care? (1). For Cécile Duflot, former french Greens leader and currently director of Oxfam France: « The NGOs do not want to participate in a thing of doubtful utlity. If the point of a COP is to have us jumping around with joy just because we signed something, no…. We would like to say: People do things at home first. »
By « people » she means political leaders of the world, especially those for the G20 countries which account for 85% of greenhouse gases (GHG). Since the Paris accord signed with champagne in the salons and tonfas in the streets, nothing has changed (2). No EU country has reached its objectives (2b). The USA have left, Brasil will follow. The COP24 has as motto: « For a fair transition », but there would have to be a transition in the first place. And the way things are (not) going this is not going to happen anytime soon, especially if people such as french president Macron try to increase an already heavy tax burden under cover of ecologism (3).
Does all this reveal a form of mass fatalism, populations around the world accepting the fate of an uncertain future in the coming decades rather than a fundamental rethink of their current way of life? One may think so. Sticking to the IPCC scenario and looking at current and pledged efforts for GHG reductions, the 2°C target for 2050 is already well overcooked and we’ll be lucky if we stay below 5°C by 2100.
In other words even a radical transition today would not prevent overshooting the 2°C target, even though it would limit the warming effects in the longer run. Adding to that the fact that by 2100 most of us alive today will be long dead, it is not surprising that nobody seems to care.
Given this, one can either organise COPs for fun, or try to anticipate and act upon the inevitable effects of global warming. But it is perhaps an opportunity to rethink come postulates because it is quite possible that the – real – reason why most G20 countries do not act strongly to curb GHG emissions, is simply that their leaders do not believe the IPCC predictions. They may well not believe the IPCC scenarios, they may not believe that man-made GHG, or anthropic warming, is the root cause of global warming. They may well think that this is just part of political theatre, something you do to look good but don’t really care about.
Are the majority of G20 leaders really as skeptical of anthropic climate-change as Trump or Bolsonaro, but they stick to its claims because they see the ecological transition as a social control tool, an opportunity to impose green-washed authoritarian policies? Do these leaders really believe the IPCC? The theory of man-made climate change is the root foundation of the IPCC, a political institution dedicated to its promotion (4). Having become both party and judge in this matter, as there reasons not to believe the IPCC?
This blog addresses IPCC criticism here (5) and there (6) for example, but beyond this are there fundamental reasons justifying such criticism? Probably, the fundamental flaw in IPCC models being that they cannot account for observed temperature variations in the past. Hence the idea, proposed by others, to devise a model that would start by correctly predicting past warming and cooling before pretending to predict future warming.
The topic is difficult as it is not limited to the CO2 – temperature relationship, it must take account of the complexity of climate physics including cyclic effects, sun, clouds and so on. It must take into account the reliability of data sources (what is the reliability of satellite measures of a few mm of water, the reliability of tide gauges in places where the ground itself may be rising of sinking, etc…), and from all of this produce a model where one inputs a CO2 level on one end and gets a temperature reading on the other – one that matches the observed measurements that have been carried out by scientists since the 18th century, and that we can collect from nature’s own archives in the form of tree rings, fossilized spores, ice cores and the like.
There exists in France a group self-labelled « climate realists » (7) which promotes opinions outside of the IPCC sphere, and includes locally knows « climate skeptics » such as Beniôt Rittaud and Vincent Courtillot. This group supported TV weather forecaster Philippe Verdier when he got fired from France Television upon the publication of his book « Climate Investigation » (8).
Another particular group is working on such an alternative approach since 2012, a US group called The Right Climate Stuff (9). Is it particular in the sense that it is not made up of climate scientists but of retired NASA scientists and engineers, experts in critical problem resolution (one member, Dr Harold H. Doirn, being known for solving combustion instability in rocket engines). This group decided to look again at IPCC models because they felt the IPCC science was flawed. But this group also has dubious political credentials as is also part of the Heartland Institute (10), an ultra-right think tank promoting tobacco poisoning, guns and, of course, long-running critics of man-made climate change.
If we stick to the science aspects, this group offers a CO2 forcing model which appears to match past observations and which predicts a global warming, for current GHG emissions, of 1.8°C by 2100. It does not refute that part of this warming is man-made, but says most of it falls within natural climate variations, and that the combined effect is far less dangerous than IPCC predicts.
The following diagram is at the heart of the argument of the TRCS group as it shows the difference between past observed temperatures (blue circles and green squares), the thick red line being the mean temperature given by IPCC models.
A key concept of climate analysis is climate sensitivity, defined by the IPCC as the temperature rise associated with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere, and estimated by the IPCC as between 2°C and 4.5°C, most likely around 3°C and in any case above the 2°C limit beyond which, according to the IPCC, the climate will enter an uncontrollable phase.
TRCS, referring to a number of non-IPCC studies, estimate that real climate sensitivity to CO2 is around 1.5°C, or 1.8°C taking into account all GHG. They say that if these emissions continue to increase as they do now, in correlation with global growth, we will meet this 1.8°C level by 2050, or by 2080 if emissions stick to their current levels.
This point of view, a climate sensitivity that is lower than IPCC estimates, is shared by others like french Pr François Gervais, an IPCC reviewer, who said so in a 2015 conference for the Schiller institute (11).
There exists therefore real alternative views to the IPCC scenarii which do not always reject man-made climate warming through GHG emissions, but argue for a lower climate sensitivity and a mostly natural climate variation which will happen regardless of whether we strongly reduce GHG emissions or not. And these are not likely to be reduced anytime soon, as there is up to now a strong correlation between GHG emissions and world population growth (12).
Even France, despite its favourable energy mix (only 10% of its base power comes from fossil fuels, against 65% for the world has a whole, thanks to the very large French nuclear base) (13), is unable to meet its emission objectives. It must address the issues of transportation and building insulation to move forward, but most G20 countries are in a worse situation than France and even if they invest massively in renewable energy, current political arrows everywhere form the USA to China to Europe, Russia, Africa and Latin America point to carbon-intensive economic growth, with no real chance of meeting the IPCC-required GHG reductions.
It is thus time to stop lamenting and to take a lucid look at the situation. Who, within the G20, really believes IPCC predictions? We need to demand an open scientific confrontation between IPCC and other points of view, even those associated with unlikable political forces as long as they are scientifically credible. Because it must be one of two things: either the IPCC is correct and we simply cannot tolerate political leaders driving us into climate disaster any more, we have to accept the need of a strong and immediate economic slowdown and change our way of life in order to survive at all. Or, the IPCC is wrong and the climate is less sensitive to CO2 that it says, but warming will happen whatever we do and so there is no point is making drastic reductions in GHG emissions now, we must prepare to accommodate the coming climate change rather than fight it.
Right now we have the worst of both worlds: on the one hand strongly promoted climate catastrophism and on the other, a greatly inadequate response. This is a schizophrenic state which we urgently need to get out of.