Thursday, 12 June 2008

How the IPCC Got Started

Ik stootte op dit bijzonder interessant artikel van Professor Michael Oppenheimer van het Department of Geosciences at Princeton University die in een tekst over het ontstaan van het Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) iets opmerkelijks en bijzonder verrassend weet te melden :
In October 1985, the UN sponsored an international meeting of scientists on climate change in Villach, Austria. Its conclusion: Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases could cause an historic rise in global temperature.

This was the first international scientific consensus on climate change and an important turning point, but the key question was, "Could this scientific concern be directed toward leveraging government action worldwide"?

Public concern in the US over climate change was rising at the time for many reasons, including the unusually hot summer in the US in 1988, a sustained drought in parts of the country, the Congressional testimony of NASA's James Hansen pointing to a human influence on climate, and a series of unrelated but salient environmental problems, including the ozone hole. Also, other groups besides ours, in the US and abroad, were pressing for action on the climate front.

Following on the Villach meeting, Dr. Moustafa Tolba, the head of UNEP, had written to then US Secretary of State George Schultz calling for international action to address climate change. This led to considerable discussion within the US government, WMO, and UNEP. The US government decided that, as a first step, it could support an intergovernmental scientific panel to assess climate change. Facilitated by US support, the IPCC was established at the end of 1988.

US support was probably critical to IPCC's establishment. And why did the US government support it? Assistant Undersecretary of State Bill Nitze wrote to me a few years later saying that our group's activities played a significant role. Among other motivations, the US government saw the creation of the IPCC as a way to prevent the activism stimulated by my colleagues and me from controlling the policy agenda.

I suspect that the Reagan Administration believed that, in contrast to our group, most scientists were not activists, and would take years to reach any conclusion on the magnitude of the threat. Even if they did, they probably would fail to express it in plain English. The US government must have been quite surprised when IPCC issued its first assessment at the end of 1990, stating clearly that human activity was likely to produce an unprecedented warming.

Andere bronnen bevestigen dat de oprichting van IPCC gesteund werd door de administratie van voormalig president Reagan. Bijvoorbeeld in dit artikel van de doorgaans bijzonder goed geïnformeerde Spencer Weart wordt het als volgt verwoordt :
The Reagan administration believed that any self-appointed group of scientists would issue alarmist, hyper-environmentalist statements. They forestalled that by promoting a complex international advisory structure, led by people appointed by governments rather than by the scientific community. To further impede any statements that might push toward government regulation, the advisory group’s conclusions would have to be consensual –the unanimous findings of representatives of all the world’s governments.

The result is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Surprisingly, the process produced useful advice.

Het lijkt erop dat de sceptici die over IPCC spreken in termen van een overheidscomplot gelijk krijgen.

Maar, in tegenstelling tot ze denken, dan wel vooral een complot om de wetenschap te smoren.

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