National Geographic Daily News
A photo of the Shentou Number 2 Power Plant near Shouzhou, China.

This large, coal-fired power plant near Suzhou, China, feeds electricity to Beijing. A chart removed from the IPCC summary but published in Science shows that much of the growth in recent greenhouse gas emissions comes from Asia.

Photograph by Robb Kendrick, National Geographic Creative

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published July 3, 2014

When the United Nations' last major climate change report was released in April, it omitted some country-specific emissions data for political reasons, a trio of new papers argue, sounding a warning bell about the global politicization of climate science.

Written by thousands of science, policy, and economics experts from around the world, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports represent a synthesis of existing climate research knowledge, focusing on the evidence of a warming climate ("virtually certain"), the global impacts, and the ways we might avert its most catastrophic effects. The Summary for Policy-makers draws on the detailed technical report and offers recommendations on cutting carbon emissions and preparing for climate change.

Although the underlying technical material in the IPCC's fifth major report was widely agreed upon and published intact, "heated negotiations among scientific authors and diplomats led to substantial deletion of figures and text from the influential 'Summary for Policy-makers,'" writes Brad Wible, an editor at the journal Science, in the introduction to three papers published Thursday. (See "Battle Plan for Climate Change: How to Cut Greenhouse Gases.")

Wible notes there is "some fear that this redaction of content marks an overstepping of political interests, raising questions about division of labor between scientists and policy-makers and the need for new strategies in assessing complex science."

On the other hand, some observers have suggested that the policy summaries be even more explicitly co-produced with national governments, says Wible.

This discussion was sparked just days after the publication of the IPCC report in April, when report co-author and Harvard environmental economics professor Robert Stavins released a controversial open letter to the IPCC leadership. Stavins criticized the last-minute intervention by several governments in the approval process of the IPCC report in Berlin and called the resulting policy summary document "a summary by policy-makers, not a summary for them."

"Over the course of the two hours of the contact group deliberations, it became clear that the only way the assembled government representatives would approve text for SPM.5.2 [the Summary for Policy-makers] was essentially to remove all 'controversial' text (that is, text that was uncomfortable for any one individual government), which meant deleting almost 75 percent of the text," Stavins wrote on his blog on April 25.

Scientists vs. Diplomats

Wible points out that the stated intention of the IPCC since it was founded in 1988 has always been to "balance governmental and scientific input."

That mandate is unlikely to change, says David Victor, one of the lead authors of the policy discussion in the April IPCC report and the head writer of one of the papers published Thursday in Science, called "Getting Serious About Categorizing Countries."

"I think in an ideal world there would be a firmer separation between the diplomats and the scientists" when it comes to the IPCC process, says Victor, who is a professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego.

However, Victor adds that he "can't imagine" the national governments from around the world that participate in the IPCC process agreeing to any substantial reforms in that area.

The best that can be hoped for are small changes that streamline the report process, says Victor. "Intergovernmental bodies that require consensus are very bad at handling politically difficult topics," he says. "I don't see a way to fix that problem."

Instead, the public should look more to individual governments and organizations and national climate assessments (such as the one released by the Obama administration May 6) for more concrete action on controversial topics like emissions caps and geoengineering. (See "Climate Report Provides Opportunity for Bridging Political Divide.")

But the second paper in the Science series, "Political Implications of Data Presentation," disagrees. Written by other authors of the last IPCC report, led by Navroz Dubash of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi, the paper suggests that what is needed are more and earlier discussions between scientists and policymakers in development of future reports.

"Claiming government overreach and calling for greater insulation of the process come from a misleadingly simple interpretation" that would hinder the effectiveness of IPCC reports in actually influencing policy, Dubash and co-authors write. The fact that governments must approve the policy summary gives it more weight than other technical reports, which is a "process worth preserving."

Victor calls that argument "overly optimistic" and says he doubts earlier conversations between scientists and diplomats would have made a difference. In the 38,000 comments received and evaluated over the IPCC report's development, almost none hinted at the battle over individual country data that erupted in Berlin just days before the document was released, he says.

When governments hold the power to approve the policy document, "they are going to use that power to avoid having anything in the summaries that is politically inconvenient," says Victor.

IPCC co-author Charles Kolstad, a Stanford economist who was not involved with any of the papers released in Science, tells National Geographic that there is a "perception that the main product was the summary for policymakers and that it appeared to be a censored version of what we wrote." Kolstad says it would be better if the public had a clearer distinction of the two sides of the report and says "it would be a mistake to move the policymakers away from the process."

Kolstad adds that it was gratifying "how much the diplomats seemed to care about what was in the IPCC product" and says "remaining relevant is of paramount importance."

Value of Individual Country Data

When the IPCC met in Berlin in April to approve the latest report, representatives from several countries objected to a section in the summary that listed emissions by nation and classified countries according to their economies, says Victor. Those objecting countries included Brazil, China, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia, he says.

Victor and colleagues wrote in Science that growth in a country's income was the strongest correlating factor with emissions. Developed countries continue to produce the highest emissions on a per capita basis, but most of the growth in global emissions over the past few decades has occurred in developing countries.

A chart removed from the IPCC summary but published in Science shows that much of the growth in recent greenhouse gas emissions comes from Asia, with smaller contributions from the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America. Emissions in developed countries have continued to rise, but at a much slower rate.

To Victor, the logical conclusion of this trend is that "developed countries should be doing more to address climate change, but it is also the case that it is not mathematically possible to stabilize the world's climate unless developing countries are involved."

If the IPCC were to classify countries by their economies, it would "set the stage for political discussions" about what each country's responsibility might be, he says.

However, some governments worried that classification "could be disadvantageous in upcoming negotiations for a new international climate regime," IPCC authors Ottmar Edenhofer and Jan Minx write in the third policy paper in Science, called "Mapmakers and Navigators, Facts and Values."

Still, when all country data was stripped out of the policy summary, other useful information was lost, Victor and colleagues argue. For example, without that data it is harder to understand the impact of trade on emissions.

Reaching Consensus?

Although Dubash and colleagues suggest that the IPCC process can be improved with more collaboration between scientists and policymakers, Victor argues that the fundamental international nature of the group makes it unlikely to be able to reach consensus on controversial topics. "The IPCC is an inherently conservative body," says Victor.

Edenhofer and Minx write that "the real challenge is how the IPCC conducts assessments and deals with entanglement of facts and values at the science-policy interface." They suggest that future reports attempt to allow for different perspectives on policy questions and introduce analysis of how past climate policies have worked.

The IPCC has a choice, say Edenhofer and Minx. It can produce more sanitized reports that are even less relevant to policy or attempt to take on policy questions more directly, with a rational approach that acknowledges different viewpoints.

Stanford's Kolstad says he prefers the latter, although he acknowledges that it can be challenging because "any diplomat can veto any sentence." He adds that colleagues at Stanford and Harvard and their European counterparts are planning a workshop in February on how the IPCC might work better, in preparation for the next round of work.

Despite the most recent report's shortcomings, "when the IPCC says something declarative, such as that humans are responsible for most of the changes to the climate we are seeing, that means there is tremendous consensus around that," says Victor.

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

30 comments
Delmer Kingston
Delmer Kingston

PEOPLE DO NOT CARE UNTIL THE THE DISASTERS HAPPENS  THEN IT IS TO LATE ,THE POLICY-MAKERS  ARE RUN BY GREED AND THE NEED TO DO THE RIGHT THING CAN NOT BE FOUND IN GREED

George Muellerleili
George Muellerleili

"heated negotiations among scientific authors and diplomats led to substantial deletion of figures and text from the influential 'Summary for Policy-makers,'"

"Wible notes there is "some fear that this redaction of content marks an overstepping of political interests....

Goodness gracious! dipolomats might be involved in Politics!

Of course the IPCC report has been tainted by politics.  Every %^%$# one of the reports was tainted beyond belief.  Didn't anyone read the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change(UNFCCC) and its appointment of the IntergovernmentalPanel on Climate Change?  The whole pupose of both organizations was to establish pausibly how climate change is caused by human activties, not whether there is human-caused global warming and climate change.  That has been assumed as proven from the beginning.


The whole program has been a political farce from the beginning with the goal of placing more political and economic power in the hands of the United Nations.  That is the sole and only basic goal of the process.

A S.
A S.

Can any of you scientists out there answer these questions?:

What is the world climate supposed to be like? What is normal? Is it constant?

What was the trigger that started the decline of the last Ice Age.

What caused Snowball Earth to start?

What will the median temperature be in Boise, ID, in 5 1/2 years?

Exactly how much will the ocean rise in 12 years?

Has EVERY UNKNOWN influence on the climate been accounted for? (rhetorical question)

Explain to me the exact causes for the last drought in California prior to this one?

Why does El Nino(a) start?


There are SO MANY climate related questions we don't know the answers to. Yet climate change is just that. Change. 


How come you're so right about man-made climate change? Why are there tens of thousands of scientists who don't believe we are causing man-made climate change?

Why have you let politics push the agenda?


You don't have all the answers, yet you want us to believe climate models that only work on numbers collected by fallible humans and entered by them too.  


Obama's 30% reduction in CO2 output won't stop it.  Closing every US coal plant and scrapping every US car won't.


What do you want us to do? Live in the dark ages?



Paul Scutts
Paul Scutts

Just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic (all BS and Spin).

Carvel Bass
Carvel Bass

It's ironic that this article will be used to justify more science-hate and confusion. All institutions failed on climate crisis except Science:  Capitalism keeps pumping it, Government panders and dithers, and Journalism writes garbage like this. Might as well save the "ink" fella, no one cares because no one understands the science.  This article just made it worse.


Summer is coming.

Michael Fjetland
Michael Fjetland

In other words, it's WORSE than what the report says. It is evident that we are breaking the cycle that has existed for over 800,000 years. Logical reasoning would indicate that with 7 billion people and millions of emissions sources that never existed in the planet's history, we are turning Earth into VENUS. 

Change now or your kids will have a HELL of a live. Proverbs 29:18 "Where there is no vision, the people perish."  Act now or the planet dies. Where did you plan to move to when we trash this one?  Ever thought of that morons? No.....

john meyer
john meyer

years of fraudulent and manipulated data confirms only one thing with certainty...that these "scientists" have a money driven agenda. exactly what is the optimum temperature for our planet? how can anybody say with certainty that over BILLIONS of years our "climate" hasnt changed like this MILLIONS of times . It is all about money , power , and a idiotic political agenda.  HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY , AMERICA!

Denis Ables
Denis Ables

The "hiatus" briefly referred to by the IPCC is a rather toned down term for "NO ADDITIONAL WARMING IN THE 17 PAST YEARS.  A STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT IMPACT OF 0 (ZILCH) BY CO2 INCREASE SINCE 1979."

Denis Ables
Denis Ables

It should bother everyone that governments control the UN's IPCC output completely. We need scientists who are not feeding at the government trough such as the Non-governmental Panel on Climate Change.  The "science" as presented by the UN is ludicrous. Fortunately, even the man on the street is beginning to understand that. 


robbie butler
robbie butler

there also covering up bigfoot monsters and aliens

robbie butler
robbie butler

i think theres a need for a new knights templers that dont corrupt the world etc global warming and and eliminate atheism

heinz b.
heinz b.

Okay...it's not news that Asia has been the world's greatest offender of environmental pollution in recent history...and that is supported by all the companies outsourcing to that part of the world...and that is exacerbated by all of us who buy products made in China...a Communist country, by the way...whose ideals we do not favor...Pot, Kettle, Black...

Jon Alexander
Jon Alexander

These people make the Catholic Church look good.  Do we need a new Illuminati?

Carvel Bass
Carvel Bass

To sum up: this article should be titled something like;


"2014 IPCC Report - Embarrassing Emissions Totals Stripped out of Summary"


or whatevz.  Good luck!



Carvel Bass
Carvel Bass

Again, the title suggests "Data Deleted" (which could render the scientific analysis flawed or not-repeatable) BUT the article suggests only that charts and narratives were left out of the IPCC report or edited so as not to offend certain countries...WHICH IS IT???  This article is EXACTLY WHY THE PUBLIC DOESN'T TRUST SCIENCE! Get your act together NG! Gahhhhh!

George Goldsmith
George Goldsmith

I think the world's most eminent scientists should go on strike, sort of like the Trojan Women except in this case its the Trojan Scientists.  Let's see the world do without them and their contributions; and I mean it should be broad based - physics, medicine, climate, economics, etc.  Let them go on strike unless and until governments stay the hell out of their conclusions.  Everyone knows China and India are the world's biggest polluters, by far, so why even attempt to sanitize it?  But the larger, more insidious and salient point is the level of censorship they - particularly China - exercise in the world.  Time for that to end. 

Carvel Bass
Carvel Bass

 So was data from the study omitted from the analysis or were comments about countries edited to spare some political humiliation? Way to muddy the waters a little bit more!  See comments below...

Gary Williams
Gary Williams

This is not surprising in any way..  We have known this sort of thing was going on for years. The real question is why the media, including NG have chosen to ignore it.
Perhaps a comment from the NG editorial staff is in order here.
Why have you steadfastly supported the AGW theory of the IPCC when abuse of the cience was so obvious?
I believe a serious reckoning is in order here.

Mindy Mathy
Mindy Mathy

Soooo.. IPCC becomes the Manhattan Project.  (Keep a lid on it)  How quaint.

Paul M.
Paul M.

REAL progressives have moved.

News editors are the one's withholding data for not once have they mentioned that the scientists only agreed it "could be" not "will be" a crisis and 32 more years of their laughable 95% certainty that it "could be" a crisis is unsustainable. If science can't say they are certain, who can? News editors? Determined "believers"? Pandering politicians? 

Deny that. 

And get up to date;

*Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded and corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by politicians.

*Canada killed Y2Kyoto 2 years ago with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit). What did YOU do about it planet lovers?

Carter Fox Jr.
Carter Fox Jr.

Well, when the rich corporations, and politicians, and the "families" of money, have all the wealth in the world, I want to see where they plan to spend it.

Don Barr
Don Barr

Don't call it science if you are editing pieces out of it for political reasons. 

Paul G
Paul G

@Carvel Bass


The article seems very clear, the results have been manipulated/massaged by politicians/diplomats who are doing everything in their power to make sure that the status quo remains as is, it has nothing to do with science and everything to do with ensuring that the powers that be continue to make their $$$$ whether it destroys to environment or not who cares. That's what I take out of this. They will kick this can down the road as long as possible even though all of the analysis/studies and science is pointing to a growing and very worrisome problem. 

Paul G
Paul G

@john meyer


What is this money driven agenda you're talking about? there are thousands of scientists analysing/monitoring/studying the planet and its climate, this type of work will continue no matter what the climate is doing. Bottom line is they should be allowed to continue their work and report the results uncensored, good, bad or otherwise. 

David Gross
David Gross

@Denis Ables I suppose that you prefer science as controlled by corporations?  Pawns of the oiligarchy.


Carvel Bass
Carvel Bass

@Paul G @Carvel Bass I agree with your broad points, but for the first.  I think the results of the IPCC report are based on un-adulturated science - that is DATA wasn't left out of the science, as the headline implies.  If that were true then the report would mean nothing.  I believe some of the summaries of the science were changed to mollify politically influential countries.


These two things are VERY DIFFERENT and the headline and narrative here muddle them.


If you are a science-denying policy maker and you read this article you will believe that the scientists are NOT following the scientific method, i.e., just leaving out great chunks of data from China, say, or India.  That is not happening.


Like I said below, the headline here should be:


"2014 IPCC Report - Embarrassing Emissions Totals Stripped out of Summary"


A chart representing data is not the data itself, in other words.  And charts probably were stripped out.  That doesn't change the science.  





Share

How to Feed Our Growing Planet

  • Feed the World

    Feed the World

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

The Innovators Project

See more innovators »

Latest News Video

See more videos »

See Us on Google Glass

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »