Richard Tol, a professor of economics at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and an expert on climate change, removed his name from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. While he considers much of the science sound and supports the underlying purpose of the IPCC, Tol says the United Nations agency’s inflammatory and alarmist claims delegitimize the IPCC as a credible and neutral institution.
“In the SPM [Summary for Policymakers], and much more largely in the media, we see all these scare stories,” Tol tells National Review Online. “We’re all going to die, the four horsemen of the apocalypse . . . I felt uncomfortable with the direction [the IPCC report] was going.”
Tol, who has been working with the IPCC since 1994, was the lead author of Chapter 10 of the report, on key economic sectors and services. He was also a contributor to Chapters 17 and 19, on the economics of adaptation to climate change and emergent risks, respectively.
He took his name off of the final summary because he felt the IPCC did not properly account for human technological ingenuity and downplayed the potential benefits of global warming.
“In the current SPM there are a number of statements in there that are widely cited that are just not correct,” Tol says.
One prediction has it that crop yields will begin to fall dramatically, a statement “that is particularly not supported by the chapter itself,” Tol says. “What it completely forgets is technological progress and that crop yields have been going up for as long as we’ve looked at crop yields.”
Beyond misleading statements on agriculture, Tol says the IPCC report cites only the maximum estimate for how much it will cost to protect against sea-level rise associated with current climate-change predictions. “Why do we show the maximum but not the average?” he says. Estimates say that “for a tenth of a percent of [worldwide] GDP we can protect all vulnerable populations along all coasts.”
The report also stresses that global warming will cause more deaths due to heat stress, but ignores that global warming would reduce cold stress, which actually kills more people than heat stress each year.
Tol is far from a conspiracy theorist, but he nonetheless thinks the IPCC has built-in biases that keep it from adequately checking alarmism.
First, there is a self-selection bias: People who are most concerned about the impact of climate change are most likely to be represented on the panel. Next, most of the panelists are professors involved in similar academic departments, surrounded by like-minded people who reinforce each other’s views. Those views are welcomed by the civil servants who review the report, because their “departments, jobs, and careers depend on climate being a problem,” Tol says.
“There are natural forces pushing these people in the same direction. I think the IPCC should have safeguards against this tendency, but it does not.”
However misleading the IPCC may be, Tol is not a climate-change skeptic. Though he is doubtful the IPCC, as a big UN organization, will be able to reform, he still plans to work on future reports because, he says, the “IPCC is important and it should be done right.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.