Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC

Joining the push for better climate science communication are over 300 US scientists. On March 13, they sent an open letter to US federal agencies about why a few errors in the IPCC AR4 do not impact our understanding of the climate system and the changes occurring, and should not impact our efforts to mitigate and adapt to such changes.

The introduction to the letter reads:

Many in the popular press and other media, as well as some in the halls of Congress, are seizing on a few errors that have been found in the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in an attempt to discredit the entire report.  None of the handful of mis-statements (out of hundreds and hundreds of unchallenged statements) remotely undermines the conclusion that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Despite its excellent performance for accurately reporting the state-of-the-science, we certainly acknowledge that the IPCC should become more forthcoming in openly acknowledging errors in a timely fashion, and continuing to improve its assessment procedures to further lower the already very low rate of error.

Read the full text here.

Over 300 US scientists have signed the letter, and signatures are still being collected. You can view the list of signatures here. I see a few familiar names already (eg Scott Mandia)!

However, I must say that I am profoundly disappointed that the letter can only be signed by American scientists. Although it is intended for American federal agencies, what the US does about climate change will impact the whole world. Firstly, many countries (*cough*cough* Canada) plan to delay action on climate change until the US has a clear plan, so they can follow suit. And, perhaps most importantly, having the largest per-capita emissions and cumulative emissions, as well as the second-largest annual emissions, the US is driving the changes in the climate system with disproportionate responsibility. As its actions will have international repercussions, both politically and environmentally, I believe that the list of signatures should be open to scientists worldwide.

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2 thoughts on “Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC

  1. If you watch more of the political rhetoric in the US, you’ll see why signatures from outside the US would be not just irrelevant, but actively harmful to a goal of getting political action inside the US. Consider two areas: knowledge of the science on climate change, and fear of foreign countries. One party actively denies the science on climate change. That same party also is very fearful of foreign countries and ‘one world government’. The worst route to get change from them is for foreign scientists to be involved — it reinforces their other great fear, having foreigners tell ‘us’ what to do.

    One demonstration of that vein was early in the Bush administration, contemporary with the 3rd IPCC report’s release. Having scientists from all around the world say that CO2 was a greenhouse gas, etc., was irrelevant. Even when many of the scientists involved were from the US. It was politically necessary that a report be written strictly by US scientists. That also allowed for more delay, which likely was at least part of the reason. Still, when a purely US effort was released, the administration did finally allow as how CO2 really was a greenhouse gas. Didn’t go much beyond that, but there was indeed some change.

    Science doesn’t care where you’re from. One of the principles of science is that CO2’s radiative properties are the same regardless of who is looking at it. If our results depended on whether it was you versus me, something is wrong. But that’s science. Politics depend quite a lot on who is saying something (look at the number of times a party says they’re in favor of something, and then vote against it when it is the other party that’s in power and trying to implement it).

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