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« Decarbonisation amendment defeated | Main | Iain Dale is shocked »

Damian and the two-degree target

Lord Lipsey, chairman of the Parliamentary Group on Statistics, has fired a shot across the bows of Damian Carrington, accusing him of making wild claims about the climate without citing any sources:

In what sense is 400 parts a million a milestone and what does the word add, save opinion, to the intro? By whom are these conditions 'expected to return in time' and who says the consequences will be 'devastating'? By whom is catastrophic warming 'thought to be unstoppable' at 2 degrees (and does this mean that at 1.99 degrees it is stoppable)? …it may well be that everything in this piece is true. But it is not enough for the reporter to assert that on his own authority without citing sources.

Carrington's response is essentially to argue that "everyone says so",

the entire world's governments, via the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agree that 2C is the safe limit."

Carrington's problem is that the UNFCCC document linked only asserts that temperature rises above 2°C would be dangerous. There is no citation. Fortunately a more complete record of the target is to be found in this recent paper from the Potsdam Institute, which notes that the 2°C target can be viewed in many ways, few of which are truly satisfactory. The authors conclude that the target actually has more to do with politics than science.

It seems that for decades European politicians—and more recently many of their partners from all over the world—have tried to orient their decisions on a guideline they perceived as expressing a scientific view, while scientists—who did introduce the 2° target into the climate debate—treat that guideline as a political issue.

I think Lord Lipsey had it right.

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Reader Comments (56)

From the actual temperature records, it looks very much like there will be less than 2 degrees warming if we do absolutely nothing. There has been no significant warming at all for almost 2 decades now and there is no sign that the temperature is going to shoot up further suddenly. It would have to warm faster than at any time in the last 2000 years to make the 2 degrees target by 2100.

It is not going to happen.

Jun 4, 2013 at 10:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterKen Hall

I think the 2 degree number is a bit like the 21 units of alcohol and the 5 daily "pieces" of fruit: a totemic figure dreamt up by a committee with almost no grounding in science.

Jun 4, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterNicholas Hallam

Are these people part of the 3%, or the 97%?

Jun 4, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterMax Roberts

97% of Ufologists believe in aliens - so it must be true! Everybody says so!

Jun 4, 2013 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

Excellent rejoinder by Lord Lipsey to the portentous bluster that is so often to be found in the writings of alarmed ones as if it were undisputed and so widely accepted that authority for the fact doesn't need to be cited(Elliott). Well, Carrington has tried citing 'authorities' but that is not nearly good enough. Especially since he cites the notorious '97%', which is by itself a sign of being ill-informed.

Jun 4, 2013 at 10:26 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

I thought it was Clinton, or Obama who first made popular the 2 degree limit.

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Stroud

Lipsey, needfully put him [Carrington] down like the lame horse that he is.

"2 deg's" is a figure plucked out of the air - aren't they all, this is not science - this is rune reading.

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Carrington's problem is that the UNFCCC document linked only asserts that temperature rises above 2°C would be dangerous.

And that's not Carrington's only problem ... particularly when it comes to his claims regarding "all the world's governments".

The last time I saw him make such a claim (to the effect that any Summary for Policymakers of an IPCC report "is discussed and then approved by all 194 countries") he was spectacularly wrong.

As I subsequently noted:

there were only 188 names in 91 “national delegations” who participated in the 11th Session of Working Group III at which the SPM for the SSREN was actually “approved”, i.e. “subjected to detailed, line by line discussion and agreement”. Not only is this a far cry from being “approved by government representatives from 194 nations” ... it doesn't even constitute 50% of the Panel’s “government membership”!

Perhaps if Carrington ever learned how to do some basic investigative journalism - rather than accepting that which he reads in IPCC/UNFCCC Press releases as gospel truth - he and his claims would have more credibility.

As for the 2°C target, Schellnhuber acknowledged to Der Spiegel in April 2010, that this was an "invention"

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:07 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

This was on the Downing Street website in September 2007:

Global temperature rises can be limited to 2 degrees Celsius, the Prime Minister has told green campaigners. In a letter to Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of green groups, Mr Brown said "all developed countries" needed to commit to reduce emissions to tackle the problem. The PM said the warming of the planet poses "the most urgent challenge to humankind". He added that the challenge threatens not only the environment, but "international peace, security, prosperity and development" as well. The letter came ahead of a week of talks on developing a new international treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

You won't find it there any more. I noted it down under 'PM Predicts Temperature Rise'. What a remarkable power he had. We don't hear this level of certainty any more from the commanding heights of the UK at least.

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Don't know if 2°C is achievable. Humanity might have to launch a giant space lens to focus more light from the Sun to get there.

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterReg. Blank

It was thought up to prevent the need for immediate action on climate change. It is not science because scientists recognise dangerous climate change is subjective and can't be reduced to one single measure for the whole world. It is a target supported by politicians to legitimate business as usual. It is only being questioned now because push has come to shove, and now that it needs to be acted on the politicians would rather abandon it. I wrote about it here.

Jun 4, 2013 at 11:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterChris Shaw

Even some of the "warmists" seem to be losing faith in the cause. One leading Guardian columnist, George Mobiot, or the Moonbat as some people call him, has a new enemy - sheep! He thinks they are an even greater threat than climate change.

He has a new book out called Feral. The quotations below are from a review in the Telegraph.

"in his chapter “Sheepwrecked”: “Sheep farming… is a slow-burning ecological disaster, which has done more damage to the living systems of this country than either climate change or industrial pollution. Yet scarcely anyone seems to have noticed.”

"There are 8.2 million sheep in Wales, three to every human being; a ruminant plague that has reduced the uplands to a desert where every potential tree is eaten before it has a chance to grow, and which has compromised the ability of the hills to hold water, thereby exacerbating flooding in the valleys and farther afield."

"Monbiot calls for nothing less than the rewilding of Wales – and much of Europe, too. He wants wolves, beavers, bison and lynx to roam free once more. "

"Feral’s “what ifs” are provocative; eccentric, even. It envisions a future Europe in which elephant, rhino and hippopotami could wander as they did in prehistoric times – although Monbiot acknowledges this might be a hard sell to citizens who have yet to come to terms with urban foxes."

Perhaps Monbiot now welcomes global warming. After all, "elephant, rhino and hippopotami" are unlikely to want to wander around Europe unless the climate gets a bit warmer!

Jun 4, 2013 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

What is the atmospheric composition on planet Moonbat, do you think?

Jun 4, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

Monbiotulism, an infection which leaves the victim relentless in the pursuit of things to get alarmed about, and very vocal about it when one is found.

Jun 4, 2013 at 12:57 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

"does this mean that at 1.99 degrees it is stoppable?" (Lipsey)

A good question, and one that nicely exposes Carrington's lack of journalistic enquiry. Still, if he had that, he would hardly be working for the Grauniad, would he?

Jun 4, 2013 at 12:59 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

If Monbiot is worried about sheep eating trees, how does he view the requirements of the wood-burning conversion at Drax? I suspect that may eat more...

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Why only one elephant and rhino, yet a plurality of hippopotami?

Has Moonbat something against the drier-habitat pachyderms?

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Oi, Moonbat...

Sheep in trees

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:17 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Once more, 2°C! What’s with that figure? And from where is it measured – now (when temperatures are definitely cooler than many Mays in the past)? Or, perhaps, the “warmest year on record”, 1998 (an odd choice, as even NASA have acknowledged that 1934(?) was warmer)? Maybe they mean those years when we had frost-fairs in the Thames – in which case, we are there, already! Don’t panic!

And what renders it unstoppable? As a scientific argument, it is as valid as “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” It has no reference point; it has no basis on any observable phenomena; it merely smacks of a figure plucked out of the air, in a desperate attempt to scare many, and placate a few.

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

"the atmospheric composition on planet Moonbat"

97% N2O, perhaps?

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:33 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Laughing gas sounds about right jamesp.

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:46 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

jamesp - Up here too- Fife's Flying Flock:

The Scottish Wildlife Trust’s sheep are usually used to graze wildlife reserves in Fife to restore and maintain rare habitats such as wildflower meadows and raised bogs. They are moved between reserves by the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s own shepherd

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

I wonder, what the hobbyists of the Welsh branch of the ovine appreciation society would think of George's musings?

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

Ye gods! There is really no hope for rationality in this world!

Just reading the Grauniad article in question, and the comments prove that many of the readers do live in never-never land:

You should probably instead of invoking your very own version of the MWP fallacy (where it is extrapolated globally)…

@ButWhatAboutTheFacts - "This is why the 97% figure has been met with looks of disbelief."
Yes, by climate change deniers. Can't imagine why.

The real paradox in the faux-debate foisted on us by climate change deniers is this: the 'sceptics' have never come up with a single alternative hypothesis to explain the destabilising of the climate we are now witnessing, despite having 30 years of topical discussion in which to do so, which was not proved wrong by better science.

Or do you want to explain to the rest of us why we should not be worried that we have added a 1/3 more to the part of the atmosphere that retains 10% of our heat?

Then there's ocean acidification, of course…

Do these people really have no connection with the real world?

(BTW, “ButWhatAboutTheFacts” is not alone on that site, but is the most vociferous, and the most commonly attacked – and holds his/her ground well!)

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

Sheep in Trees? Been done, mate - and it was funnier then, too...

"Note how they do not so much fly as plummet"

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterGerald

The 2C temperature rise is measured relative to 1880, before CO2 based warming is regarded as starting. It has two rationales, one social and economic, the other political.

2C is regarded, by those who analyse such things, as the limit below which the susequent climate change can be tolerated by our civilization without major disruption.

It is also a nice round number which even a politician or a voter can understand.

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

That is funny.
When I tried to say something similar under Mr Carrington's piece in the Guardian it mysteriously disappeared!
Perhaps it was because I do not have the Latin.

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

They use two degrees because it makes it easier for the ecoloon protest army to remember how many fingers to put up when giving the Winston Churchill to the deniers passing by outside WWF's headquarters.

Ivor Ward

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDisko Troop

EM - 2C "is regarded"..."It is also a nice round number*". Well that's it then, the science is settled.

* It's also the only even prime which makes it even more scientifically compelling. Two it is then, no pressure, no pressure at all.

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:36 PM | Registered CommenterGrantB

"He wants wolves, beavers, bison and lynx to roam free once more."

That would certainly sort out the sheep problem, although one has to wonder what the wolves and lynx would turn their attention to next...

(And presumably beaver depredation of trees is more acceptable.)

Jun 4, 2013 at 2:44 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Monbiot's sheep nightmare:

The cows are as bad:

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:06 PM | Unregistered Commenteranon

This 2°C figure of warming is a global average global figure as well. For some parts of the world, like Scotland, it might be beneficial. The dangerous part is not the temperature rise, but in crossing some "tipping points". In recent years we have heard less about these tipping points. One example is of collapsing polar ice caps. The view was that significant warming could lead to sudden melting and thus rapid sea level rise. The recent ICE2SEA project using mainstream A1B warming scenario of the 2007 AR4, projects the sea level rise from such melting at around 35cm this century.
Also the UNIPCC sees evidence to link warming with more extreme climate.

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

At that Guardian link it discusses Cook's poll thingy...

To avoid assertions without support, the Guardian reported a survey on 16 May of thousands of peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals. This survey found that 97.1% of those papers agreed that climate change is caused by human activity.

What does that even mean? We have a climate, it changes; there is no Climate Change TM. Cook's poll actually did a fairly decent job of framing the question (if nothing else) though the Guardian makes it sound like they posed the stupified question "does man cause climate change".

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveA

EM, in what way is "2" round? Surely "0" would be better if that was the main criteria?

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered Commentersteveta_uk

GrantB, Steveta-uk

My apologies. Next time I will add the sarc. tag.

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

@Radical Rodent "(BTW, “ButWhatAboutTheFacts” is not alone on that site, but is the most vociferous, and the most commonly attacked – and holds his/her ground well!)"

Until he/she transgresses the unwritten law and is banished from CiF for all of eternity, which is what has happened to most of the sceptical voices there (myself included).

That the Graun feels the need to silence dissent in this way is heartening, because it's a clear sign that scepticism is winning.

Jun 4, 2013 at 3:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Methinks Monbiot is unaware of the CH4 production from even just one Hippo ............

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

RE: George Mobiot, and sheep.

Truth is he may not be all that far out there in this instance, particularly if you stretch the category to include goats.

It isn't methane, so all of the sophmoric comments about cow & hippo farts miss the point. It is well established that unrestricted grazing of sheep and goats, at least in the developing world can wreck havoc on ecosystems.

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:28 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

This is the sort of thing even a 2C rise would bring more often. This week the Danube reached its highest level in 500 years, as a result of extreme rainfall.

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

For those interested in Monbiot's latest cause the satirical article below is probably worth reading. Mind you, Monbiot hardly needs anyone else to satirise him. He does a pretty good job of that himself!

Captain Monbiot and the final war against sheep

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

To get some feel for the process of analysing the economic effects of climate change read the Stern Review.

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEntropic Man

Records are being broken all the time and have been for hundreds of years.

If the Danube rise was the second highest in 500 years, what would that indicate?

Jun 4, 2013 at 4:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

@Entropic Man

"This is the sort of thing even a 2C rise would bring more often. This week the Danube reached its highest level in 500 years, as a result of extreme rainfall."

Evidence please! Without supporting data, this is just scaremongering.

Jun 4, 2013 at 5:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Roy - thank you for the Tom Chivers link. I particularly liked Monbiot's great spear, Mint Sauce.. :-)

Jun 4, 2013 at 5:29 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Entropic Man
Is "highest level for 500 years":
a) a sound-bite — a "nice round figure" like the 2 degrees of warming — that may or not be strictly accurate, or
b) the highest level ever recorded (records going back 499 years, presumably), or
c) genuinely the highest level since a higher one 500 years ago?

If (c) then that would seem to tie in nicely with about the time the MWP was giving way to the LIA. Odd, that.

Jun 4, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Entropic Man

"This is the sort of thing even a 2C rise would bring more often. This week the Danube reached its highest level in 500 years, as a result of extreme rainfall."

Good point. 500 years ago we were leaving the MWP and entering the Little Ice Age.

Jun 4, 2013 at 6:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

Mike Jackson

"c) genuinely the highest level since a higher one 500 years ago?

If (c) then that would seem to tie in nicely with about the time the MWP was giving way to the LIA. Odd, that."

Whoops. Should have read all the way through first. :)

Jun 4, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhil R

2C is fatuous.

As Kevin Trenberth once said to Tom Wigley:

Hi Tom How come you do not agree with a statement that says we are no where close to knowing where energy is going or whether clouds are changing to make the planet brighter. We are not close to balancing the energy budget. The fact that we can not account for what is happening in the climate system makes any consideration of geoengineering quite hopeless as we will never be able to tell if it is successful or not! It is a travesty! Kevin

[my emphasis]

Jun 4, 2013 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

Jun 4, 2013 at 1:01 PM jamesp

... sheep-eating trees?

Sorry, but that's the way I read it at first glance.

Jun 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterSkeptik

Entropic so who gave planning permission to build on the flood plain of the Danube.

Jun 4, 2013 at 9:21 PM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

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