The Heat Is Online

Bert Bolin: Singer

GENEVA, 26 JUNE 1997

For further information, contact Dr. Narasimhan Sundararaman, Secretary of the IPCC, at +41 22 730 8288.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Climate Change: IPCC Chair Denies Attack on VP Gore, Environmentalists

The Chairman of the UN's scientific advisory body on climate change denies criticizing Clinton administration officials and many environmentalists who have commented that recent extreme weather events may be the result of rising global temperatures.

According to a story which appeared in Greenwire (Thursday 26 June, story #3), Professor Bert Bolin, chair of the World Meteorological Organization/United Nations Environment Programme Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

for the last 9 years, is alleged to have refuted statements by US Vice President Al Gore that this year's floods in the Upper Midwest of the United States "are consistent" with the predicted effects of climate change. He is also alleged to have said that efforts to establish such a link by environmentalists "is why I do not trust the Greens," and that "man-made increases in temperature are so small as to be barely detectable."

In a statement made from his home in Stockholm, Sweden, and issued through the IPCC office in Geneva, Bolin, a well-respected meteorologist, criticized the account of a climate-change debate in which he is alleged to have made these remarks, as "inaccurate and misleading."

Bolin denied criticizing Vice President Gore. Bolin noted that the statement attributed to Gore that this year's floods in the Upper Midwest "are consistent" with the predicted effects of climate change is a scientifically accurate statement and "no cause for criticism." Bolin went on to explain that "observations show that some extreme events are becoming more intense (heavy rainfall events in some regions), some are becoming less intense (cold spells), while others show no statistically significant changes (hurricanes). While it cannot yet be concluded that these changes are caused by human-induced changes of climate, neither can this association be excluded."

Bolin also denied taking issue with Tim Wirth, Under-secretary of State for Global Affairs. Regarding the statement that scientific questions about climate change have been resolved, Bolin observed that "considerably more research is required to fully clarify and interpret what is happening to climate, especially on a regional scale, and how changes will affect human societies over the years to come." He added that the large majority of governments at the Ministerial segment of the Second Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (held in Geneva in June 1996), "while recognizing uncertainties, believe that we know enough to take some actions now," and that this position was supported by 2000 independent scientists in a letter to President Clinton several weeks ago.

"I do not mistrust the 'Greens'," stated Bolin, who went on to observe that neither does he "agree with everything they say, however, just as I do not agree with everything that might be said by representatives of the fossil fuel industry, for example." He noted that his role as Chairman of the IPCC "is not to trust or mistrust any of the participants in the climate-change debate" but to ensure that the IPCC scientific assessment process is "fair and unbiased" and open to all "with a scientifically-supportable viewpoint based in research."

On the question of whether observed changes in climate can be attributed to human activities such as burning fossil fuels, Bolin noted that "The global mean temperature has increased by 0.3-0.6 degrees C since the late 19th century, and about 0.3 degrees over the last 40 years." He recalled that in its last major statement on this topic, the IPCC noted that "our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still emerging from the noise of natural variability and because there are uncertainties in key factors." Nonetheless, the IPCC concluded that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."

Professor Bolin's full statement follows:

Dr. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia has distributed a press release,in which he refers to remarks I made, when he early this month presented his views about the IPCC Second Assessment (SAR) in Stockholm. As Chairman of the IPCC, and on the basis of the assessment conducted by the IPCC, I criticized a number of his "findings" severely. His account of what happened at this meeting is inaccurate and misleading.

The six "latest findings" that he refers to in his press release have either been considered by the IPCC and refuted or have not been published in the open scientific literature so that they could be assessed for their validity. The view that man is not so important as to affect the climate (quotation attributed to Professor Wibjorn Karlen) is irrelevant, since no evidence is presented that supports this view. Regarding Singer's self-congratulatory statement that the "discussion appeared to go decidedly against Dr. Bolin's IPCC position," I had rather the impression that Dr. Singers views did not convince those present.

Singer misinterprets several of my statements:

I do not mistrust the "Greens". This is not to say that I agree with everything they say, however, just as I do not agree with everything that might be said by representatives of the fossil fuel industry, for example. My role as Chairman of the IPCC is not to trust or mistrust any of the participants in the climate-change debate, whether they belong to environmental groups, industry associations or individual scientists. My role is to ensure that the IPCC process is fair and unbiased, as far as possible, and open to all those with a scientifically-supportable viewpoint based in research.

The occurrence of extreme events requires careful analysis. The problem with Fred Singer's press release is that he is not as precise as he should be. There are different types of extreme events. In fact, the IPCC SAR, which Singer says provides an accurate account of the state of scientific knowledge, highlights some of these distinctions, see pp. 168-173 of Volume I of the SAR for a discussion of our present scientific

knowledge about extreme events. Observations show that some extreme events are becoming more intense(heavy rainfall events in some regions), some are becoming less intense(cold spells), while others show no statistically significant changes (hurricanes). These changes are consistent with the kind of changes that would be associated with a warmer climate. While it cannot yet be concluded that these changes are caused by human-induced changes of climate, neither can this association be excluded. To state that these sorts of changes that 'are consistent' with the predicted effects of climate change, as Vice President Gore is quoted to have stated, is a scientifically accurate statement and no cause for criticism.

The key issue is of course, if a human induced change of climate can be detected. The global mean temperature has increased by 0.3-0.6 degrees C, since the late 19th century and about 0.3 degrees over the last 40 years. Is part of this change due to our emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere? Climate varies naturally and the issue is if we can detect a human-induced change of climate in spite of the "noise" due to the natural variability. The IPCC concluded: "our ability to quantify the human influence on global climate is currently limited because the expected signal is still

emerging from the noise of natural variability and because there are uncertainties in key factors. These include the magnitude and patterns of long term natural variability and the time-evolving patterns of forcing by, and response to, changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land surface changes. Nevertheless, the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate." It should be noted that the inertia of the climate system and the counteracting effects of aerosols delay the appearance of a climate change, makes the issue more difficult to grasp, but does not diminish the possible seriousness of the issues.

Finally, I did not take issue with Tim Wirth, Under-secretary of State for Global Affairs in this debate. As Chairman of the IPCC, I have no reason to comment on the views of Mr. Wirth on this matter, nor did I do so at the meeting in Stockholm. Regarding the substance of the comment attributed to Mr. Wirth, namely that scientific questions about climate change have been resolved, considerably more research is required to fully clarify and interpret what is happening to climate, especially on a regional scale, and how changes will affect human societies over the years to come. It is also important to note that most governments at the Ministerial segment of the Second Meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (held in Geneva in June 1996) concluded that there is sufficient evidence to warrant reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,based on IPCC's Second Assessment Report. Therefore, the large majority of governments, while recognizing uncertainties, believe that we know enough to take some actions now. This position was supported by an independent group of 2000 scientists in a letter to President Clinton several weeks ago.

I find it most annoying that the account of the meeting in Stockholm has been presented in such a biased manner.

Bert Bolin (signed)

For further information, contact Dr. Narasimhan Sundararaman, Secretary of the IPCC, at +41 22 730 8288.

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