Cancun & the Met Office

by | Dec 8, 2010

I have a story on Spiked today, about the pre-Cancun messages from the Met Office. In retrospect, I wish I’d called it “Some of our Global Warming is Missing”, but I expect it’s been said before.

Conventional climate wisdom has it that once ‘the science’ is put before politics, politicians will respond to the imperative to save us from Gaia’s revenge. So each year, representatives from each country that has signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assemble to turn it into an agreement to limit CO2 emissions.

But science is a slow process; politics happens much faster. In the rush to get the most recent research under the noses of policymakers, those engaged in the climate debate show that climate politics exists before climate science has even got its thermometer out.

I don’t normally ‘do’ science, but it seems that the MO are getting less coherent and more involved with the politics.

It would have been good to also have had a look at the stuff from the Tyndall Centre / RS Phil Trans A and their panic about 4 degrees, but there wasn’t room.

While you’re over at Spiked, check out Eero Iloniemi’s article on  land prices in places that are about to be washed away by climate change and sea-level rise.


  1. Philip

    “…check out Eero Iloniemi’s article on land prices in places that are about to be washed away by climate change and sea-level rise.”

    Blast. There was I thinking I might be able to pick up Al Gore’s beach side shack for a song.

  2. Dominic

    Bearing in mind what Ben has to say about the Met Office in his Spiked article, Eero Iloniemi’s piece highlights something interesting.

    The SEAFRAME monitoring project instituted by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) estimates sea level rise at Tuvalu at 5.6mm/yr. While this is higher than the global average (a claimed ~3.2mm/yr) the island group is almost in the West Pacific Warm Pool.

    This is where the warm water that powers El Nino builds up, substantially raising sea level. Sea level falls dramatically when La Nina conditions are prevalent. This makes for a very noisy data set and arguably makes the task of discerning and measuring a trend more difficult.

    What is absolutely essential viewing in the light of all the talk about evacuating the population and the urgent need for multi-billion dollar handouts is Figure 15, sea level trends (page 30 pdf) in this BOM report:

    The South Pacific Sea Level & Climate Monitoring Project
    Sea Level Data Summary Report
    JULY 2008 – JUNE 2009 (1.6MB pdf)

    It shows – unequivocally – that there is no trend whatsoever in sea level change at Tuvalu or any other island in the study.

    See also Figure 10, sea level means (page 23 pdf) and Figure 11, sea level anomalies (page 24 pdf).

    The last full Summary Report (2006) concluded:

    Historical sea level trends, and even to an extent the current SEAFRAME sea level trends, would suggest that we could expect sea level rises of less than 0.5m over the next 50 years, which is considerably at variance to current scientific commentary. It is possible, therefore, that the effects of recent accelerations in climate change have not yet started to have a significant contribution to or impact on current sea levels; but based on international scientific opinion, it is more a case of when, rather than if.

    [Emphasis mine.]

    This raises several points:

    1. The rate (trend) of sea level rise at Tuvalu is not increasing.
    2. Scientific opinion (and a huge amount of media hype) is directly contradicted by observations.
    3. But nevertheless, ‘it is more a case of when, rather than if’.

    And what ‘recent accelerations’ in climate change is the 2006 summary report referring to? I have no idea and it doesn’t say.

    I did notice that the trend for sea level rise at Tuvalu was 5.8mm/yr back then, and 5.6mm/year in 2009.

    Perhaps the residents of Tuvalu continue to place a high value on land because they remain privately unconvinced that they will be evacuating any time soon.

    There is a further summary report up to June 2010, but it has been taken down from the BOM website.

    General info on SEAFRAME:

    Download reports here:

  3. Philip

    Since this post is about a scientific issue, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you about an incident last week that has caused me to change my mind about the culpability of the climate science community in the AGW saga. The story concerns a recent paper by Andrew Dessler that discusses the issue of extracting values for climate feedbacks from observational data, and which reflects apparently an ongoing argument between Dessler and Roy Spencer over this issue.

    Here are links to the relevant papers:


    What has really shocked me about this incident is the manner in which Dessler and other scientists have systematically misrepresented Spencer’s statements and cynically closed down discussion on the substantive scientific issues. This is most clearly evident in public forums following the publication of Dessler’s paper:

    In particular, Dessler claims that Spencer says:

    o Clouds cause ENSO.
    o If you don’t know what’s causing a temperature change, determining feedbacks is impossible.

    A reading of Spencer’s papers or books should be enough to convince you that Dessler is misrepresenting Spencer’s statements, and yet as you can see in the subsequent comments on Real Climate, Dessler’s claims are immediately picked up by others and presumably are now common currency amongst the orthodox.

    The misrepresentation over clouds and ENSO is particularly egregious. As you can see, Dessler’s post presents the following as if it were a direct quotation:

    “Spencer: ENSO is caused by clouds. You cannot infer the response of clouds to surface temperature in such a situation.”

    Although you can also see that the post explains that this as being a “short paraphrase”, this explanation was NOT part of the original post and was only added after the fact as a response to my comment #12.

    Spencer has complained before on his blog about the lack of critical reaction to his 2010 paper, despite its obvious relevance. The key points in the paper are:

    o A criticism of the mainstream method of analysing satellite data regarding radiation and temperature anomalies in order to obtain an estimate of climate feedbacks. See figure 1 on page 3 of SB2010 and figure 2A of D2010 for visual demonstrations of this criticism.
    o A new analysis method for extracting feedback estimates from these figures by linking the anomaly values in a time sequence. Again, see figure 3a on page 5 of SB2010 for a visual demonstration of the procedure.

    SB2010 also introduces in section 2 a simple theoretical model that anyone with a basic knowledge of differential equations would be able to use to demonstrate for themselves the behaviour evident in figure 3a. I have to admit that this is exactly the kind of physics I enjoy, good simple theory joined at the hip with real world observation, and I find it very convincing. Of course this doesn’t mean that it is correct, but given the resources made available to climate science, a paper like this really should be subject to good quality critical comment. The disappointing thing about Dessler’s paper is that it neither addresses Spencer’s criticisms nor his new feedback analysis method: it is simply something to be waved at anybody who cites Spencer’s arguments.

    I tried quite hard to persuade Dessler to express his opinions on these points as you see in my Real Climate comments #15 and #43 (not to mention 3 other equally polite and pertinent comments rejected by the honest owners of that blog). Dessler’s responses to both #15 and #43 seem to me little more than exercises in prevarication, that make no real attempt to reveal his scientific opinions on this issue (other than his obvious opposition to Spencer).

    Dessler’s response to #15 states:

    “His 2010 paper [DB2010] came out in mid-2010, so it is probably too new for published criticisms to have appeared.”

    And yet D2010 does cite SB2010, but only to dismiss it as being irrelevant despite this clearly not being the case:

    “The recent suggestion that feedback analyses suffer from a cause and effect problem (27) does not apply here …”

    In fact, the main body of Dessler’s post makes it clear that he has no intention of addressing the content of SB2010:

    “Thus, the burden of proof is Dr. Spencer to show that his theory of causality during ENSO is correct. He is, at present, far from meeting that burden. And until Dr. Spencer satisfies this burden, I don’t think anyone can take his criticisms seriously.”

    Again, this is clearly blathering: SB2010 contains ample observational and theoretical evidence in support of its case and thoroughly deserves to be subjected to criticism from other experts.

    Although a number of polite comments to Real Climate were rejected, there are more than a few nasty ones from Dessler’s supporters, as Anthony Watts noticed:

    In the past, I would have downplayed claims of corruption amongst climate scientists, feeling that the fault lay more with the institutions and the media. But no more: I’m afraid to say this is just one more set of scales fallen by the wayside.

  4. potentilla

    “…check out Eero Iloniemi’s article on land prices in places that are about to be washed away by climate change and sea-level rise.”

    This is not a surprise at all. We are a risk taking species and examples abound all over the world of land prices being maintained in hazardous areas. Anyway global warming should not be the most significant concern for Tuvalu. The primary hazard in coastal Tuvalu is from a tsunami, a huge earthquake-driven wave arriving with essentially no warning. Tsunamis are much more dangerous than a very small and gradual increase in average sea level. The obsession with average sea level rise compared with other coastal hazards (increases in water levels driven by storms as well as tsunamis) is a good illustration of how the focus on climate change is distorting assessments of risks and hazards. I guess it serves a purpose if developing countries can convince more wealthy nations to transfer billions of dollars for hazard mitigation whatever the cause.


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