Of IPCC reports … and press releases in which they “hide the declines”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) holds “sessions” (which some might call “meetings”) at various intervals in different locations throughout the world, for the purpose of conducting the business of the Panel. The most recent of these “sessions” is officially known as the “Eleventh Session of IPCC Working Group III and Thirty-third Session of the IPCC Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 5 – 8 and 10 – 13 May 2011”

The IPCC claims to be both a “scientific” body and an “intergovernmental body”:

The IPCC is a scientific body. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters.


The IPCC is an intergovernmental body. It is open to all member countries of the United Nations (UN) and WMO. Currently 194 countries are members of the IPCC. Governments participate in the review process and the plenary Sessions, where main decisions about the IPCC work programme are taken and reports are accepted, adopted and approved. The IPCC Bureau Members, including the Chair, are also elected during the plenary Sessions.

Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive. [emphases added -hro]

The “IPCC 33 Draft Report” indicates that this 33rd Session commenced at 10:00 AM on May 10:

The Chair opened the 33rd Session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-33) at 10:00 a.m. on 10 May 2011. In his opening statement, he highlighted the achievement of the release of the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN)[…]

Item 4 of this “IPCC 33 Draft Report” reads as follows (p. 2):


Documents: IPCC-XXXIII/Doc. 20**

The Secretary referred to section 4.3 of the IPCC Procedures for the Preparation, Review, Acceptance, Adoption, Approval and Publication of IPCC Reports and reported that the Plenary meeting of Working Group (WG) III held on 5-8 May 2011 in Abu Dhabi had approved the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of the Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN) and accepted the underlying report. In accordance with the IPCC procedures, the Report had to be accepted by the IPCC Plenary.

Upon invitation by the Chair, the meeting accepted the Report.

The WG III Co-Chairs highlighted some of the main findings of the SRREN, and voiced their gratitude to authors, reviewers and Governments.

Delegations took the floor to express their strong appreciation to the WG III Co-Chairs and Authors and to all the others who had made possible this important achievement. [link and emphases added -hro]

** Listed as “Approved Summary for Policymakers SRREN”

As I have noted previously, but just to refresh your memory, in IPCC-speak, “Acceptance”, “Adoption” and “Approval” have very specific meanings:


The definitions of terms used in this document are as follows:

acceptance” of IPCC Reports at a Session of the Working Group or Panel signifies that the material has not been subject to line by line discussion and agreement, but nevertheless presents a comprehensive, objective and balanced view of the subject matter.

adoption” of IPCC Reports is a process of endorsement section by section (and not line by line) used for the longer report of the Synthesis Report as described in section 4.3 and for Overview Chapters of Methodology Reports.

approval” of IPCC Summaries for Policymakers signifies that the material has been subjected to detailed, line by line discussion and agreement.

There were two IPCC press releases in which “approval” of the SPM is specifically mentioned. However, it would seem that the “principles” of accuracy and clarity appear to have been sacrificed in the (possible) interest of (deceptive?!) brevity. The first, on May 9 (i.e. before the IPCC had convened), includes the following:

Abu Dhabi, 9 May 2011
Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, said: “The IPCC brought together the most relevant and best available information to provide the world with this scientific assessment of the potential of renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change. The Special Report can serve as a sound knowledge basis for policymakers to take on this major challenge of the 21st century.”

The report will feed into the broader work of the IPCC as it prepares its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). The AR5 Synthesis Report is scheduled for finalization in September 2014.

The SRREN, approved by government representatives from 194 nations, has reviewed the current penetration of six renewable energy technologies and their potential deployment over the coming decades. [emphasis added -hro]

In a previous post, I had criticized the Guardian‘s Damian Carrington for claiming that, “The SPM is discussed and then approved by all 194 countries“. Perhaps he was having a very busy day and read no further than the May 9 press release. Although he might also have read (and been misled by) the following in the IPCC’s May 13 press release (following the conclusion of the 33rd session of the IPCC at “6:30 PM on May 13”), as I had noted on May 14:

Abu Dhabi, 13 May 2011
Earlier in the week, the Panel also approved a Summary for Policymakers on a Special Report on Renewable Energy and Climate Mitigation which assesses that, with the right enabling public policies, renewables could take a significant slice of the global, total energy supply by 2050. [emphasis added -hro]

Yesterday, I had posted the following excerpt from the recently released “IPCC 33 Draft Report“:


The meeting was attended by more that (sic) 350 participants, 117 national delegations, 6 UN observer organizations, and 5 other observer organizations (the list of participants is attached as Annex 3) [emphasis added -hro].

I’ve now had the opportunity to review “the list of participants … [in] Annex 3”. I am indebted to Peter Bobroff (the wizard behind AccessIPCC) whose perfect Python parsing programme did most of the work for me. Of course, inconsistencies in the underlying Word document resulted in a less than ideal export (and may account for some discrepancies that I might have missed when reviewing and standardizing the data Peter sent me). That being said …

Frankly, I’m not sure how the IPCC arrived at their numbers. The list of participants contains only 329 names (not “more than 350”). Their “117 national delegations” may have been derived as a consequence of designating “Brussels” as a country, and/or of counting “IRAN, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF” and “IRAN, ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF:” as two countries. I found only 244 names in 114 “national delegations” who participated in IPCC 33.

More importantly, according to the data in Annex 3, 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” (as falsely “advertised” on May 9), it doesn’t even constitute 50% of the Panel’s “government membership”!

But, hey! Don’t take my word for this, folks; the data can be found in a Googledocs spreadsheet here. Feel free to compare with the material found in Annex 3, and please do let me know if there are some that I’ve missed. Unlike the IPCC, I’ll be only too happy to correct the record :-)

As a rather amusing aside … when reviewing the list of participants, I couldn’t help noticing that the IPCC Secretariat has – not one, but – two people designated as “Office Assistant – travel and meetings”. This is in addition to the services of “the event management company (REED Exhibitions) [and] the venue management company (ADNEC)” whom – according to Item 13 (p. 7) in “IPCC 33 Draft Report” – Pachauri thanked at the conclusion of the session.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

One thought on “Of IPCC reports … and press releases in which they “hide the declines”

  1. The IPCC is without precedent in intellectual history.

    Never before has a scientific body managed to “provide rigorous and balanced scientific information” without doing any research, following the scientific method or allowing scientists to write so much as a sentence without political signoff. These scientific handicaps, far from discrediting the IPCC, simply make it all the more remarkable that the end product of its labors is so scientific as to be nicknamed “the latest science” by the various politicians who’ve had occasion to hold it aloft at press conferences over the years.

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