IPCC WG III on CO2 “equivalents” … and confusion

So, while Stephan <even when I’m wrong, I’m right> Lewandowsky continues to defend his indefensible Recursive Fury against Frontiers’ retraction – aided and abetted by his dutiful little gophers (aka Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook) – thereby planting himself (and his over-inflated ego) firmly in the ranks of those whose signature anthem should be “Mediocrity Forever“, I see that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been busy launching “outreach” activities pertaining to the recent oh-so-transparently negotiated behind closed doors Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of Working Group III (WGIII)’s contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).

Sad to say that (at least to date) there’s no sign of yet another sequel to AR5 The Movie. Perhaps they’re saving this one for the still-being-written Synthesis Report (SYR) which, according to the IPCC:

integrates and synthesize material in the WG reports for policymakers. The SYR will be finalized 31st of October 2015 (sic)

Assuming that the “WG reports for policymakers” = the three now finalized Summaries for Policymakers, I find it rather curious that it should take another 18 months to produce this document. The year 2015 may (or may not) be a mere typo (that will eventually get [silently] corrected). However, their choice of target date does seem quite appropos: Oct. 31 of any year is always a night for scary stories!

UPDATE: 04/21/2014 Just for the fun of it, I decided to take a look at the IPCC page on which I had found the “October 2015” date noted above. And guess what, folks, they’ve changed it [silently as predicted] to “October 31, 2014”.

Although it is perhaps worth noting that neither the content nor the year of finalization of the SYR is consistent with that found in the (presumably) official “Scoping Document“:

As defined in the IPCC procedures, the SYR would synthesize and integrate material contained within IPCC Assessment Reports and Special Reports. The SYR would be based exclusively on material contained in the three Working Group Reports and Special Reports produced during the 5th or previous Assessment Cycles. It would be written in a “non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy relevant, but policy-neutral questions”. The SYR should be largely self-contained, but guide readers to the underlying material if they wish to look further.

The primary audience for the SYR would be policymakers, in particular from governments, advisors to policymakers, and experts.

  • Adoption and approval of the SYR and its SPM will take place by end of October 2014 to allow making available an advanced copy of the longer report and the SPM of the AR5 SYR prior to the UNFCCC COP 20.
  • The Panel invites the UNFCCC to consider holding COP 20 as late as possible in order to allow sufficient time between the SYR approval Session and its availability for UNFCCC COP 20.

But on the bright side, at the April 13 WGIII Press Conference, IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri was sporting what appeared to be a new green tie:

And he still needs a haircut!

And he still needs a haircut!

Readers will note that, while Pachauri is still in need of a haircut, this green tie is not as deep a green as the one he wore during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s annual recitation of their “Climate Carol” [see Annotation 3]. But I digress …

Because I’ve been out of town for most of the past week, during which (for the most part!) I took a break from blogging, I spent a few hours today “catching up”! One of my first posts of call, was Paul Matthews’ IPCC undermines UK Climate Change Act, in which he had included the following chart from AR4 WGIII for which there is no equivalent in AR5 WGIII:

Notice all the "CO2-eq"s

Notice all the “CO2-eq”s

When I saw this chart, I was reminded of a matter that I have occasionally pondered, i.e. the “framing” inherent in “CO2 – eq”. As I had noted in a comment on Matthews’ post…

According to Zeke Hausfather:

With all the focus on carbon footprints, carbon trading, carbon taxes, etc. it’s important to remember that there are other important greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and various halocarbons, that also contribute to warming – though not so much as carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide equivalence is a simple way to normalize all these greenhouse gases and other climate influences in standard units based on the radiative forcing of a unit of carbon dioxide over a specified timeframe (generally set at 100 years).

For example, one ton of methane would be equal to 25 tons of CO2-eq, because it has a global warming potential 25 times that of CO2.

One major source of confusion surrounding the use of CO2-eq is that there are two different ways in which CO2-eq can be interpreted. [emphasis added -hro]

And as I had further observed:

Setting aside the obligatory “not so much as carbon dioxide” (and the [carefully?!] omitted distinction between human-generated CO2 vs naturally occurring CO2, is it not extremely ironic that it is we skeptics who are constantly accused of generating and spreading “confusion”?!

I wonder how/when/why the decision was made to declare that CO2 would – in effect – (very conveniently?!) become the … uh … ‘gold standard currency’ for measuring all Greenhouse Gas Emissions of all stripes and flavours.

A few hours later, I got around to watching the video of this April 13 Press Conference which – apart from Pachauri’s new tie – was most notable for the way in which those who were “responding” to questions succeeded in missing the point of the actual questions, opting instead to either veer off into jargonland or to tell the audience how wonderful the IPCC really is! So, in light of my questions regarding this ‘gold standard currency’, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that at least one reporter seemed to share my curiosity and perhaps confusion!

Btw, I’m not sure why, but for some reason, the camera(s) remained fixed on the “head table”. Perhaps there was a decision to cut back on expenses, or perhaps there were so few in the audience, it would have been embarrassing for the camera(s) to switch focus to the questioners!

During this press conference, however, there were occasional questions from those “outside” the venue – which were sent in via E-mail in “real time”. One such question came from a reporter with Danish TV, whose name I did not catch, but whose question (at approx. 44:39 in the video below) included:

What is the definition or explanation of CO2 equivalents as used in this report. Does the number consist of all greenhouse gases and aerosols? To my knowledge, we already have 450 parts per million CO2 equivalents if we only consider greenhouse gases.

Not exactly the clearest of questions, but something may have gotten lost or added in Moderator, IPCC PR chap, Jonathan Lynn’s reading thereof. Nonetheless, after a rather pregnant pause, one of the three WGIII Co-Chairs, Ramon Pichs-Madruga who hails from Cuba, decided to offer an “initial” response … in Spanish with simultaneous English translation.

I don’t want to prejudice your view of Pichs-Madruga’s explanation of the “different metrics” and/or the reason the IPCC chose the “selection” it did, so I offer no transcription. But I’d be interested in knowing what you might have heard during his brief “response” – and in knowing what you might think about what you heard. Unlike the IPCC’s “transparency” as usual, i.e. no comments or ratings allowed, this post has no such limitation. So do feel free to comment below on this – or any other aspect of this Press Conference to which you might choose to subject yourself to viewing;-)

P.S. I don’t know if The Economist was at this Apr. 13, Press Conference or not. But they are considerably less than impressed with WGIII’s contribution to AR5 [h/t Roddy Campbell via twitter]. They conclude their “assessment” by noting:

Of the IPCC’s three recent reports, the first two (on the natural science and on adapting to global warming) were valuable. This one isn’t.

4 thoughts on “IPCC WG III on CO2 “equivalents” … and confusion

  1. I only listened to that one response. As clear as this explanation.

    In the end, global warming potential (GWP) isn’t actually a complicated concept, despite Pichs-Madruga’s clumsiness here. But GWP — GWP_sub_100 in this case — has to do with putting emissions on a common basis (Gt CO2 equivalent). But it has little to do with the question, because CO2 equivalent concentration is about putting forcing on a common basis.

    The WG3 SPM has a one-line answer: “The CO2 equivalent concentration includes the forcing of all GHGs including halogenated gases and tropospheric ozone, aerosols and albedo change.” The questioner was correct that the GHG forcing alone is already above 450 ppm CO2 equivalent. But including the negative forcing (e.g. from aerosols) gives a lower answer, below the 450 ppm level.

    • Thanks, Harold … that “explanation” could well be the “model” (you should pardon my use of the word!) on which many an IPCC designated climate “expert” relies when communicating with the press and/or the general public.

      But speaking of the 450 ppm … am I the only one who’s ever wondered about the potential influence/forcing or whatever of the elements that constitute the remaining 999,550 parts per million of our atmosphere?!

  2. Nice and THOROUGH summary, Hilary. Thank you for sharing.

    The IPCC is dead. (Zombies just appear to be alive.)

    Death knell: CO2 UP. WARMING STOPPED.

    Cause of death: Drowning. That is, WATER.

    From Table 3 (and inter alia) of source linked below:

    Methane (CH4)’s contribution to potential greenhouse effect = .360%
    WATER = 95%

    Just a bit of relevant info. re: methane’s mighty — NOT! — power (and CO2’s, too).

    Source: http://www.geocraft.com/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    I hope that you enjoyed a blessed and joyful Passover!

    Your fan,


    • Thank you, Janice – both for your kind “assessment” of my post, and for your good wishes.

      It was good to be with my family – particularly my aging and not-so-well father, and my two gorgeous great-nephews – for the first night of Passover. It was equally good to fly away from an unseasonably frozen and unsightly white-stuff covered Toronto on the second night; and to be home again in the temperate climate of Vancouver.

      And I hope you will enjoy Easter, in whichever way you choose to celebrate it.

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