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Government Science Adviser
Undermines Climate Change Policy

April 29, 2011

A presentation by the Gillard Government’s science adviser on climate to the Multi-party Climate Change Committee, now revealed publicly for the first time, has seriously undermined the dangerous warming thesis used to justify a policy of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide. The 18 slides and accompanying text used by climate change adviser Professor Will Steffen, which have been examined in the attachments by four independent scientists and me, are rife with errors or misinterpretations of data and a failure to identify important areas where major scientific uncertainties exist. Yet Steffen’s presentation on the state of global warming science on Nov 10 has been used by Ministers (including the Prime Minister) to justify the claim that they have a policy based on “the science” but which, in reality, has little or no substantive scientific basis.

To take just one example, in an address to the Press Club on 13 April Climate Change Minister Combet quoted Steffen’s advice in making the absurd statement that there is 100% certainty that the earth is warming and that a very high level of certainty exists for this to continue unless emissions are reduced. True, Steffen does himself also make the 100% certainty claim in Slide 16 (headed “Climate Change: The Bottom Line”) but Combet makes no reference to either Steffen’s acknowledgement (in Slide 11) that “many uncertainties surround projections of future climate change” or to the very slight reduction in temperatures since 2001.

The first attachment – “Government misadvised on global warming” – refers to ClimateGate revelations of uncertainty amongst even warmist scientists and, from a much larger group, lists four instances where qualified scientists have published critical commentary on warmist views. Contrary to claims by Government Ministers, it is now clear that there is significant group of scientists which rejects the dangerous warming thesis and the need for urgent government action to reduce emissions.

Following are a few examples of the many errors/ misinterpretations by Steffen listed in the second attachment.

  1. Slide 2 on “Basic Science” shows trends in global temperature from 1880 with a comment that from 1980 to 2009 the trend has been warming at 0.2C per decade and has not slowed during the 2000-09 decade. But an analysis based only on the 1980 to 2009 period cannot provide a basis for a substantive emissions reduction policy. Steffen also overlooks that the head of the Climate Research Unit at East Anglia University, which has been the major provider of data to the IPCC, told the BBC last year that “from 1985 to the present there has been no statistically significant warming”. Also, a substantive statistical analysis shows a very slight fall since 2001.
  2. Slide 3 (headed “Human-caused climate change or natural variability?”) shows various reconstructions of temperatures in the northern hemisphere from 200AD, with a sharp rise from around the mid 19th century after the start of the industrial revolution. The slide, shown as having being compiled by “Mann et al. 2003(EOS),” includes the infamous hockey-stick portrayal by Mann who claims that the main increase in temperatures over this period occurred after the industrial revolution when fossil-fuel usage reached progressively higher levels. That analysis has been discredited in (inter alia) a US congressional inquiry and it is astonishing that it should be used by Steffen as a basis for supporting the dangerous warming thesis. Nor is any reference made to the evidence suggesting higher temperatures than today in various earlier periods such as the Medieval Warm Period. Slide 23 (amongst those added by the analysts), which is the best available reconstructed temperature record, illustrates the variations since AD16 and the slightly higher temperature than now in the MWP.
  3. Slide 4 focusses on the reduction in Sea Ice in the Arctic but makes no mention of the increase in the Antarctic or of the fact that loss of sea ice in the Arctic has no significant effect on sea levels and has occurred at several earlier times when fossil fuel usage was low.
  4. Slide 5, which shows global sea-level rise from 1970 to 2008, implies a sharp increase since 1990 in line with IPCC predictions. In fact, the increase in recent years shows a trend towards the lower end of the range of IPCC predictions to 2100 (18-59cms), which if continued would mean very limited inundations of coast lines.
  5. In “Climate Change Science: Summary” (Slide 6) a claim is made that “it is very likely that anthropogenic greenhouse gases caused most of the observed increase in globally-averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century”. Again, this is a short period that could not in itself justify major urgent action to reduce emissions. Also, with temperatures falling slightly for more than half the period (from 1940-mid 1970s and from 2001) despite the increase in fossil fuel usage, the implication that human influence caused “most of” the observed increase is an obvious mis-attribution. Also relevant is the relatively large temperature increase in 1976-77, which may have reflected mainly natural causes.
  6. Slide 8 on “Rainfall: water resources” shows a map of rainfall from 1970-2005 in various parts of Australia. The only part of the map where strong evidence of climate change is claimed by Steffen is in a small part of southern Western Australia.
  7. Slide 11 on “Climate Change Impacts –Summary” suggests Australia is the “most vulnerable of developed countries”, that impacts are already having “significant” consequences, and that risks of adverse impacts include abrupt or irreversible changes after a 1.5-2.0 C temperature rise. This vulnerability assessment is presumably based on the assumption of higher temperatures: cooler temperatures would have less vulnerable effects for Australia than for countries such as Canada. Apart from the incidence of floods and droughts, which recur from time to time but do not exhibit greater frequency, there is no evidence of “significant consequences” to date from climate change (as distinct from weather variations). Nor is there any evidence to support the thesis that “abrupt or irreversible” changes would occur if temperatures rose above 1.5-2.0 C: Australia and Australians have in any event shown considerable capacity to adapt to changed circumstances.

The foregoing reinforces the need for an independent inquiry into the risk of dangerous warming occurring.

Des Moore

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