A series of four articles by Barry Brill – either scroll down or click the headings to read.
1. This Changes Everything!
On the basis of recent science, the UN has halved to only 2.5°C its prediction of global temperatures by the year 2100.And that modest prediction is based on a “business as usual” policy environment – ie the assumption that no country around the world will add any new or additional climate policies…
2. The News Story of the Year!
Stop press: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has announced that it now accepts research showing climate change is expected to reach just 2.5°C – only half as much as the mainstream media has long assumed. In a formal statement, the UNFCCC said the world is “on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century”…
3. Is 2.5°C Close Enough?
The UN has retracted the giant lie of RCP8.5, and has declared RCP3.4 to be its ‘most likely’ scenario. Consequently, its “business-as-usual” prediction for global warming by 2100 has been cut in half – and is now a mere 2.5°C since pre-industrial times. Does it still make sense for the world to spend trillions of scarce dollars in trying to mitigate that last 0.5°C of possible warming in 2100?…
4. The overdue retraction of a giant lie
The UN has shocked the climate change community by announcing on the eve of COP27 that it now believes climate change will be only about half as bad as previously thought. According to the report from UN Climate Change released on 26 October the world is “on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century”…
1. This Changes Everything!
Like poor Sisyphus of old, Minister James Shaw will be forced to push a massive boulder up a mountain all over again.
All of his countless plans, policies, assessments and budgets were tumbled down that bureaucratic mountain by a lethal pre-COP27 announcement by the United Nations.
On the basis of recent science, the UN has halved to only 2.5°C its prediction of global temperatures by the year 2100. And that modest prediction is based on a “business as usual” policy environment – ie the assumption that no country around the world will add any new or additional climate policies.
Following the slow 30-year evolution of climate science, this sudden change is revolutionary. It is the kind of paradigm shift described by science philosopher Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Even a noted climate catastrophist has declared that – “we are now headed to a less apocalyptic future”.
The collapse of long-standing global warming expectations is largely the result of the UN’s belated rejection of the most extreme scenario of future emission levels – known as Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5, or RCP8.5. This unrealistic input to climate models has for many years applied a massive upward distortion to the calculation of likely future temperatures.
The hapless James Shaw was alerted to this pending bombshell only recently. Always a climate catastrophist, he leads a political party that is built on the immutable creed that climate change is an existential threat to humanity. He has never seen a worst-case scenario that he did not like.
Shaw’s ideological bent helps explains why the outlier RCP8.5 lies right at the heart of all of the climate change estimations and policies that have been published by the New Zealand government during his five-year stint in the Climate Change portfolio.
All that now has to change.
The 8.5 scenario is dead
In 2009, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chose four trajectories of radiative forcing (2.6, 4.5, 6, and 8.5 W/m2) to cover all conceivable volumes of human-caused GHG emissions up to the year 2100. They were called Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and aimed to represent every possibility that had been mentioned in the scientific literature. They were not called “scenarios” and were never intended to relate to reality in any way.
The IPCC defines a scenario as “a plausible description of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces (e.g. rates of technological change, prices) and relationships”.
In subsequent years, when another UN group developed story-lines of pathways that might plausibly produce those four outcomes, RCP8.5 presented great difficulties. It could not happen in the absence of a perfect storm of no technology changes, rocketing population and a global effort to increase (not minimise) future emissions. In particular, it required such a huge escalation in the use of coal as to exceed all of the world’s known and recoverable reserves.
Although it was immediately obvious that RCP8.5 would never happen, most scientists used it as a “worst case” scenario and some less-than-objective advocates even treated it as “business as usual”. Among the latter group were the New Zealand government’s advisers – including NIWA and the Climate Change Commission.
All the trends of real world data observed over the last decade have only reinforced the inherent improbability of the 8.5 scenario. Its coup-de-grace was finally delivered by Ritchie & Dowlatabadi (2017), Why do climate change scenarios return to coal? – a Canadian research paper demonstrating that the coal-intensive scenario was simply not believable.
The issues are recounted in a 2021 essay, “How Climate Scenarios Lost Touch With Reality”, by Roger Pielke Jr and Justin Ritchie; and the associated research paper: “Most plausible 2005-2040 emissions scenarios project less than 2.5 degrees C of warming by 2100”.
The UNFCCC has now banished RCP8.5 (and its successor SSP5-8.5) from all its policy-making at COP27. For good measure, it has also dropped the RCP6.0 scenario, and is now focussing on an envelope between 2.6 and 4.5 – a new addition, RCP3.4.
Even taken in isolation, the long-awaited abandonment of the extreme RCP8.5 is the most important and consequential climate change story of the last decade.
Enormous policy implications
In “The climate ‘crisis’ isn’t what it used to be”, Dr Judith Curry notes that “The main stream media is currently awash with articles from prominent journalists on how the global warming threat is less than we thought”. She says “the policy implications are enormous”.
Our climate policy is driven by the UNFCCC Treaty of 1992 which aims to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic global warming (DAGW). That treaty fathered the Paris Agreement, set out at Schedule 2A of the Climate Change Response Act 2002, which effectively defines “dangerous” as warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
Based on advice from the NZ Climate Commission, prior to COP26 in Glasgow, Minister Shaw promised a net 50% reduction of New Zealand’s 2005 gross emissions by 2030. This extremely ambitious, and economically painful, pathway to 571 M tonnes of long-term gases was calculated by reference to BAU global temperatures of 4.5°C by 2100, and relied heavily upon modelling of the effects of RCP8.5.
We now know all those calculations were based on wrong assumptions. As were the endless calculations and model runs which underpin New Zealand’s First Emissions Reduction Plan, its First National Climate Risk Assessment and First National Adaptation Plan.
Other Government publications such as “Coastal hazards and climate change: Guidance for local government” and interim guidance on the use of new sea-level rise projections, all being heavily reliant on RCP8.5, can no longer stand.
Tens of thousands of person-hours of highly-paid public servants have been invested in all of this modelling and central planning – which has been variously described by spin-masters as “economic transformation”, a “just transition” or the “great reset”.
The graphics are great, the theory is polished and the overall presentation is outstanding. But …. the underlying baseline assumptions have proved to be over-heroic and are no longer seen as insupportable. When the major premise of a syllogism is disproven, the conclusion must be discarded.
A realistic scenario
The year is 2026, and two high-powered legal teams face the bench in Auckland’s gothic revival High Court, along with opposing teams of expert witnesses – civil engineers, climatologists, oceanographers, surveyors, valuers and others. The occasion is a major test case on the Auckland Council’s first attempt to register “flood-prone” caveats on the titles of 36 homes along the Tamaki Drive waterfront at Kohimarama.
The Council will rely upon the Government’s 2020 National Climate Risk Assessment, and its consequent 2020 National Adaptation Plan of 2022, both recently updated but not revised. For their part, the homeowners have subpoenaed a senior UN official to depose as to the status of the historic RCP8.5 and the IPCC’s current predictions of global temperatures in 2100.
A novel totalisator website, in its beta phase, allows punters to bet on the outcome of the litigation. The current odds of 95:5 favouring the homeowners have led the Green Party to challenge its algorithms as “climate denialist” and a form of illegal hate speech.
Government’s advisers, acting rationally, will have little choice but to change their minds when the facts change (as advised by JM Keynes). Every government promise, every target, every carbon budget, and every quantified policy to mitigate future global warming will now require a thorough root-and-branch review. The models must be re-worked.
But it’s not all bad news. One silver lining to the paradigm shift in climate science is that schoolchildren will no longer have to march on Fridays. The Labour government can extend its petrol price subsidy with a clear conscience. Hopefully, businesses will be allowed to do business rather than spend time estimating potential losses from future climate policies. And the Reserve Bank can finally turn its attention back to monetary policy.
2. The News Story of the Year!
Stop press: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has announced that it now accepts research showing climate change is expected to reach just 2.5°C – only half as much as the mainstream media has long assumed.
In a formal statement, the UNFCCC said the world is “on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century”.
This new paradigm replaces the long-standing and much-feared presumption of 4 – 5°C by 2021 – which has led to worldwide declarations of a “Climate Emergency” in recent years.
‘The Overdue Retraction of a Giant Lie” describes how the New York Times, the undoubted world leader in media climate alarmism, has been shocked by the UN’s seminal volte-face. Columnist David Wallace-Wells has publicly retracted his previous “predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife” as well as “warnings of civilisational collapse and even a sort of human endgame”.
The very first line of Wallace-Wells’ best-selling 2019 book reads: “It is worse, much worse, than you think….”. Just three years later, he welcomes the news that the anticipated apocalypse has been cancelled:
“We’re headed towards a less apocalyptic future ….We once thought that we were heading one place, a bad place. Now we know that we’re actually headed to another that looks a whole lot better. And that is good news.”
Good news? Of course it is. It’s earth-shattering, hold-the-front-page news! It’s unquestionably the news story of the year!
So, why aren’t we all talking about it?
It’s nothing short of extraordinary that the so-called “mainstream” media in this country have evidently imposed a news blackout on this development. Try googling “NZHerald AND 2.5°C ” for the past week and you’ll get no hits at all.
Sadly, this blanket of silence is consistent with the cartel-type behaviour that our media slouches into every year during the lead-up to the UN’s annual COP. The sole competition between our meagre media sources is the attempt to outdo each other in climate change cheerleading, rather than in the reporting of news.
The New Zealand media seem callously indifferent to the nightmares of the many children who are anxious about pending climate catastrophe. To the agony of depressed teenagers and others who have believed the stories of climate apocalypse. To the galloping inflation caused by energy taxes and the million other burdens imposed by the government to ‘combat’ future climate change.
Contrast this myopia with countries that enjoy some media competition. In “The climate ‘crisis’ isn’t what it used to be”, Dr Judith Curry notes that “The main stream media is currently awash with articles from prominent journalists on how the global warming threat is less than we thought”.
On 1 November, the Wall Street Journal ran the story “Good Climate-Change News Is Fit to Print” with the sub heading “Slowly it’s percolating into the journalistic mind that recent research is upbeat”. The article begins:
“Call it the calamity of climate journalism. After 40 years, writers are still serving up a binary issue, with idiotic back-and-forths over who is a denier in ways that work, sometimes deliberately, to undermine clear thinking and any concession to the changing science.”
In a couple of weeks – after the Egypt COP concludes – some reference to this breakthrough will begin seeping into our news. With luck, the UN’s halving of the fear factor will temper the wild hyperbole of climate and weather stories by New Zealand media.
But don’t expect headlines or celebrations!
3. Is 2.5°C Close Enough?
Does it still make sense for the world to spend trillions of scarce dollars in trying to mitigate that last 0.5°C of possible warming in 2100?
2.5°C is the new BAU expectation
The UN has retracted the giant lie of RCP8.5, and has declared RCP3.4 to be its ‘most likely’ scenario. Consequently, its “business-as-usual” prediction for global warming by 2100 has been cut in half – and is now a mere 2.5°C since pre-industrial times.
I have previously described this sudden change as nothing short of revolutionary. It is the kind of paradigm shift anticipated by science philosopher Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Even New York Times columnist David Wallace-Wells (a noted catastrophist) has conceded that – “we are now headed to a less apocalyptic future”
In “The climate ‘crisis’ isn’t what it used to be”, Dr Judith Curry notes that “The policy implications of all this is enormous”.
2.0°C is the global target
There was another major climate bombshell this month. After years of campaigning for a 1.5°C target, The Economist ran a cover story in its issue of 5 November: “The world is going to miss the totemic 1.5°C climate target. It needs to face up to the fact”.
The aspirational target of 1.5°C has proven to be something of a red herring. Four years ago, I pointed out that it was politically impossible, because China and India alone would blow through the available CO2 budget, even if every other country reduced emissions to zero by 2030.
Nobel laureate William Nordhaus disclosed in his Nobel Memorial Prize lecture (see below) that “In the DICE model, it is essentially infeasible to attain the stringent temperature target of 1.5°C….
New Zealand Minister James Shaw conceded last month that “the 1.5°C target is on life support”. No longer. The Economist, a weather vane for the thinking of WEF , UN and other climate campaign leaders, reports that the heart-lung machine has been turned off and the 1.5°C aspiration is dead.
A distinction without a real difference
The new expectation of 2.5°C from 1850 to 2100 is only a shade higher than the 2.0°C target that was originally proposed by the EU in 1996 and eventually enshrined in the Paris Agreement. In a world of uncertainties, does an estimated half – degree over 3 or 4 generations really matter that much? Are now obsessing over trivia?
- The average temperature difference between the new status quo and the target is only six-hundredths of a degree per decade (0.31-0.25=0.06). How much of a difference could 0.006°C per year make? (That is 0.000016°C in any average 24-hour day)
- In every decade, almost half the world experiences a cooling trend while a fraction more than half is warming. The 0.06°C/decade is the estimated difference between two very large numbers. The measurements are rife with uncertainties, estimates and rounding, so the decadal trend is way less than the margin of error. In scientific terms, there is no statistically significant difference between the target figure of 2.0°C and the expected figure of 2.5°C.
- The 2°C target is merely an arbitrary number derived by political consensus and is far from being a scientifically-derived temperature level. It is a nice round number which gives everybody something to aim at.
- Another 1.4°C in the next 80 years is essentially a continuation of the trend of 1.1°C that we have already experienced over the past century. That trend has seen a huge reduction in lives lost to weather extremes as well as record improvements in all relevant global indicators, such as life expectancy, poverty reduction and food production. There is nothing to fear in this modest trend.
- The 2.5°C prediction takes account of current and pending decarbonisation policies but is necessarily agnostic regarding any new low-carbon energy technologies between 2030 and 2100. History tells us that technology has evolved rapidly over the past 80 years, and is highly likely to evolve no less rapidly over the next 80. Just one category, Gen IV small modular reactors, is quite likely to revolutionise future energy production, so as to decimate emission predictions made in 2022.
- The IPCC has declined to study the impacts of natural variability (such as year-to-year swings of several tenths of a degree from El Nino and La Nina, volcanic eruptions, and multidecadal ocean oscillations) on the assumption that they will be swamped overall by human-caused increases. As Dr Curry points out – if you cut the anthropogenic warming in half, you lose any rationale for ignoring natural climate variability. If natural variability were to be measured, it would almost certainly exceed the difference between 2°C and 2.5°C in most periods.
Cost-benefit analysis favours a 3.0°C target
The 2.5°C expectation raises a very real and serious question as to whether it is worth spending huge resources on an “energy transition” which can only make a very marginal difference to future temperatures.
For many years, economists and climate scientists have linked their computer models into single modelling frameworks known as “integrated assessment models” (IAMs). While they have many flaws, IAMs are the best available tools for quantifying any net benefit expected from reductions in future warming and the ballpark costs required to bring about those reductions.
Economists agree that global warming brings net benefits up to a certain point but then causes net harm if it continues to rise. In Tol (2009), “The economic effects of climate change” considers all 14 then-published estimates and finds that net benefits (Figure 1) do not turn negative until temperature increases are about 2.3°C. At that time the scope and scale of “global greening” benefits were almost certainly under-estimated, so a higher break-point might be expected today.
Leading cost-benefit authority, William Nordhaus, was awarded the 2018 Nobel Memorial Prize for his ‘DICE’ IAM quantifying the global interplay between the economy and the climate.
In his Nobel lecture, Professor Nordhaus states unambiguously (at p 452) that his DICE model shows “that the cost-benefit optimum rises to over 3°C in 2100 – much higher than the international policy targets.”
This sentence ought to have an earth-shattering impact. If the global warming target for 2100 was to be set by reference to science and economics, rather than by political consensus, it would be 3.0°C. While competing modellers and advocates inevitably disagree, Professor Nordhaus is unquestionably the world’s most authoritative expert in the area of climate change cost-benefit analyses.
In his Nobel lecture (p 451), Professor Nordhaus pointed out that:
‘However attractive a temperature target may be as an aspirational goal; the target approach is questionable because it ignores the costs of attaining the goals. If, for example, attaining the 1.5°C goal would require deep reductions in living standards in poor nations, then the policy would be the equivalent of burning down the village to save it. If attaining the low-temperature path turns out to be easy, then of course we should aim for it.
These points lead to an approach known as cost-benefit analysis, in which climate policy is set by balancing costs and benefits. Cost-benefit approaches pose deep problems just discussed because they require put- ting all changes, plus and minus, into a common metric. Moreover, many impacts are ones that may be difficult to measure, or ones that we may be reluctant to monetize. However, in the view of most economists, balancing of costs and benefits is the most satisfactory way to develop climate policy.”
However, the DICE IAM is currently predicated on climate models which predict a temperature of 3-5°C in 2100. The new BAU of 2.5°C and exclusion of RCP8.5 renders its findings obsolete.
It now needs to be run again on the basis of the current accepted science. It will expectably find that the world should happily settle for 2.5°C by 2100; and dismantle all the wild plans for spending trillions of additional taxpayer dollars.
If so, what Green politician could plausibly claim to have better insights than a Nobel laureate – however passionately she or he may support the idea of ‘economic transformation’?
4. The overdue retraction of a giant lie
The UN has shocked the climate change community by announcing on the eve of COP27 that it now believes climate change will be only about half as bad as previously thought.
According to the report from UN Climate Change released on 26 October the world is “on track for around 2.5 degrees Celsius of warming by the end of the century”.
The New York Times is equally shocked. In Beyond Catastrophe: A New Climate Reality Is Coming Into View, the Times’ leading climate change contributor, David Walker-Wells, muses at length on all the nightmarish fears that have now been banished:
“Just a few years ago, climate projections for this century looked quite apocalyptic, with most scientists warning that continuing “business as usual” would bring the world four or even five degrees Celsius of warming — a change disruptive enough to call forth not only predictions of food crises and heat stress, state conflict and economic strife, but, from some corners, warnings of civilisational collapse and even a sort of human endgame. (Perhaps you’ve had nightmares about each of these and seen premonitions of them in your newsfeed.)”
The same Wallace-Wells authored the much-lauded 2019 book The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, described by The Guardian as “an epoch-defining book” and by the NY Times reviewer as “the most terrifying book I have ever read”.
No doubt this alarmed author feels like he has been thrown under a bus by his co-alarmists at the UN. Many others will feel the same, and Roger Pielke Jr (who is mentioned in the article) tweets that “there is a lot of resistance”.
But sustained resistance is futile, as the UN made very clear in its blunt assertion on Davos Radio that “we own the science”. The owner has spoken, and there will be no further argument. The new range of 2–3°C by 2100 is now set in stone.
Why has the UN (and WEF) chosen this particular time to muscle down the extreme hyperbole which has become increasingly hysterical over recent years? Has their massive consumer-research intel finally told them that their long-running terror strategy has become counter-productive?
Wallace-Wells has lost no time in back-pedalling to a more defensive position. Rather tepidly, he welcomes the wonderful news that the apocalypse has been cancelled:
“We’re headed towards a less apocalyptic future ….We once thought that we were heading one place, a bad place. Now we know that we’re actually headed to another that looks a whole lot better. And that is good news
Now, with the world already 1.2 degrees hotter, scientists believe that warming this century will most likely fall between two or three degrees…..At four degrees, the impacts of warming appeared overwhelming, but at two degrees, the impacts would not be the whole of our human fate, only the landscape on which a new future will be built.”
But he then rapidly gathers the charred remnants of his former apocalyptic stance. He is bloodied but not bowed. He concludes that life will go on for media doom-casters –
“… already we can say a given heat wave was made 30 times more likely by climate change, or that it was a few degrees hotter than it would have been without climate change, and both would be true. We’ll be able to talk about the contributions of warming to disasters that buckle whole nations, as the recent monsoon flooding in Pakistan has, or about the human contributions to such vulnerability.”
And he turns his attention to adaptation –
“Deaths from natural disasters are not, in fact, growing — indeed, they have fallen, by an astonishing degree, from as much as an average of 500,000 deaths each year a century ago to about 50,000 deaths each year today. But whether those mortality trends would continue in a two-degree world is unclear. The declines have been smaller over the last 50 years, as global warming began to destabilize our weather, and even smaller over the last three decades, as temperature rise became more pronounced and warming pushed the world outside the “Goldilocks” climate range that had governed all of human history. Perhaps this means the world has harvested much of the obvious low-hanging fruit of adaptation.
“Two degrees is a lot better than four degrees,” says the climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, one of those who delivered now-legendary warnings about the risks of warming to the U.S. Senate in 1988. “And one-and-a-half degrees is even better than two degrees. But none of those levels means there’s nothing to do.”
Remarkably, this long and rambling article by David Wallace-Wells contains no apology for his past disinformation – for misleading thousands, perhaps millions, of his readers. His self-indulgent horror stories deprived children of sleep, sapped the will-to-live of millennials, distorted political dialogues worldwide, suppressed energy investment and caused all manner of unnecessary harm. The UN has now exposed that his dystopic predictions were wholly devoid of evidence – and he should have told us that.
Like many bad journalists, DWW obviously preferred to “interview his typewriter” rather than read IPCC Working Group 1 reports. Taking over-full advantage of the unwritten worldwide media pact to support the climate change narrative, he stretched it to outrageous lengths for his own benefit. Now caught out by his own “side”, his credibility is zero. But he does not apologise.
Rather, DWW attempts to credit the UN’s halving of climate fear to a previously unpredicted halving of human-related emissions – to reductions in SUVs, the demise of aviation, the culling of dairy herds, the decimation of coal power – all discovered in the 3.5 year period since his book hit the bestseller lists:
“Thanks to astonishing declines in the price of renewables, a truly global political mobilization, a clearer picture of the energy future and serious policy focus from world leaders, we have cut expected warming almost in half in just five years.”
Renewable price declines?
The UN’s downgraded estimate has nothing to do with sun or wind and everything to do with a large body of scientific work on Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) that extends for over 10 years. Numerous recent research reports, ranging from Otto et al, 2013 to Lewis and Curry, 2018, have pointed to an ECS between one and two degrees. Although this burgeoning consensus was questioned by Sherwood et al, 2020, – just in time for AR6 – that paper has in turn been challenged by Nicholas Lewis, 2022.
Clearer picture of the energy future?
Even Wallace-Wells has now bowed to the overdue abandonment of the extreme but unreal scenario known as RCP8.5. He says he was convinced by Ritchie and Dowlatabadi 2017 which bears the subtitle “Are cases of vastly expanded future coal combustion still plausible?”. Note that this paper was published some two years prior to DWW’s book. There has been much other work on the implausibility of RCP8.5, summarised in Roger Pielke Jr et al, 2022.
Global political mobilization? Focus by world leaders?
The article offers no evidence that the puny efforts of COP1 to COP26 have contributed in any measurable way to the avoidance of the previously-imagined apocalypse. Some credit should probably be given to the voluntary national reductions offered under the Paris Agreement but we know that its maximum effect could only be a trivial contribution of 0.048°C by 2100.
The UN’s COP27 announcement effectively concedes that there is no “climate emergency”. The extent of the risk is that global temperatures over the next 80 years are expected to rise at around the same barely perceptible average pace as the last 80 years – about 0.017°C per year.
And David Wells-Wallace, a world-leading guru of climate panic, makes it absolutely clear that this UN announcement is a seminal moment in the history of climate change alarm.
 Backed by the 132-page UNEP Emissions Gap 2022 Report.