Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Is the Chief Scientist’s recent science & economy report really pseudo-science?

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Fairfax journo Gareth Hutchens has an article in today’s Herald with the headline:

Australia’s scientists forced to rely on pseudo-science to be taken seriously in Canberra

Well, it is April the first.

Hutchens has a go at the recent Chief Scientist and Australian Academy report: The importance of advanced physical and mathematical sciences to the Australian economy (pdf). They engaged the Centre of International Economics to conduct an economic analysis that used the MMRF-NRA computable general equilibrium model to estimate the impacts of a number of input assumptions on the contribution of the physical and mathematical sciences to the economy. The report estimates that the direct contribution of the advanced physical and mathematical sciences is
equal to 11% of the Australian economy (about $145 billion per year). Along with the direct contribution, the report estimates additional and flow-on benefits of another 11%, bringing total benefits to just over 22% (around $292 billion per year).

I felt I had to defend the report, which is not perfect but necessary (I think I also agree with the headline). In doing so I find myself in defence of CGE economic models (which I can’t quite believe I’m doing). Basically, Hutchens reckons that by engaging with an economic consultancy and an economic model, the Chief Scientist and Australian Academy of Science have prostituted themselves (my words) to the same economic lobbying that everyone else in Canberra uses to argue for government support. Here’s my response posted to the comments of the article (slightly edited – doesn’t seem to have made it through, either):

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Written by Roger Jones

April 1, 2015 at 9:17 am

New IPCC report: busting myths, both scientific and economic

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New IPCC report: busting myths, both scientific and economic

By Roger Jones, Victoria University

The headline statements of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new Synthesis Report – unequivocal climate change, almost certainly driven largely by humans, and an urgent need to cut emissions – won’t come as any surprise to people who paid attention to the three larger reports the IPCC has released over the past 14 months.

But reading the full synthesis report, as opposed to the shorter Summary for Policymakers (SPM), shows that while the facts haven’t changed, the IPCC has subtly altered its approach to how it presents this information. Instead of dealing largely in forecasts and responses, as in previous syntheses, it now frames the climate problem squarely in terms of risk management.

Not everything of importance in the full synthesis report made it into the SPM. The language in the SPM is also weaker, particularly about the nature of irreversible risks and about threats to food security. The full report contains valuable pointers for managing climate risks and the benefits of acting, so should be preferred for decision-making purposes.

The report is also great for debunking some of the persistent myths about climate change, both scientific and economic. But, unfortunately given the urgent need for new economic policy to cut carbon, it’s stronger on the former than the latter. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

November 3, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Pentagon adapts

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The US Department of Defense has just released their FY 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, Secretary Chuck Hagel saying in the foreword “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.”

The Department has established three broad adaptation goals:

Goal 1: Identify and assess the effects of climate change on the Department.

Goal 2: Integrate climate change considerations across the Department and manage associated risks.

Goal 3: Collaborate with internal and external stakeholders on climate change challenges.

These goals are supported by four lines of effort:

  1. Plans and Operations include the activities dedicated to preparing for and carrying out the full range of military operations. Also included are the operating environments in the air, on land, and at sea, at home and abroad, that shape the development of plans and execution of operations.
  2. Training and Testing are critical to maintaining a capable and ready Force in the face of a rapidly changing strategic setting. Access to land, air, and sea space that replicate the operational environment for training and testing is essential to readiness.
  3. Built and Natural Infrastructure are both necessary for successful mission preparedness and readiness. While built infrastructure serves as the staging platform for the Department’s national defense and humanitarian missions, natural infrastructure also supports military combat readiness by providing realistic combat conditions and vital resources to personnel.
  4. Acquisition and Supply Chain include the full range of developing, acquiring, fielding, and sustaining equipment and services and leveraging technologies and capabilities to meet the Department’s current and future needs, including requirements analysis.

It’s a sensible and clearly articulated road map that outlines the complexity of operating a large agency in increasingly complex settings. Go read. It’s the kind of planning we need in Australia – instead we have ideologically-induced paralysis.

Written by Roger Jones

October 14, 2014 at 8:15 am

‘Wait and see’ on climate? No, the science is clear: act now

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‘Wait and see’ on climate? No, the science is clear: act now

By Roger Jones, Victoria University and Roger Bodman, Victoria University

When should we act to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change: now, or later when we know more?

One person who thinks we should wait is New York University theoretical physicist, and former US Under Secretary of Energy for Science, Steven Koonin.

In an article published by the Wall Street Journal, and reproduced in The Australian, Koonin claims that climate models are still too uncertain and that everyone should hold their horses, arguing that:

… because the natural climate changes over decades, it will take many years to get the data needed to confidently isolate and quantify the effects of human influences.

That’s not to say that the issue isn’t pressing. But Koonin says we should urgently do science, rather than urgently cut emissions:

The science is urgent, since we could be caught flat-footed if our understanding does not improve more rapidly than the climate itself changes.

Well, yes. But we’ve been doing this “urgent science” for decades. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

September 30, 2014 at 8:09 am

The problem-solution framework

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A colleague, Celeste Young has just released a guide for adaptation practitioners: The problem solution framework: process guidance for adaptation practitioners. You can download it here: Problem Solution FINAL

This is a really useful guide that doesn’t worry too much about what climate information people have to deal with, but deals with the question – “Ok, you have decided to adapt, so how do you go about it?”

From the introduction:

The problem solution framework was developed by actively working with researchers and climate change practitioners in Australia over a number of years to assist practitioners in making sense of the information they received and how to apply it in their context. What I observed during this time was that successful practitioners in this field often intuitively used innovation techniques, but did not always recognise innovation or understand how it worked. I found that in some cases practitioners were getting stuck in the problem phase and continuing to use problem framing throughout the process, which could cause barriers to action and engagement.

What needed to be understood was the changeover between the problem and solution phases, and which work practices were best suited for the different parts of the adaptation process. I also found in some cases that practitioners were moving into the solution phase without fully understanding the nature of the problem which could lead to unrealistic expectations and poor outcomes.

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Frontiers retraction controversy

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The following is a long post, but on an important issue.

Frontiers is an open source science publisher based in Switzerland. Their aim is to provide an open access, open science platform that empowers researchers in their daily work and where everybody has equal opportunity to seek, share and generate knowledge. They have started up a whole host of “Frontiers in” journals covering a wide range of subjects. They have also been linked with the Nature publishing group who is interested in the open access model Frontiers is developing.

So I jumped at the opportunity to be an associate editor of the newly established area of Interdisciplinary Climate Studies. The Editor in Chief is the Swiss climatologist, Professor Martin Beniston. An associate editor invites a panel of reviewers who review a collection of articles each year. The associate editor establishes their interdisciplinary area with a “challenges” paper to set the ball rolling. Their task is to encourage researchers to submit innovative papers exploring the frontiers of knowledge. Read the rest of this entry »

McLean follow up

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Elaine McKewon book-ended my letter to the editors of Fairfax papers The Age and Sydney Morning Herald regarding the publishing of John McLean’s error-ridden piece on the IPCC (the editors, by the way, have not responded) with a terrific take down of McLean in Crikey.

She questioned McLean’s byline on the original article, to whit:

John McLean is the author of three peer-reviewed papers on climate and an expert reviewer for the latest IPCC report. He is also a climate data analyst and a member of the International Climate Science Coalition.”

asking “But is that accurate? Who is John McLean? What qualifications entitle him to speak as an expert on climate science? What is the ICSC, and which groups, interests and agendas do McLean and the ICSC represent? What exactly does it mean to be an “expert reviewer” of IPCC reports?”

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