Apr 30, 2010

Press Release Masquerade - Part 2

We've been told the 2007 climate bible, produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is written by the world's most qualified people working within a framework that has no "parallel on this planet". But the fact that some of the IPCC's analysis is based on suspect documents like press releases undermines this view.

I recently blogged about a press release that, in an abridged form, masqueraded as a news article which then got cited by the 2007 climate bible. On closer examination it turns out this news item doesn't say what the IPCC says it does. The full article appears at the top of the second page of this PDF. (The original press release is here.) The reference looks like this:
Anon, 2004: Government of Canada and Canadian pulp and paper industry agree on blueprint for climate change action. Forest. Chronic., 80, 9. [see it in the list here]

As the title indicates, it announces a plan to reduce the emissions of Canada's pulp and paper industry. But the IPCC uses this article to back up a claim regarding how climate change could, sometime in the future, affect certain industries.

It gets cited by the IPCC in the bottom right corner of this table – as Anon, 2004. But scan left, over to the beginning of that row, read all the way across, and what you discover is that the IPCC thinks the global pulp and paper industry, as well as the food processing sector, may face some risk from climate change because:

  • raw resources may cost more
  • production patterns may change
  • supply chains may shift or be disrupted and
  • changing lifestyles may influence consumer demand
All of the above are perfectly plausible with or without climate change. Nothing stays the same forever. So what?

What merits attention, though, is that the above-mentioned news article addresses none of these issues. And it says even less about how climate change will affect the international food processing sector.

In other words, the IPCC chose to rely on a news article that is actually an abridged press release to backup certain claims – but received no benefit from this decision. The news article doesn't talk about the issues the IPCC is discussing. Not even close.

So what about the second reference, the one listed after Anon, 2004? In its full version, it looks like this:
Broadmeadow, T., D. Ray and C. Samuel, 2005: Climate change and the future for broadleaved forests in the UK. Forestry, 78, 145-161. [see it in the list here]

An abstract of that paper appears here. (There's a discrepancy in the latter part of the title. The IPCC says "broadleaved forests in the UK", but the paper reads: "broadleaved tree species in Britain". The journal name, volume, date, and page numbers match, however.)

I've read this 17-page paper and, first of all, it's important to note its narrow focus. It discusses how climate change might affect a subset of trees in a particular country. It says increased C02 in the atmosphere is expected to enhance tree growth, improve the ability of forests to survive with less water, and extend the growing season. On the other side of this "largely positive" ledger, it says climate change will likely result in "an increase in the frequency and severity of summer droughts" in the UK (pp. 146-147).

Long story short, this peer-reviewed research paper concludes that the UK forestry industry might, sometime in the future, consider planting different sorts of trees. Only under the "most extreme" climate change scenarios, it says, are lower yields expected to be a concern (p. 159).

So how does the subject matter of this paper relate back to the IPCC's claims listed above? Employing a highly charitable interpretation, there's a tenuous link to the idea that production patterns and supply chains might be altered. In extreme situations, because a portion of the part of the global pulp and paper industry that happens to be located in the UK might face reduced yields, costs could increase. But I think that's a stretch.

What's more clear-cut is that this second source – like the news item discussed above - says nothing about climate change and the food processing sector. Nada. Zilch. The IPCC wants us to believe food processing will suffer due to climate change but it can't come up with a single reference that even mentions the sector.

So would it surprise you to learn there's at least one peer-reviewed research paper that argues climate change will benefit the global pulp and paper industry and consumers alike? An 18-page PDF of that paper is available here. According to its abstract: "Consumers in all regions benefit from the lower prices, and the overall impacts of climate change in timber markets are expected to be beneficial, increasing welfare in those markets from 2% to 8%."

The IPCC knows about this paper, because it cites it five times on this page, three times on this page, and once here. But the folks who put together this table preferred instead to rely on an irrelevant news item that's really a press release in disguise.


I am embarrassed to report that I made a mistake in my post two days ago. I said the IPPC did not italicize journal names in its reference lists, even though this is standard academic practice. (See the navy-coloured sidebar text here.) This is untrue. In the online version of the references, journal names are, in fact, italicized. Because formatting depends on a style sheet internal to the IPCC's website, however, when one cuts-and-pastes the references into a new document (as I did in order to send the list of chapter references to citizen auditors) the style is lost and the italics disappear. My apologies to the IPCC and to you, dear reader.


>> IPCC falls for press release masquerade
>> What the IPCC learned from press releases

>> The Stern Review scandal - the IPCC breaks 3 of its own rules
>> IPCC reliance on grey literature 30 times greater than UK threshold
>> What's left if we disregard non-peer-reviewed claims?