Jan 28, 2010

Greenpeace and the Nobel-Winning Climate Report

Considered the climate Bible by governments around the world, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is meant to be a scientific analysis of the most authoritative research.

Instead, it references literature generated by Greenpeace - an organization known more for headline-grabbing publicity stunts than sober-minded analysis. (Eight IPCC-cited Greenpeace publications are listed at the bottom of this post.)

In one section of this Nobel-winning report, climate change is linked to coral reef degradation. The sole source for this claim? A Greenpeace report titled "Pacific in Peril" (see Hoegh-Guldberg below). Here the report relies on a Greenpeace document to establish the lower-end of an estimate involving solar power plants (Aringhoff).

When discussing solar energy elsewhere, the report references two Greenpeace documents in one sentence. Here it uses a Greenpeace paper as its sole means of documenting where the "main wind-energy investments" are located globally (Wind).

On this page, the report notes that while some research suggests wind power will generate between three and five percent of global electricity by 2030, a more optimistic forecast places this number at 29%. The six times more favorable estimate comes from GWEC, 2006 - a 60-page, photo-rich report co-authored by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council. (The latter describes itself as "the global wind industry trade association.") In fairness to the IPCC, even it rejected Greenpeace's numbers, choosing instead to use 7% in its analysis.

But the fact that this report relies on Greenpeace-generated copy isn't the only reason for concern. Here is an IPCC graphic:

The idea that 2,500 "scientific expert reviewers" provided feedback about the report during its pre-publication phase sounds awesome. But many of those people aren't scientists at all. They're professional activists in the employ of environmental organizations.

The expert reviewers who had input into just one portion (Working Group III) of the IPCC report are listed in this 8-page PDF. They include three Greenpeace employees, two Friends of the Earth representatives, two Climate Action Network reps, and a person each from activist organizations WWF International, Environmental Defense, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

One of these expert reviewers is Gabriela von Goerne - who holds a PhD in geology and works as a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Germany. Von Goerne is co-author of a 2008 report that employs colourful, less-than-clinical language. Carbon capture and storage "will arrive on the battlefield far too late to help the world avoid dangerous climate change” it declares on page six.

(Incidentally, although this Greenpeace report begins with a declaration that it is "based on peer-reviewed independent scientific research," footnotes 48 and 53 cite only a non-peer-reviewed source to support statements of fact:
  • Hannegan, B, 2007. Testimony for Hearing of the Science, Technology and Innovation Subcommittee of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. 110th Cong., 1st Sess. 7 November 2007.
Moreover, footnote 153 cites a Greenpeace-published document authored by von Goerne herself. Greenpeace, it would appear, has a definition of "peer-reviewed" that is as elastic as the IPCC's.)

Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin), The Princess Bride

As a Greenpeace employee, von Goerne gives interviews to the media. In 2007 she expressed her organization's policy preferences to MSNBC: "What we see is a diversion of money away from renewables toward CCS and coal, and that's not the way we want to see things move forward... [italics added]

A 2005 BBC article about a Swedish company exploring clean-coal technology, quotes her thus:
I don't think [this company] is taking climate issues seriously. They want to move on with coal technology, which ultimately is a dead end. The best choice would be to concentrate on renewable energies...
And in 2004, when von Goerne was part of a three-person Greenpeace delegation that testified before a committee of Australia's Parliament, her demeanor was so combative that she was admonished by the chair, who told her: "We are not having an ideological argument."

All of this suggests that von Goerne is no neutral, disinterested party. It's difficult to believe that, in her role as an IPCC reviewer, she confined herself solely to science-based objections.

Nevertheless, according to this bio, during the same time she would have been performing her reviewer role for the 2007 Nobel-winning report, von Goerne was also serving as a lead author of an IPCC special report examining the issue of carbon sequestration.

The second Greenpeace "scientific expert reviewer" is Steve Sawyer. A Greenpeace bio describes him as a "seasoned campaigner on board Greenpeace boats and a tireless lobbyist." In 2005 he spent his time "lobbying governments and corporations on energy policies."

Sawyer is a former director of Greenpeace USA, a former executive director of Greenpeace International, and has two children with former Greenpeace Antarctic campaign director Kelly Rigg. In 2007, he became the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, the lobby group that produced the wildly-optimistic wind power estimate mentioned above.

Fond of dramatic statements, Sawyer has declared that "Future generations will not forgive us if we delay" emissions cuts. He has warned that Manhattan is at risk of being "under water" due to climate change. And then there's this quote from a press release issued prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq:
It's clear [the US and the UK]...intend to wage a reckless war which would make the world a much more dangerous place...If it wanted the world to be ruled by the cowboy with the biggest guns, the international community wouldn’t have created the UN...
In short, Sawyer's career has focused on political activism and environmental lobbying. How does that qualify him to be an IPCC "scientific expert reviewer"?

The third Greenpeace representative given official standing as an IPCC reviewer is Sven Teske. When a Greenpeace protest vessel shut down Europe's largest coal port in 2005, Teske was on board. Described as a renewable energy expert, he declared:
Climate change is now the single biggest threat facing our planet...Greenpeace is here today to expose Europe's dangerous addiction to coal.
Elsewhere, he insists that: "Renewable energy is the true answer" to coal's shortcomings [italics added]. According to this bio, Teske has a BSc in engineering and a masters in "wind energy technology." Curiously, a 1995 Greenpeace press release described him as a "nuclear expert" [screengrab here].

In April 2009, Teske was one of two speakers at a "Public Forum on Climate Justice" held in Ottawa, Canada. Although he resides in Amsterdam, a month later he was quoted in a Greenpeace press release calling for Canadian "political leadership" on green issues. A month after that, he called Australia "a global climate change pariah."

Teske is a co-author of a Greenpeace publication titled "New Zealand Energy Revolution: How to Prevent Climate Chaos". It features a forward by (and photograph of) Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC's chairman.

In 2006, Greenpeace released another report in conjunction with the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (a solar power lobby group). Teske is described as the "Greenpeace Co-ordinator and scenario analyst" in its credits and his name is one of two appearing at the end of that document's forward.

This attractive, 50-page publication is an extended brochure of the sort distributed by solar energy marketing departments. Although it is data and graph-intensive, it contains a grand total of four footnotes. Although it mentions external documents in passing, no list of full citations is provided.

Thus, we read on page 14 that, "According to a WHO study, as many as 160,000 people are dying each year as a result of climate change." Should we care to double-check this claim, we're on our own. [a critique of the WHO study]

As incredible as it sounds, this publication/brochure is itself cited in the Nobel-winning IPCC report as evidence that a particular statement is true. Appearing in the list below as Greenpeace 2006, it is one of two references mentioned in a single sentence, as discussed above.

Which begs an important question: how did it get into the same room with serious scholars? Why would it even be under consideration by a scientific body tasked with producing an assessment of the latest scientific research?

There appears to be an interesting chronology here. First Teske is granted "scientific expert reviewer" status by the IPCC. Second, a non-academic, non-peer-reviewed document in which he was closely involved gets added to the climate change research canon by virtue of it being cited by the Nobel-winning report.

Third, Teske co-authors a new Greenpeace report that receives an extra measure of prestige when it features a forward authored by the high-profile IPCC chairman. Fourth, in a final flourish, Teske - like his Greenpeace colleauge von Goerne - gets elevated to lead author status of yet another IPCC special report (on renewable energy) due to be published this year.

Where does Greenpeace stop and the IPCC begin? Sometimes it's difficult to tell.

  • Aringhoff, R., C. Aubrey, G. Brakmann, and S. Teske, 2003: Solar thermal power 2020, Greenpeace International/European Solar Thermal Power Industry Association, Netherlands
  • ESTIA, 2004: Exploiting the heat from the sun to combat climate change. European Solar Thermal Industry Association and Greenpeace, Solar Thermal Power 2020, UK
  • Greenpeace, 2004: http://www.greenpeace.org.ar/cop10ing/SolarGeneration.pdf accessed 05/06/07
  • Greenpeace, 2006: Solar generation. K. McDonald (ed.), Greenpeace International, Amsterdam
  • GWEC, 2006: Global wind energy outlook. Global Wind Energy Council, Bruxelles and Greenpeace, Amsterdam, September, 56 pp., accessed 05/06/07
  • Hoegh-Guldberg, O., H. Hoegh-Guldberg, H. Cesar and A. Timmerman, 2000: Pacific in peril: biological, economic and social impacts of climate change on Pacific coral reefs. Greenpeace, 72 pp.
  • Lazarus, M., L. Greber, J. Hall, C. Bartels, S. Bernow, E. Hansen, P. Raskin, and D. Von Hippel, 1993: Towards a fossil free energy future: the next energy transition. Stockholm Environment Institute, Boston Center, Boston. Greenpeace International, Amsterdam.
  • Wind Force 12, 2005: Global Wind Energy Council and Greenpeace, http://www.gwec.net/index.php?id=8, accessed 03/07/07

>> More dodgy citations in the Nobel-winning climate report (WWF-generated literature)
>> Time magazine's controversial glacier expert
>> Green time capsule: 1970 eco ideas not pretty
>> Climate psychics: 10-year-old UK snow prediction fails miserably