Climategate part 2? A worrying conflict of interest
Yesterday I wrote a story in the paper about how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the UN’s authority on climate change) had used a Greenpeace campaigner to help write a key part of its report on renewable energy.
Many who follow the subject – and not just the usual climate change deniers – expressed concern that the IPCC, a body set up by the UN to provide scientific evidence for government decisions, had allowed itself to appear compromised by association.
This was then was compounded by a press release for the report which suggested that renewable sources alone, without nuclear power, could provide 77 per cent of the world’s energy supply by 2050.
The supporting documents, which weren’t released until over a month later, reveal that this claim was based on a large real-terms decline in worldwide energy consumption over the next 40 years (highly unrealistic as India and China grow their economies).
Greenpeace, of course, is passionately anti-nuclear.
Now it appears that there are more apparent conflicts of interest in the IPCC’s energy report.
Peter Bosshard, Policy Director of the campaign group International Rivers, contacted me to point out that the scenario for 77 per cent renewables included (against standard practice) large hydropower projects among the technologies to be promoted.
Most environmentalists believe that more large scale dams are not the right approach to generating electricity in a sustainable way.
While water is a renewable resource, the ecosystems that are destroyed by hydropower projects are not. Not least due to dam building, rivers, lakes and wetlands suffer from a higher rate of species extinction than any other major ecosystem.
Not only this but because of the decomposing organic matter found in reservoirs, dams emit greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2. In some cases, it is claimed, these emissions can be higher than those of thermal power projects with the same electricity output.
Ivan Lima of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research estimate that the total methane emissions from large dams at 104 million tons per year.
Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, and Lima’s figure amounts to more than 4 per cent of the total warming impact of human activities – roughly equal to the climate impact of the global aviation sector.
So why is the IPCC contravening international standard practice to promote hydropower?
Well this may be total coincidence but in addition to several independent scientists, the IPCC selected a number of authors to write the section of hydropower who have a vested interest in growing the sector.
Of the nine lead authors there are representatives of two of the world’s largest hydropower developers, a hydropower consultancy, and three agencies promoting hydropower at the national level.
As Peter Bosshard says: “The authors’ conflict of interest is reflected throughout the hydropower section of the report, which at times reads like a marketing brochure of the dam industry.”
So does all this matter? Well yes. Whether it likes it on not after Climategate the IPCC needs to be seen to be transparent or you just give succour to those who believe that global warming is one great conspiracy of the green movement.
Where possible those writing key sections of IPCC reports should have no real or perceived conflicts of interest even if that means reducing the vast numbers of people who currently contribute to such tomes.
Where it is not possible such conflicts need to be flagged up – and that means in the press release as well as in the footnotes.
It must never be dragged kicking and screaming out of the small print as has happened this time.
For more on this read the blog by environmental writer Mark Lynas (who, to avoid a conflict of interest, I should say I know) here.
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