Interview with BBC: Keeping the Administration honest on the IPCC report conclusions


BBC World Service Radio interviewed us (in Washington, D.C.) and the leader of the U.S. delegation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change meeting in Paris on the February 2 release of the IPCC Working Group I report Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis.  A transcript follows.

The interview with Sharon Hays of OSTP is posted on the BBC web site.  We made this transcript:

BBC World News
February 2, 2007,  5:30 a.m. ET
Interview with Sharon Hays, Associate Director/Deputy Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, leading the United States delegation, and Rick Piltz, Director, Climate Science Watch.
BBC interviewer in Paris: “[Sharon Hays] told me what she learned:
Hays:  The difference with this report I think is the certainty.  We know now with much more certainty than we did five years ago that humans are having an impact on the climate.  This report said that human impact is very likely.  The last report just called it likely, and those words have tremendous significance in the context of this kind of report.  “Very likely” translates to more than 90% certainty that humans are playing a role in the warming of the last 50 years.
BBC:  What are the likely projections for the next 100 years?  What have you guys agreed?  What is going to happen to the world?
Hays:  Well, assuming that the carbon emissions continue, that it is very clear that the planet will continue warming, that we will have increased sea level rise and a number of other phenomena such as increased melting of the Greenland and most likely Antarctic ice sheets.
BBC:  And the sea level rise is one of the issues that is most contentious through the week.  Many people have said, many people are saying that, what you’ve agreed is effectively too conservative, it’s too low, that sea level is rising quicker than what is reflected in this report.
Hays:  Right.  What happened with this report is that the model projections we know don’t fully take into account the melting of the ice that we are seeing.  And I think that the report dealt with this issue in a very a satisfactory way in that it reported the projections that the models have put out—and I should note that those models now have less certainty than they did in the previous report—but it deals with the fact that this ice is melting at a faster rate than we expected and is not accounted for in the models, by simply stating that.  And it states it in the report very clearly and makes it clear that the projections are a baseline, so to speak, that we expect the melting to be greater.
BBC:  Many people might find it surprising to see the United States this involved in a process which is putting the blame on human beings for making the planet warmer.
Hays:  Well, the U.S. has played a very strong role in developing the climate science that we were talking about at this meeting.  The Bush administration has spent over $9 Billion on climate change science research and over $29 Billion on all of our climate policies and research and technology put together.  So, I really feel that in many ways that if it weren’t for that investment that we wouldn’t be able to have a report with the kind of certainty that we do today. 
BBC:  It’s unequivocal—human beings have most likely been the ones who have caused global warming and the American government and the American scientists are right behind that.
Hays:  There’s two different statements.  One is that the warming of the planet is unequivocal, and that’s a very strong statement.  It’s one that the U.S. supported because we believe it’s true. There is a second statement in the report , and that is that it is very likely that humans are behind the, at least partly behind, and mostly behind, the warming of the last 50 years. 

BBC:  And the American government is signing up to that as well?
Hays:  Yes, we supported that at this meeting.

BBC:  Now that we have the science, what should people take from this?  Should people be frightened by this?
BBC:  Well, again, I think that global warming is a serious challenge and it’s something that the world must address as a whole.  It’s a global problem and all countries will have to take a role in confronting it.
BBC interviewer in London:  That is Dr. Sharon Hays, Deputy Director, the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, talking to our science reporter, Matt McGraw.  Well this report from the IPCC is based on consensus science.  It has to get the approval of all signatories, so its conclusions by definition are a political compromise.  So does that affect their accuracy?  Rick Piltz is the director of Climate Science Watch, a watchdog group in Washington.  He formerly worked for the U.S. Government’s climate change program, but resigned in 2005 because of what he said was political interference by the Bush Administration in climate change reports. Thank you for speaking to us.  Can you briefly tell us what happened to you?
Piltz:  Yes, I worked for 10 years in the federal program that supports the research in climate change and global environment.  And I found during the course of the Bush Administration that the Administration was allowing its political position on global warming policy to affect the way it was allowing the climate science to be communicated to a wider audience.  This political interference was impeding an honest communication about the state of scientific knowledge and I ultimately resigned from the program to protest and publicize that.
BBC:  How high up the chain was this political interference, as you call it, coming from?
Piltz:  Well it goes all the way up to the President in that the President, even to this day, even though for the first time he acknowledged the existence of global climate change in his State of the Union address, even until that, said that there is a fundamental debate about whether climate change is man-made or natural, and that sends a message down the chain to the point where you would have an oil industry lobbyist in the White House environmental policy office policing government reports directly to play down the global warming problem, so whatever happens at the lower levels to intervene is reacting to something that is all the way up the power curve.
BBC:  And what about this report today from the IPCC?  Do you detect political interference here?
Piltz:  Well, not in the IPCC report.  I believe the IPCC reports have had integrity and are of tremendous importance.  Of course the Policymaker Summaries are negotiated but the science experts sign off on their accuracy, and it is important that all the governments get this uniform agreement on what the science says.  That is an important underpinning for the diplomatic negotiations.  But the question is, now that it is signed off, will the U.S. government embrace the language of the report?  My understanding is that the report says it’s very likely that human activity is responsible for most of the observed warming over the last 50 years and for projected warming in the 21st century.  Will the Bush Administration acknowledge that?  It is not enough for them to parse the thing in such a way as to say, “OK, it’s very likely that humans are making some contribution but we don’t know how much.”
BBC:  We must leave it there but thank you very much indeed for speaking to us and for getting up so early.  That is Rick Piltz , Director of Climate Science Watch.

Note:  Sharon Hays seemed to start to say “it is very likely that humans are at least partly behind the warming”—thus already incrementally weakening the IPCC conclusion, Bush Administration-style—then she caught herself and said “mostly behind the warming.”

OK—we’ll count that as one small step for humankind, that Dr. Hays held herself accountable at that moment.  Now let’s hear from the President, White House Science Office Director Marburger, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Connaughton, the Climate Change Science Program leadership at NOAA and other agencies, and other Administration officials.  How faithfully will they adopt the key IPCC conclusions on attribution of observed global warming, and also on the projected greater warming in the 21st century?  That will be an indicator of whether they are accountable for how they use climate change science assessment and their own policymaker summary.

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