Sunday, May 31, 2009

An aversion to calculating the cost of climate change

Reuters Alertnet points out that a recent study of climate mortality has come in for some methodological sniping. But couldn’t the New York Times come up with a more credible critic than denialist Roger Pielke? I’m just saying: Why does it seem so hard to put a credible face on the human impact of climate change? The latest effort to do so - a report commissioned the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF), a Geneva-based organisation led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and released on Friday - has been criticised for what some say is the shakiness of its data.

….But articles in two well-respected media outlets - the Economist and the New York Times - have poured cold water on the GHF's efforts to provide those figures. "As in so many reports of this kind, the trend looks plausible, but there seems little basis for the exact numbers," says the Economist. "For example, the authors attribute two-fifths of an expected increase in weather-related disasters to climate change and use this as a basis for all their other sums. But they offer no convincing rationale for this approach, and admit with refreshing candour that 'the real numbers may be significantly lower or higher'."

…The authors admit the human impact "is still difficult to access with great accuracy because it results from a complex interplay of factors" and recommends that the report's estimates "should be treated as indicative rather than definitive". They also warn that the true human impact of global warming is likely to be far more severe than they predict, because the report uses conservative IPCC scenarios. New scientific evidence points to greater and more rapid climate change.

But, despite the caveats, the academic gloves are most definitely off. According to an article by Andrew C. Revkin in the New York Times, the GHF study has been dubbed "a methodological embarrassment" by Roger A. Pielke Jr., a political scientist at the University of Colorado who studies disaster trends. He says there's no way to distinguish deaths or economic losses relating to human-induced global warming from those caused by wider factors such as population growth and economic development in vulnerable areas.

… If the GHF study - irrespective of its alleged imperfections - draws attention to the gaps in what we know and manages to convey the message that the poorest and most vulnerable should get more of a say in the international climate policy arena, it will be of value to the humanitarian community….

Daumier's 1860 "Scene from a Comedy by Moliere"

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