New allegation of IPCC renewables report bias

Following the suggestion last week that a lead author from Greenpeace may have had undue influence over the outcome of the IPCC’s latest report on renewable energy, a new allegation has now been made regarding possible conflicts of interest amongst the lead authors of the report’s chapter on hydropower.

“The value of the IPCC report is weakened by the strongly biased treatment of hydropower,” says Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers, which campaigns to raise attention of the damaging effects large dams can have on riverine ecosystems. “At least half of the lead authors of the hydropower chapter are not independent scientists, but have a vested interest in the promotion of hydropower. This creates a conflict of interest, which is reflected throughout the report.”

All Working Groups of the IPCC have strict procedures for multiple reviews of draft chapters, including with the final product being approved line-by-line by the world’s governments. That these procedures might have failed to detect – or correct – a pro-hydro bias in the draft report is worrying, given the importance for the planet’s future of getting the right mitigation options for tackling climate change. The chapter on hydropower (PDF) suggests a ‘technical potential’ of four times the current 926 GW of installed capacity – of up to 3,721 GW. This would mean significantly encroaching on the natural flows of river basins in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The IPCC report states:

“Of the total technical potential for hydropower, undeveloped capacity ranges from about 47% in Europe and North America to 92% in Africa, which indicates large opportunities for continued hydropower development worldwide, with the largest growth potential in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

There is expected to be significant pressure for new hydropower development because water stored behind dams can balance out the intermittency challenge inherent in large-scale use of strongly-fluctuating solar and wind power in modern electricity grids. However, water released from behind dams tends to be at a lower and more stable temperature than the water in undammed rivers, altering ecological signals and damaging wildlife. Flow regimes also vary widely, according to the needs of electrical consumers rather than the seasonal signals of snowmelt, drought and flood. It is partly because dams can have devastating effects on riverine ecology that freshwater biodiversity is amongst the most endangered on Earth.

As with the issue of Greenpeace’s involvement with Chapter 10 of the report, the allegations of bias in Chapter 5 do not suggest that the report is totally one-sided or should be entirely rejected. There is a section dealing with ecological issues which points out the possible negative implications of hydropower, for example. Instead, the problem lies with the tone of the report and its headline conclusion. Says Bosshard from International Rivers:

“The hydropower chapter of the new report at time reads like a marketing brochure of the hydropower industry. It ignores or misrepresents the findings of the independent World Commission on Dams, and glosses over the findings of many scientific reports which came to conclusions that are not convenient for the hydropower industry.”

This is a serious allegation, which potentially adds to the loss of prestige the IPCC has faced over the Greenpeace/renewables issue. Yet Bosshard is not attacking the IPCC per se, as he makes clear:

We have high respect for the scientific rigor and independence of the IPCC. We were surprised and dismayed to see that the preparation of the new report’s chapter on hydropower was left to a group of authors of whom a majority has a vested interest in the promotion of hydropower. The nine lead authors include representatives of two of the world’s largest hydropower developers, a hydropower consultancy, and three agencies promoting hydropower at the national level.

We recognize the need to have hydropower expertise on the panel and do not question the personal integrity of the authors. Yet it is not appropriate for IPCC to commission individuals with a business or institutional interest in the subject matter to prepare a report that is supposed to be unbiased and independent. The resulting conflict of interest weakens the quality of the report’s hydropower section.

Of the two overall co-ordinating lead authors of the hydropower chapter, one – Tormod Schei – works for a large dam-building company, Norway’s Statkraft, which runs 277 hydropower plants in more than 20 countries, and is currently building the Kargi dam project in Turkey. In the wider lead author team, Jean-Michel Devernay is a senior director within the energy company EDF, and is also vice-president of the board of the International Hydropower Association, whose brief is to “advance sustainable hydropower’s role in meeting the world’s water and energy needs”, according to its mission statement.

According to the ‘planetary boundaries’ work published by Rockstrom et al in Nature, 2009 – which forms the backbone for my upcoming book – freshwater use is one of the planet’s key ecological limits which humans need to respect to protect the integrity of the Earth system. The quantified boundary proposed leaves little room for accelerated big dam development, suggesting that carbon emissions need to be reduced in ways which do not negatively affect the other proposed boundaries. Once again, this emphasises that we need to see the Earth in a more integral way, and focus on ways in which we can solve one global ecological problem without negatively affecting others.

As International Rivers’ Peter Bosshard aptly puts it:

Combating climate change must be part of a holistic effort to protect the world’s ecosystems. We cannot afford to sacrifice the planet’s arteries to save her lungs.

39 comments

  1. Luboš Motl says:

    Interesting – I just wrote an article about the IPCC WG3 problems for Lidovky, a leading Czech daily, and I attributed the findings about the Greenpeace and the hydro authors of the report to you. It took me some time to realize that you just found that Steve McIntyre found the former, and now I see that you didn’t even realize the latter. It’s very confusing because those discoveries are being attributed to you by many outlets – while you are, with all due respect, exceptional just for being a green activist who dared to read sources that actually revealed something that matters, right? ;-)

    Don’t you want to write a guest blog on The Reference Frame?

  2. jim edwards says:

    These professions of faith in IPCC after expressing dismay in the areas of the report that one has the most knowledge of remind me of the “newspaper fallacy.”

    Most people have read a newspaper article about an activity, hobby, or industry that they know something about.

    The first question in the reader’s mind is usually “How did they find this idiot to write about X, everything in the story is wrong – and they left out Z, the most important part !”

    The reader then goes on to express confidence in all of the other stories that are written about less familiar activities in the same edition.

    One would think that readers would extrapolate: slipshod in my area = likely slipshod in other areas. That’s not human nature, however.

  3. grypo says:

    Can we get more information on the “vested interest” that this group has in creating hydro power? I understand that these people work, or have worked, in both the government and private energy sectors, but I’m unsure as to who else would be called to write this chapter. Are we sure that we are offering adequate replacements for these people before start tossing people overboard?

  4. geronimo says:

    Mr. Lynas, you are extremely brave, challenging the IPCC from your side of the fence, i.e. a believer in catastrophic global warming, will bring down the wrath of the whole religion upon your head. You will be seen as a heretic and a traitor. The only upside to this will be that at least one person will be able to experience what happens if you so much as glance away from the mainstream postion, then you will understand why so many climate scientists keep their heads down despite have doubts about the forecast disaster that are going to be visited upon us. Very brave.

  5. Jack Savage says:

    Are you sure you want to go down this path, Glasshopper?

    The way will be hard and strewn with many stones! It is not to late to go back to the comforting warmth of the consensus!

    Once you really start looking into things…..who knows where you may end up.

  6. Webcraft says:

    Grypo –

    Agree 100%. It is very unlikely that you will find people who do not have some additional interest in hydropower who know enough to make a useful contribution to the report. I guess the answer is to make sure that there are people with knowledge from the other side of the fence also involved – such as Peter Bosshard, the policy director for International Rivers.

    Perhaps it is time for the IPCC to invite some of its opponents to come on board. Would they though?

    • Adam Gallon says:

      Steve McIntyre has been involved with one of the IPCC’s reports. His suggestions on improving the paleoclimate section fell upon stoney ground, with the Lead Author (Dr Keith Briffa?) did little but respond along the lines of “Noted, but we’re doing nothing” See Andrew Montford’s “The Hockey Stick Illusion” for more information. Steve McIntyre hasn’t been asked back, since he asked those awkward questions, like asking for stratistical proofs and computer algorithms showing how the results were obtained.

    • grypo says:

      They appear to have dedicated a significant amount of the report to deal with the Director’s problems. I’m unsure what he would like, as his complaints are generalized. But I see no reason why the IPCC wouldn’t allow someone like him to be on the team, if there isn’t on already. I’m having some trouble finding information on the lead authors’ knowledge of ecological impacts. I find it hard to believe they’re ignorant, or don’t know who to consult on these matters.

  7. pointman says:

    Again Mark, congratulations for highlighting yet another conflict of interest issue that won’t be addressed by so many professional environmental journalists.

    I do have to ask the question of why such apparent rigging of a significant chapter of the renewables report, wasn’t uncovered by a journalist, especially after McIntyre’s recent example.

    Pointman

  8. geoffchambers says:

    “All Working Groups of the IPCC have strict procedures… That these procedures might have failed to detect – or correct – a pro-hydro bias in the draft report is worrying, given the importance for the planet’s future of … tackling climate change”.

    But who says we need to tackle climate change at all? Why, the IPCC. And why do you believe them? Because they have strict procedures… Which is why it’s worrying…

    Mr Lynas, there’s a hole in your bucket .

  9. J Bowers says:

    I see plenty of discussion of environmental impacts, and effects on local populations, in the report. Pages 31 to 48 deal solely with the subject.

    At this rate, the only people approved to work on IPCC mitigations will be final year students. There’s a success story in the making….

    The secret to success; there isn’t one.
    The secret to failure; trying to please everyone.

    • Dave says:

      You sound like you think this isn’t a common problem with common, well-established, simple solutions. It’s only the IPCC and its faithful defenders who find this hard. What you do, if you can’t find unbiased, independent experts, is to get a balanced selection of those on both sides of the fence.

  10. Stirling English says:

    You really couldn’t make up a more incompetent bunch of buffoons as the IPCC. It;ll make a great film

    Thrill as they shoot themselves yet again in both feet
    Giggle as they get hijacked by every two bit special interest group in the greenie world
    Roar with laughter as El Capo plays with his voodoo dolls
    Marvel at their arrogance and superiority
    Watch the thimble as the ‘errors’ creep in ‘unnoticed’

    And at the final tragic (but hilarious) denouement, remember Ceuacescu, still deluded that his people loved and respected him…and the moment when it all fell apart

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU53qv5aA1M

    Will it really be like this for the IPCC…or with just a whimper, not a bang?

  11. Dolphinhead says:

    Mark if you go on like this you will be excommunicated from the Church of Romm

  12. Latimer Alder says:

    ‘All Working Groups of the IPCC have strict procedures for multiple reviews of draft chapters, including with the final product being approved line-by-line by the world’s governments. That these procedures might have failed to detect – or correct – a pro-hydro bias in the draft report is worrying’

    Does this evidence lead you to reassess the strictness or the effectiveness of these procedures in this case?

    If so, what confidence can we have in the strictness or effectiveness of these in previous work?

    Because there is a worrying trend for occasional errors to become normal, not unusual. And the more people look for them, the more they find.

  13. MarkB says:

    From the person who just wrote:

    “I have lost count of the number of times I have heard green groups insisting that climate change is the “greatest challenge ever to face humanity”. Yet their refusal to reassess their inherited positions against nuclear power suggest that none of them actually believe what they are saying – or that most environmentalists are prepared to take refuge in ideologically motivated wishful thinking even when the future of the planet is at stake.”

    we now get the party line anti-hydro position? Can we get Mark Lynas to go on record saying whether he thinks climate change is the greatest challenge ever to face humanity or not? If it is, then loss of local riverine ecosystems seems a small price to pay.

    • mrsean2k says:

      You oversimplify the question.

      Climate change *may* be the greatest challenge facing mankind.

      But the relative proportion of change that can be attributed to the influence of man-made CO2 and that of natural cycles / other natural factors makes all the difference in the world.

      At one extreme, if the climate is genuinely sensitive to CO2 in that way that climate models *assume* by design, investing vast swathes of GDP and regarding the loss of a freshwater ecosystem as minor *may* be justified,

      If, at the other extreme, natural cycles dominate, it may be no less of a challenge, but throwing away your GDP and your freshwater ecosystem is senseless and wasteful; *greater* industrialisation may be required to successfully adapt to inevitable climate change, to minimise loss of life.

      That human activity is the dominating factor in climate change is not demonstrated anywhere except in models.

    • MarkB says:

      You seem to miss the point. Either global warming is the greatest threat… destroying the plantet… etc, or it isn’t. For those who make the claim, it is incumbent on them to set their priorities straight. I am aware of no one who claims that nuclear power or hydro dams will destroy the planet, or end life as we know it. If Jim Hansen, Gore, et. al. are correct, then removing nuclear and hydro can only lead to the greater evil.

      I would like to hear from Lynas on this point. It’s a rather big one, after all. It’s a matter of being grown-ups and setting priorities. Children want to eat their dessert before dinner – grown-ups make them eat their vegetables first. Where are the grown-up voices here? Lynas is taking the grown-up position on nuclear power – I’m not so sure about hydro.

    • Mark Lynas says:

      Fair question. But there is a vast amount of ecological data and peer-reviewed science suggesting severe impacts on hydrological systems from enclosure by dams. This is the opposite to nuclear, which has little if any meaningful effect on ecology (except for mining and some footprint issues). So I hope I’m being consistent here. This is an additional reason why I raised the question of biodiversity impacts of wind. It is still an open question as to how significant these are.

      thanks
      Mark

    • mrsean2k says:

      I don’t believe I miss it:

      “…loss of local riverine ecosystems seems a small price to pay…”

      The truth of this statement is contingent on the contribution that man makes to changes in climate when considered alongside natural cycles.

      In comparison to “saving the world from CAGW”, I’d agree. It’s that the sacrifice would have a noticeable influence as far as this outcome is concerned that I take issue with.

      If sacrificing riverine ecosystems would prevent Godzilla from laying waste to civilisation as we know it, I also unhesitatingly agree. But first, show me Godzilla.

      And note that I discuss this purely in terms of the preventative effects it *may* have as far as climate change is concerned – the merits WRT other environmental impacts are a different matter with a different set of trade-offs.

  14. Dennis says:

    The report doesn’t look biased to me, a full sub chapter (5.6) is devoted to the environmental and social impacts of hydropower. For every chapter you can find someone who thinks his or her point of view is underrepresented.

  15. In response to Grypo, Webcraft and others: We found three people with a business interest and three more with an institutional mandate to promote hydropower among the nine lead authors of the hydropower chapter. I recognize the IPCC needs to strike a balance between expertise and independence. But if they can’t find sufficient independent expertise (eg from academics), they should at least balance the interests by also inviting civil society experts. You’ll find more information about the pro-industry bias on the hydropower chapter at http://www.internationalrivers.org/en/node/6626.

    • grypo says:

      Thanks Peter,

      I’m not sure the 3 promoting the hydro at a national level is a real problem, if their is real national interest in doing so, and there is a deep understanding of how dams effect the local ecology. There are issues with personal gain here that I see, but we are again running into the problem of understanding how that effects the report’s conclusions. I can appreciate your concern from a sustainability perspective, especially considering the future ways in which climate will change the game. I’ll read over the WDC report to find the way in which it differs from the IPCC report, and to see if it is even taken into consideration.

    • J Bowers says:

      Peter, could you give us clear examples (i.e., name names) of who you would choose to help author such reports, and why?

    • Skip Smith says:

      Are you hoping he won’t know any names so you can dismiss his concerns?

    • J Bowers says:

      See below.

    • Off the cuff, and based on the quality of their contributions to the academic debate on hydropower, I think the IPCC could have considered people such as Dipak Gyawali, Guy Lanza, Charles Vörösmarty and Ellen Wohl. If they wanted to include expertise from civil society, they could have invited people such as Peter Gleick, Patrick McCully and Brian Richter. (Note that I have not checked this with any of them, and except for our former ED Patrick McCully, none of these people are associated with International Rivers.)

    • J Bowers says:

      Many thanks. A quick google led me to lots more reading to do.

  16. Jon Jermey says:

    You underestimate the subtlety of the IPCC. They KNOW that water in dams is at a lower temperature, so they have taken that into account, added in the rise in temperature due to global warming, and come up with exactly the same temperature we currently have. The dam plans will not merely create lovely clean renewable energy, they will actually help to preserve our river ecology.

    Truly, these people are as gods.

  17. Barry Woods says:

    Steve Mcintyre is on the case again,about PR/Media advocay groups spinning the media about the renewables story. Mark gets a mention or 2.

    http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/20/the-carbon-brief-a-first-coat-of-whitewash/

    “The Carbon Brief, an advocacy site funded by the European Climate Foundation, as part of the ongoing whitewashing of IPCC’S deceptive press release on renewables, today purported to blame journalists for being tricked by the IPCC press release, stating:”

    They link to everybody else but somehow the Carbon Brief fail to link to Steve Mcintyre or Mark Lynas.

    Ben PIle (Climate Resisatnce) has this to say about a new baby IPCC type entity called IPSO. He’s more elequent than I am as usual…

    Relating to more science by Press release, and the report comes at some later date, making it difficult to fact check.. The Shocking State of the Oceans – BBC Richard Black

    http://www.climate-resistance.org/2011/06/a-deep-sea-mystery.html#comment-12453

    A modest bunch – see mission statement (front page website)

    http://www.stateoftheocean.org/

    “The International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) was established by scientists with the aim of saving the Earth and all life on it.”

    Straight out of a science fiction B-movie:
    scientists; “saving the Earth and ALL LIFE ON IT”

    • Barry Woods says:

      Oh – And the Guardian have it now as well…..

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/jun/20/marine-life-oceans-extinction-threat

      “The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, scientific director of Ipso.”

      No doubt, it is (as always) ‘worse than we thought”

    • Brian H says:

      “Ben PIle (Climate Resisatnce) has this to say about a new baby IPCC type entity called IPSO. He’s more elequent than I am as usual…”
      Does he also know how to spell eloquent? and Resistance? ;)

      IPSO is a real piece of work. It almost seems proud of its bias and one-sidedness. I’m sure, though, that if asked, “Have you no shame?”, they’d just look at you blankly.

  18. Major Mike says:

    Whilst all this saving the Earth is going on, I’m digging into what has gone before in hopes that knowledge of the past will help prevent mistakes in the future – and lead to a better future.

    Knowledge of the Past: H H Lamb’s encyclopedic “Climatic History and the Future” shows that in recent history – the last 10,000 years – there have been five periods of greater warming than present, and two of significant cooling. And sea levels 10 to 20 feet higher only 3,000 years ago, and 8 inches lower in the Little Ice Age. Plus Greenland ice cores that show 9,100 of the past 10,000 years were warmer than any of the past 100. All while CO2 was much lower.

    For the future, all means of energy production have serious environmental and economic defects save two: for the near future, Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) will solve all energy and environmental concerns – will not melt down, add to nuclear proliferation, and will virtually eliminate long-life nuclear waste – while burning up current nuclear waste and weapons components as fuel. In the not-too-distant future, nuclear fission, and if it never becomes economically practicable, LFTR will suffice.
    http://energyfromthorium.com/essay3rs/

    The IPCC has done nothing to gain us a better future: their boosterism and lying by omission have corrupted science and perverted the political environment.

    Thank you, Mr. Lynas, for looking over the fence to find a bit of what is on the other side.

Post a comment