By Paul Homewood
Scientific assessment or environmental advocacy group? Pick one
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established as a scientific assessment process more than 35 years ago. Scientific assessments are of critical importance in many areas to help policy makers and the public to identify what is known, what is uncertain, as well as where there is contestation, uncertainties and areas of fundamental ignorance. Such assessments can also help us to understand policy options and expectations for how different choices might lead to different outcomes.
Regular readers of The Honest Broker will know that I have taken issue with the recent IPCC Sixth Assessment (AR6) based on an unacceptable number of errors and omissions in my areas of expertise, as well as its over-reliance on the most extreme climate scenarios. Today I take a look at the IPCC’s self-described political agenda and argue that the institution finds itself at a fork in the road.
Before proceeding, I want to be clear about what I mean when I talk about “the IPCC.” In one sense there is really no such thing as “the IPCC.” The organization’s assessment process includes many hundreds of people who do their work across three Working Groups to produce many dozens of chapters covering a wide range of topics. The Working Groups are largely independent of each other and even chapters within the same Working Group can be written largely independently of other chapters.
In another sense there is indeed such a thing as the IPCC — Specifically, its leadership and most engaged participants. These core participants represent a kind of climate in-group with a shared sense of purpose and an overarching commitment to a shared political agenda. For some people, their entire career is centered on the IPCC. These core participants do have a shared political agenda which can be seen in varying degrees within the reports.
So what is the political agenda of the IPCC in-group?
When the IPCC released its Synthesis Report in March, it announced:
"Taking the right action now could result in the transformational change essential for a sustainable, equitable world."
It would be easy to write this sentence off as containing consultant-like and empty buzzwords. But the notion of “transformational change” has been widely employed in the academic literature on climate and the IPCC clearly defines what it means by “transformational change.”
In its AR6 Working Group 3 report the IPCC explains that transformation involves more than simply transitioning from one type of technology to another (emphasis added):
"While transitions involve ‘processes that shift development pathways and reorient energy, transport, urban and other subsystems’ (Loorbach et al. 2017) (Chapter 16), transformation is the resulting ‘fundamental reorganisation of large-scale socio-economic systems’ (Hölscher et al. 2018). Such a fundamental reorganisation often requires dynamic multi-stage transition processes that change everything from public policies and prevailing technologies to individual lifestyles, and social norms to governance arrangements and institutions of political economy"
Transformational change means that everything changes.
What are examples of these sorts of changes? The IPCC identifies “the potential for virtuous cycles of individual level and wider social changes that ultimately benefit the climate.”
The IPCC continues (emphasis added):
"The starting point for this virtuous circle are inner transitions. Inner transitions occur within individuals, organisations and even larger jurisdictions that alter beliefs and actions involving climate change (Woiwode et al. 2021). An inner transition within an individual (see e.g., Parodi and Tamm 2018) typically involves a person gaining a deepening sense of peace and a willingness to help others, as well as protecting the climate and the planet . . ."
What are examples of such “inner transitions”? The IPCC explains:
"Examples have also been seen in relation to a similar set of inner transitions to individuals, organisations and societies, which involve embracing post-development, degrowth, or non-material values that challenge carbon-intensive lifestyles and development models . . ."
The IPCC discusses the importance of “degrowth” to its vision of transformation in its AR6 Working Group 2 report.
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May 16, 2023 at 11:49AM