As John Ridgway noted the other day in Hold the Front Page, we’re all waiting with baited breath for IPCC AR6 WG1.

SPM, SYR and WGs 2 and 3 are not due out until next year. This is important, because without the SYR or SPM, the politicians and journalists will not have the foggiest idea what’s going on, since they rely on extracting five-word sound bites from ten-page-maximum summaries shorn of any qualms, cavils or codicils. And as I’m sure you all know from your close study of past WG1s, “Working Group One – The Physical Science Basis”doesn’t work like that.

According to IPCC procedures the Synthesis Report (SYR) should “synthesise and integrate materials contained within the Assessment Reports and Special Reports” and “should be written in a non-technical style suitable for policymakers and address a broad range of policy-relevant but policy-neutral questions approved by the Panel”. It is composed of two parts, a Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of 5 to 10 pages and a Longer Report of 30 to 50 pages. The AR6 SYR is based on the content of the three Working Groups Assessment Reports: WGI – The Physical Science BasisWGII – Impacts, Adaptation and VulnerabilityWGIII – Mitigation of Climate Change, and the three Special Reports: Global Warming of 1.5°CClimate Change and LandThe Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. AR6 SYR will be finalized in September 2022. […with the Synthesis Report due for release on 3 October 2022.]

Golly. That’s more than a year away. By which time we will have all fried or been drowned, if not reduced to barbarism by hyperinflation or incinerated by nuclear weapons in the coming struggle for control of the Spratly Islands.

After the excitement of Glasgow in November there will no doubt be a period of calm, as world leaders go home to polish up their NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions (otherwise known as ESNs, or Economic Suicide Notes.) We will therefore have a year in which to analyse what the real scientists (who do the Physical Science Basis, the only part available on Monday) are saying, and what the politicians think they’re saying, before the Harrabins and Carringtons get their hands on the potted version to serve up to the Faithful. 

To get an idea of what’s actually in IPCC reports, as opposed to what every journalist and his readers think is in them, one can do no better than to go back to the last IPCC report which made waves and provoke hot flushes at the Graun and the Beeb, namely the 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C,and in particular, for simplicity’s sake, the Summary for Policy Makers.

This is the “Twelve Years to Save the Planet” report popularised by Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and other environmental journalists and adolescent pop stars. 

There are about 114 paragraphs to the report, but the one that really caught the eye of commenters was the first one:

A.1. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.(high confidence) (Figure SPM.1) {1.2}

Readers then have to scroll down a dozen paragraphs to Figure SPM.1 in order to understand what they mean by “continues to increase at the current rate.” though I doubt whether Harrabin, Thunberg, or the other prepubescent nervous nellies who run the world’s energy policy, bothered. If they had, they would have found a graph of monthly temperature anomalies going way back to 1960, before the parents of most of today’s climate activists were born, and when even Our Leader John Selwyn Gummer was just an innocent young Cambridge C of E student in flared trousers with a crush on Pope John 23rd.

Where was I? The new régime at Cliscep is meant to stop me wandering off like this. Oh yes. 

The “current rate” of increase in global warming in figure SPM.1 is a smoothing of the jittery monthly anomalies so radical that 1970 to 2017 appears to the untutored eye as a more or less straight line which, when extended, threatens to cross the fateful 1.5°C threshold in 2040 – call it somewhere between 2030 and 2052. Hence the twelve years to save the planet. Apply the Chambers Correction, which consists of holding up a ruler, or the edge of a postcard from friends trapped in a Red Zone holiday resort in Portugal for the duration, to the smoothed graph on your computer screen, and you will find that when the IPCC talks about global warming continuing to increase at the current rate, what they in fact mean is the rate recorded between 2015 and 2017, which includes the biggest el Nıño event ever recorded. 

Something that the IPCC failed to note, though it’s there on their graph, is that for a single month in 2016 temperatures actually broke through the fateful 1.5°C barrier. And the world didn’t end.

And something that the 2018 IPCC report couldn’t foresee was that the climate crisis, as reported in the media ,wouldn’t actually set in until 2019-2021, with fires and floods and heatwaves and whatnot. And by then, according to the best HADCRUT monthly global temperature anomalies, average temperatures had fallen a half a degree, thanks to la Nina, wiping out the rise of the previous thirty-odd years. Are floods in Germany and wildfires in Greece being provoked by a record steep drop in average world temperatures? We sceptics are too honest and sensible to make such a stupid claim. But what would Harrabin and Harrington (sorry, Carrington – for some reason I confuse the Guardian’s environmental editor with a brand of baby’s nappies) have made of a similar rise of 0.5°C in the global monthly temperature anomaly?

Anyway, para. A.1. of the 2018 IPCC report states that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. (high confidence.) And that lower limit date became, in the press reports, the moment when the magic figure of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial (average of 1850-1900) temperatures might possibly be breached. Which then became the date beyond which the planet could not be saved. 

I haven’t checked exactly which hysterical loonies have made this claim, though I’m sure that Greta and Alexandria are among them. What is certain is that no-one in the international climate establishment has sought to correct this lemming-like call to stop everything that makes life worth living (like foreign travel, having babies, consuming – you name it) in the name of not destroying the planet by going over some bizarre arbitrary limit of 1.5°C above the average recorded temperature in 1850-1900, when thermometers were few and far between, and tarmac was little more than a gleam in the eye of Herr Benz.

Because every media report I’ve seen treats 1.5°C as some kind of scientifically established limit. Which it’s not. 

What happened was that, at Paris, the poor-cousin-co-host of the host country happened to be Fiji, which is in the Pacific. Everyone knows that Pacific islands are in danger of imminent disappearance due to sea level rise.Not everyone knows that almost everyone on Fiji lives on two volcanic outcrops rising 1324 metres (4341 ft) above sea level. Fiji has nothing to fear from global warming, but was well-placed to insist on special treatment for a dozen independent states with a total population less than the number of people who experienced blackouts the last time the sustainable grid failed in your country. Up till then, the IPCC had only been worrying about temperatures above two degrees, which is the average number of degrees held by the professors who run the show. 

(Our dear future Monarch Charles the Third was once enamoured of a sultry girls’ band called the Three Degrees. If only he’d married them instead of She Who Must Be Worshipped, we might have been spared a lot of environmental dreck. He could have converted to Islam to do it. There’s nothing in the constitution to stop a Moslem from being head of the Church of England, just so long as he isn’t a Catholic.)

Where was I? Help! Thank you. 

So, worry about a temperature rise of 2°C some time this century was trumped by worry about a 1.5°C rise some time rather sooner. And the IPCC, which is an Intergovernmental body (hence the “I” in its title) did what the governments asked it to do and produced a report on what might happen if temperatures rose by 1.5°C above the average temperature for 1850-1900 (which it’s already done globally in 2016; and which it’s done here and there for centuries before and since man-made global warming, because that’s what temperatures here and there do, naturally.)

Look here, John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben, Chairman of the Committee on Climate Change charged with imposing trillions of pounds oftaxes on us in order to wean us off our addiction to petrol, coal, gas, plastic, concrete, and steel – I too have been a dreamy adolescent in flared trousers with visions of a better world. I grew up. It’s never too late. So please stop it. Or do we have to proceed to the heads-on-pitchfork stage?

Well, that’s my analysis of the first paragraph of the Summary for Policy Makers’ 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C. Since most hysterical comments in the mainstream press never got beyond the first paragraph, there seems no point in continuing further. 

On Monday the far more serious Physical Science Basis of AR6 WG1 is being published. Watch this Space for a detailed analysis, which may even go beyond the first paragraph of the report.

[Apologies for the large number of acronyms. It’s a modern trend that I try to resist, since I associate it with films and books on World War Two. It’s linked to an unconscious militarisation of our minds, IMHO. But we must live with the times; and the Spratly Islands are in danger; and the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth is fortunately patrolling the coast of the Enemy. God bless her, and all who sail in her.]


  1. Well, it hasn’t taken long for Matt McGrath at the BBC to perform the inevitable, 48 hours before press release time:

    “Climate change: New report will highlight ‘stark reality’ of warming”

    “UN researchers are set to publish their strongest statement yet on the science of climate change.

    The report will likely detail significant changes to the world’s oceans, ice caps and land in the coming decades….

    …On Monday, a short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will be released dealing with the physical science.

    It may be brief, but the new report is expected to pack a punch.

    “We’ve seen over a couple of months, and years actually, how climate change is unfolding; it’s really staring us in the face,” said Dr Heleen de Coninck, from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, who is a coordinating lead author for the IPCC Working Group III.

    “It’s really showing what the impacts will be, and this is just the start. So I think what this report will add is a big update of the state of the science, what temperature increase are we looking at – and what are the physical impacts of that?”

    According to many observers, there have been significant improvements in the science in the last few years,

    “Our models have gotten better, we have a better understanding of the physics and the chemistry and the biology, and so they’re able to simulate and project future temperature changes and precipitation changes much better than they were,” said Dr Stephen Cornelius from WWF, an observer at IPCC meetings.

    “Another change has been that attribution sciences have increased vastly in the last few years. We can make greater links between climate change and extreme weather events.”

    As well as updates on temperature projections, there will likely be a strong focus on the question of humanity’s role in creating the climate crisis….”.

    Significant improvements in the science in the last few years? I thought they told us last time round that the science was settled?


  2. Mark,

    This is not the first time that Matt McGrath has posted this report. An earlier version was posted on the BBC website on 26 July:

    It’s not as full a report as this latest version but you will see the message is exactly the same and much of the material has just been repeated. When essentially the same reports are simply repeated at intervals, you can’t call it news reporting — it is blatant campaigning.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Mark – you said above “SPM, SYR and WGs 2 and 3 are not due out until next year”

    yet in comments you quote Matt McGrath from our dear old BEEB – “…On Monday, a short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will be released dealing with the physical science.”

    I’m confused !!!

    anyway, from your BBC link –
    “One of the most important questions concerns sea-level rise. This has long been a controversial issue for the IPCC, with their previous projections scorned by some scientists as far too conservative.”

    “scorned by some scientists” – any names & reasons given, nope.


  4. “As John Ridgway noted the other day in Hold the Front Page, we’re all waiting with baited breath for IPCC AR6 WG1.”
    I too am waiting with baited breath but expect the report will be a damp squid.
    The end result will be that I’ll order calamari rings for dinner.


  5. @Richard Drake – it reminds me of the Monty Python – Nudge Nudge know what I mean skit


  6. In the BBC article Matt McGrath says that on Monday the IPCC will be releasing “a report” which “will likely detail significant changes to the world’s oceans, ice caps and land in the coming decades.” (The verb ”detail” skates over the fact he’s talking about “predictions.) Getting precise about the future is not what scientists are supposed to do, IMHO. He then says: “It is expected the forthcoming Summary for Policymakers will be a key document for global leaders when they meet in November” and links to the IPCC website, which clearly says: “The Synthesis Report [of which the SPM is part] will be the last of the AR6 products, currently due for release in 2022.”

    All is made clear later, when he says: “On Monday, a short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will be released dealing with the physical science.” What we’re getting on Monday is WG1 plus a 40 page SPM of WG1, not the real SPM, which is part of SYR due out in September 2022.

    And to cap it all, there’s a third example of the future intruding on the present in the Met Office graph which accompanies the BBC article, the x axis of which is marked off in 25-year periods. Applying my ruler to the computer screen, I identified the 1998 el Niño peak as falling just after the first zero in 2000. And the graph finishes with a double peak, the second one of which occurs just after the first zero in 2025 – presumably back in 2023.


  7. Nearly there!

    “World’s climate scientists to issue stark warning over global heating threat
    IPCC’s landmark report will be most comprehensive assessment yet as governments prepare for pivotal UN talks in November”

    “The fires, floods and extreme weather seen around the world in recent months are just a foretaste of what can be expected if global heating takes hold, scientists say, as the world’s leading authority on climate change prepares to warn of an imminent and dire risk to the global climate system.

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will on Monday publish a landmark report, the most comprehensive assessment yet, less than three months before vital UN talks that will determine the future course of life on Earth.

    Policymakers have already previewed the findings, finalised on Saturday night, which have been the subject of an intense two weeks of online discussion by experts around the world, and represent eight years of work by leading scientists….

    …The IPCC, made up of hundreds of the world’s foremost climate scientists, publishes comprehensive assessments about every seven years, with this report the sixth since 1988. This one will be different, however: previous work has shown that the 2020s are a crucial decade, in which greenhouse gas emissions must be halved in order to limit heating to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, established by previous IPCC reports as the threshold of safety, and the lower of two goals in the 2015 Paris agreement.

    Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, said this would be the last IPCC assessment that can make a real difference in policy terms, before we exceed 1.5C and the ambitions of the Paris agreement….” etc etc etc.


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