My Opening Statement Before the Senate Banking Committee Today

Below, please find my opening statement. You can find my full written testimony here in PDF.

Chairman Brown, Ranking Member Toomey and the entire committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to share my perspectives today remotely.

I am a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and I have studied the use of science in policy for more than 25 years, including a long-term focus on climate.

Unfortunately, key scientific guidance on climate that informs policy– including central bank climate stress testing and U.S. government estimates of the social cost of carbon – has departed from basic standards of scientific integrity.

A main reason for this departure is that climate science has increasingly been enlisted in support of policy advocacy rather than to inform policy debates and decisions.

Today I Have Five Points to Make

FIRST, I emphasize that human-caused climate change is real, it poses significant risks, and policy responses in mitigation and adaptation are necessary and make good sense.

SECOND, the reality and importance of climate change does not excuse failures to provide up-to-date and accurate scientific advice to policy makers.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program to provide “usable information on which to base policy decisions relating to global change” – with a key product being the U.S. National Climate Assessment every four years.

In practice, however, the National Climate Assessment has been politicized in varying degrees by both Democratic and Republican administrations. It has been used less as a mechanism of science advice than as a tool for promoting the climate policy agenda of the president.

THIRD, shortfalls in scientific integrity matter because right now policy makers are being badly misled in a number of crucial areas. Here I will briefly cite two examples:

  1. Climate scenarios that underlie much of research on climate, its impacts and policy responses are badly outdated and no longer offer insight to plausible futures. It is analogous to focusing our nation’s current foreign policy on the Soviet Union – once that made sense but now it would just be out of date. The out-of-date climate scenarios are not off by just a little – for instance they assume the dramatic expansion of coal energy to a level 6 times that of today, such that it becomes our primary energy source, and we decide to use coal to fuel our cars. No one believes this is plausible. Yet, there it is at the center of our most widely used climate scenarios.
  2. Economic losses associated with extreme events are routinely attributed to changes in climate, while changes in society and its exposure and vulnerability – which also profoundly influence future risks — are largely deemphasized. Every day, somewhere on planet earth extreme weather events are happening. With 21st century communication technology and platforms we are all able to witness disasters in ways that in earlier times just wasn’t possible. But the visceral appreciation of extremes and their impacts is no substitute for data and evidence. These data and evidence indicate that since at least 1990 when data first became reliable economic damages associated with extreme weather have in fact decreased when measured in the context of global GDP. This pattern has occurred in countries of all income levels. It is good news and we want it to continue.

In contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – one of the nation’s leading science agencies with a strong staff and important mission – routinely promotes a “billion dollar disaster” list of events since 1980 to suggest that disasters and their costs are increasing dramatically due to climate change. What the dataset really indicates is growing wealth in locations exposed to loss. We should always use climate data to document climate trends, not economic data. Every time you see economic damage invoked as evidence of human-caused climate change you should think instead about the state of scientific integrity in climate.

FOURTH, shortfalls in robust science advice on climate are more than just an academic issue – they also show up in important policy contexts. Here I will briefly cite just two, which are discussed in more detail and with data in my written testimony:

  1. Proposals for “climate stress testing” in the global and national financial systems are grounded in the use of outdated scenarios. These scenarios include those of the Network for Greening the Financial System and the International Monetary Fund. If the baseline scenarios used to project policy futures are out of date, so too will be any guidance that results from their use.
  • The estimated “social cost of carbon” of the Biden, Trump and Obama administrations each has similarly relied on outdated scenarios with roots decades ago. Again, following guidance from impossible futures is not a good recipe for useful science advice. Worse, it can mislead.

These are a problems that require immediate fixing.

FIFTH and finally, Climate change is too important to allow shortfalls of scientific integrity in science advice to persist. Congress should enhance its oversight of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and its National Climate Assessment to ensure that the scientific advice that it receives is up-to-date and accurate. The mechanisms are in place – they need to be matched by a bipartisan commitment to securing robust science advice.

The bottom line?

At present there are troubling signs that Congress and the federal agencies are not receiving the high-quality advice necessary to inform decision making on climate mitigation and adaptation policies.

Thank you very much.

New Paper on Out-of-Date Climate Scenarios

How Climate Scenarios Lost Touch With Reality

By Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Ritchie

A failure of self-correction in science has compromised climate science’s ability to provide plausible views of our collective future.

The integrity of science depends on its capacity to provide an ever more reliable picture of how the world works. Over the past decade or so, serious threats to this integrity have come to light. The expectation that science is inherently self-correcting, and that it moves cumulatively and progressively away from false beliefs and toward truth, has been challenged in numerous fields—including cancer research, neuroscience, hydrology, cosmology, and economics—as observers discover that many published findings are of poor quality, subject to systemic biases, or irreproducible.

In a particularly troubling example from the biomedical sciences, a 2015 literature review found that almost 900 peer-reviewed publications reporting studies of a supposed breast cancer cell line were in fact based on a misidentified skin cancer line. Worse still, nearly 250 of these studies were published even after the mistaken cell line was conclusively identified in 2007. Our cursory search of Google Scholar indicates that researchers are still using the skin cancer cell line in breast cancer studies published in 2021. All of these erroneous studies remain in the literature and will continue to be a source of misinformation for scientists working on breast cancer.

In 2021, climate research finds itself in a situation similar to breast cancer research in 2007. Our research (and that of several colleagues) indicates that the scenarios of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the end of the twenty-first century are grounded in outdated portrayals of the recent past. Because climate models depend on these scenarios to project the future behavior of the climate, the outdated scenarios provide a misleading basis both for developing a scientific evidence base and for informing climate policy discussions. The continuing misuse of scenarios in climate research has become pervasive and consequential—so much so that we view it as one of the most significant failures of scientific integrity in the twenty-first century thus far. We need a course correction.

Read the rest here in PDF.

An IAM Module for a Future Syllabus

This is simply for my own future use, perhaps in a future graduate seminar. Feel free to suggest additions in the comments, which I will use to update. These are intended to be key articles about the history, roles and impacts of integrated assessment models in energy and climate science and policy. The point is not to be comprehensive, but to curate a manageable set of articles that well describe current debates on the use/misuse of IAMs, and the background necessary to place those debates into historical, intellectual and political context.

Updated 1 June 2021

Haikola, S., Anshelm, J., & Hansson, A. (2021). Limits to climate action-Narratives of bioenergy with carbon capture and storagePolitical Geography88, 102416.

Pielke Jr, R., & Ritchie, J. (2021). Distorting the view of our climate future: The misuse and abuse of climate pathways and scenariosEnergy Research & Social Science72, 101890.

van Beek, L., Hajer, M., Pelzer, P., van Vuuren, D., & Cassen, C. (2020). Anticipating futures through models: the rise of Integrated Assessment Modelling in the climate science-policy interface since 1970Global Environmental Change65, 102191.

Cointe, B., Cassen, C., & Nadai, A. (2019). Organising policy-relevant knowledge for climate action: Integrated assessment modelling, the IPCC, and the emergence of a collective expertise on socioeconomic emission scenariosScience & Technology Studies.

Gambhir, A., Butnar, I., Li, P. H., Smith, P., & Strachan, N. (2019). A review of criticisms of integrated assessment models and proposed approaches to address these, through the lens of BECCSEnergies12(9), 1747.

Beck, M. (2018). Telling stories with models and making policy with stories: an explorationClimate Policy18(7), 928-941.

Ritchie, J., & Dowlatabadi, H. (2018). Defining climate change scenario characteristics with a phase space of cumulative primary energy and carbon intensityEnvironmental Research Letters13(2), 024012.

Pielke, Jr., R. (2018). Opening up the climate policy envelopeIssues in Science and Technology34(4), 30-36.

Randalls, S. (2010). History of the 2 C climate targetWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change1(4), 598-605.

Vieille Blanchard, E. (2010). Modelling the future: an overview of the ‘Limits to growth’debateCentaurus52(2), 91-116.

Girod, B., Wiek, A., Mieg, H., & Hulme, M. (2009). The evolution of the IPCC’s emissions scenariosEnvironmental science & policy12(2), 103-118.

Pulver, S., & VanDeveer, S. D. (2009). “Thinking about tomorrows”: scenarios, global environmental politics, and social science scholarshipGlobal Environmental Politics9(2), 1-13.

Morgan, M. G., & Keith, D. W. (2008). Improving the way we think about projecting future energy use and emissions of carbon dioxideClimatic Change90(3), 189-215.

Robinson, J. B. (1990). Futures under glass: a recipe for people who hate to predictFutures22(8), 820-842.

This UKAD storm could put Great Britain alongside Russia in the rogues gallery of rule breakers

Elite sport can sound like an alphabet soup of organisations – WADA, NADO, UKAD, NGB, and on – but what these bodies do, and how they conduct themselves, is vital to the integrity of sport.

That the World Anti-Doping Agency are now investigating a NADO (a national anti-doping organisation, in this case, UK Anti-Doping Agency) for letting a National Governing Body (British Cycling) do their own anti-doping probes and tests before London 2012 is a big deal. . .

Read it all here