Memorandum by Professor David Henderson,
Westminster Business School
1. I am currently a Visiting Professor at
Westminster Business School, which is part of the University of
Westminster. I have a similar appointment, though the connection
is less close, at the London School of Economics and Political
Science. I am here today in an individual capacity: I do not speak
for any interest or organisation.
2. I greatly welcome this invitation to
appear before the Committee today. I believe that the Committee's
choice of subject is timely, and that it has opened up an opportunity
for the Committee to make an important and distinctive contributionindeed,
a unique contributionto public discussion and the conduct
of public policy.
3. I have already sent to the Committee,
by way of evidence, a short article of mine which has just been
published in the quarterly Newsletter of the Royal Economic Society.
The article is entitled "The Treatment of Economic Issues
by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change", and it
summarises the reasons why I and others consider this treatment
to be at fault. In this present note, I would like to add three
further observations to supplement what is said in the article.
All of these arise from points raised in the Committee's first
two meetings, which I attended as a spectator.
4. The first of my three headings
is that of peer review. Sir John Houghton, in his evidence
to the Committee last week, made the point that all the chapters
in the four weighty volumes that comprise the IPCC's Third Assessment
Report had been meticulously reviewed: he referred to the Report
as having cleared "the highest possible hurdles", including
intergovernmental review. But sections of the Report which deal
with topics in my own area of interest make what many economists
and economic statisticians would regard as basic errors; and in
doing so, they have shown a lack of awareness of relevant and
well known published sources. I would add that the same is true
of documents issued through the IPCC process more recently, and
also of material published not long ago by one of the IPCC's two
parent agencies, the United Nations Environmental Programme. I
believe that in its treatment of economic issues the IPCC process,
including the intergovernmental reviews that Sir John Houghton
referred to, is neither professionally watertight nor professionally
representative. Building in peer review is no safeguard against
dubious assumptions, arguments and conclusions if the peers are
all drawn from the same restricted professional milieu.
5. It may bethough this goes outside
my area of competencethat the IPCC peer review process
is likewise under challenge in the debate that is now in progress
about the validity of the famous "hockey-stick" diagram
which Lord Lawson referred to in the Committee's first meeting,
and which is prominently displayed both in the IPCC's Summary
for Policymakers and on the opening page of the British government's
recent White Paper on Energy. The Committee may wish to keep an
eye on the debate, if only because of the weight that has been
placed on this particular piece of evidence.
6. My second heading also concerns
the issue of inclusiveness and representation. I was struck by
a question that Lord Macdonald posed in the course of the Committee's
first hearing. He asked Professor Robinson whether he thought
that there was scope for a different view from that of the IPCC,
and if so, who would provide it. I would answer Yes to his first
question. Through becoming a critic of the Panel's treatment of
economic issues, I have come to query the IPCC process in general.
7. By the IPCC process I mean the
preparation and publication of the Panel's Assessment Reports,
the fourth of which, AR4, is now in progress. Work on these documents
involves a small army of participantsauthors, contributors,
reviewers, critics and commentators. These make up what I call
the IPCC milieu.
8. Both the process and the milieu are now
firmly in place. IPCC member governments have shown no disposition
to question or amend them in the context of AR4, and the new report
is likely to bear a close family relationship to its predecessors.
This official backing for the IPCC is understandable. Since it
was established in 1988, the Panel has come a long way. It has
successfully produced three massive and agreed reports, covering
a wide range of complex issues; it has secured for these reports
and their conclusions the endorsement of its many and diverse
member governments; it has informed the thinking of those governments
and prompted decisions by them; it has created, and gained approval
for, a well defined set of procedures for conducting its work;
and in relation to issues of climate change it has become the
sole source of information and advice that its member governments
treat as authoritative. Its many participants and outside
supporters can argue that it has created a world-wide consensus.
9. This state of affairs leaves me uneasy.
As to the economic aspects of its work, I hold that the IPCC should
not be viewed as a professionally representative and authoritative
source; and I have come to feel similar doubts and concerns about
aspects other than the economic one. In particular, I share the
concern voiced not long ago by a leading Australian climate scientist,
Dr John Zillman, who was for many years a member of the IPCC Bureau.
Zillman has expressed the view that the Panel has now become "cast
more in the model of supporting than informing policy development".
10. I would now question the idea that the
IPCC has established a well-founded consensus across the whole
range of issues relating to climate change, and indeed I doubt
whether the achievement of such a consensus ought to be the aim.
I have come to believe that the status that the IPCC has acquired,
as an established monopoly provider of information and advice
to governments, should be held in question.
11. My third heading relates to another
pertinent question that was put by a Committee member in the Committee's
first hearing, namely, whether the British government could improve
both the IPCC process and its own role within that process. Again,
my answer is Yes. Further, I think that the Committee's report
could help to bring about such a double improvement.
12. In relation to the economic issues,
I hope that the Committee will inquire closely into the way in
which these have been handled, and are being handled, not only
in the responsible Department, the Department of the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), but also in the Treasury and,
in relation to one of the issues at any rate, the Office of National
13. Among other aspects, it would be useful
to know what these several departments have made of the criticisms
of the IPCC's work that have been made by me and others. In the
House of Lords last April Baroness Ribbleton, replying to questions
posed by Lord Taverne and Lord Lawson, said that "the views
expressed by Mr Castles and Mr Henderson were considered extremely
carefully both by the Government and by the IPCC". The Committee
could ask to see the document in which the results of the government's
careful consideration were recorded. These results have not been
communicated to me.
14. On the economic side, a prerequisite
is that the Treasury should become more engaged. Both here and
elsewhere, such an involvement on the part of economics and finance
ministries is long overdue. As an article in The Economist
put it, just over a year ago (8 November 2003):
"You might think that a policy issue which
puts at stake hundreds of billions of dollars of global output
would arouse at least the casual interest of the world's economics
and finance ministries. You would be wrong".
It is high time for this situation to change, and
for central economic departments of state to give due attention
to the IPCC process.
15. Fortunately, a straightforward means
to this end is available. For the economic departments and agencies
in the OECD member countries, an instrument is to hand for their
prompt collective involvement: it is the OECD itself. They should
act now to ensure that IPCC-related economic issues are placed
on the agenda of the OECD's Economic Policy Committee.
16. Finally, I would like to say why I attach
so much significance to the Committee's inquiry and the report
that will result from it, why I think that they could represent
a breakthrough. Here I would stress two aspects in particular.
17. First, there is the British aspect.
The Committee can throw much-needed further light on the thinking
and procedures that have entered into both the British government's
treatment of IPCC-related issues and the policy stance that it
has taken on those issues. Because of its formal status, as also
the standing of its individual members, the Committee cannot be
ignored or brushed off by the official world, as outsiders can.
18. There is also a more general aspect.
The Committee can do a great service to public discussion and
enlightenment, not only in this country but across the world,
by accepting and acting on a simple though admittedly contentious
guiding principle. It should treat as still open a range of
issues which the IPCC and its member governments now consider
21 January 2005
1 Not published here. Back
Zillman, J W, Bulletin of the Australian Meteorological and
Oceanographic Society, 2003, Vol 16:85. Back