Media ran with now-retracted attack on IPCC in their assault on global warming science

››› ››› ERIC SCHROECK

Numerous media outlets seized on a dubious January London Sunday Times report which claimed that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) 2007 statement on Amazon rain forests was "unsubstantiated" and without scientific basis in order to attack the IPCC's credibility and global warming science in general. However, The Sunday Times has now retracted that claim, noting, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." Will these media outlets follow suit?

In attack on IPCC, Sunday Times claimed in January that IPCC's Amazon statement was based on "unsubstantiated claim"

Sunday Times ran with global warming skeptic's attacks on IPCC's Amazon statement. As RealClimate.org noted, The Sunday Times' attack on IPCC's statement that 40 percent of the Amazon rain forests are highly sensitive to reductions in rainfall originated on the blog EUReferendum -- which, as Fox News has noted, is "a blog skeptical of global warming." RealClimate reported that "[t]he roots of the story are in two blog pieces by [EUReferendum's Richard] North." The blog posts referenced by RealClimate were published on January 25 and January 26. From RealClimate:

[Times reporter Jonathan] Leake (yet again), with "research" by skeptic Richard North, has also promoted "Amazongate" with a story regarding a WG2 statement on the future of Amazonian forests under a drying climate. The contested IPCC statement reads: "Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000)." Leake's problem is with the Rowell and Moore reference, a WWF report.

The roots of the story are in two blog pieces by North, in which he first claims that the IPCC assertions attributed to the WWF report are not actually in that report. Since this claim was immediately shown to be false, North then argued that the WWF report's basis for their statement (a 1999 Nature article by Nepstad et al.) dealt only with the effects of logging and fire -not drought- on Amazonian forests.

On January 31, The Sunday Times published an article titled, "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim" -- which, as RealClimate noted, used "research" from North. From The Sunday Times:

A STARTLING report by the United Nations climate watchdog that global warming might wipe out 40% of the Amazon rainforest was based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its 2007 benchmark report that even a slight change in rainfall could see swathes of the rainforest rapidly replaced by savanna grassland.

The source for its claim was a report from WWF, an environmental pressure group, which was authored by two green activists. They had based their "research" on a study published in Nature, the science journal, which did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning. This weekend WWF said it was launching an internal inquiry into the study.

[...]

The latest controversy originates in a report called A Global Review of Forest Fires, which WWF published in 2000. It was commissioned from Andrew Rowell, a freelance journalist and green campaigner who has worked for Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and anti-smoking organisations. The second author was Peter Moore, a campaigner and policy analyst with WWF.

In their report they suggested that "up to 40% of Brazilian rainforest was extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall" but made clear that this was because drier forests were more likely to catch fire.

The IPCC report picked up this reference but expanded it to cover the whole Amazon. It also suggested that a slight reduction in rainfall would kill many trees directly, not just by contributing to more fires.

It said: "Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state.

It is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems that have more resistance to multiple stresses caused by temperature increase, droughts and fires, such as tropical savannas."

Sunday Times has now retracted claim that IPCC's Amazon forest statement was "unsubstantiated" and not based on peer-reviewed research

Sunday Times: "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." As RealClimate noted, on June 20, The Sunday Times retracted the claim in its January 31 article that IPCC's Amazon report was based on an "unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise." The Times wrote in its retraction, "In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence." From The Sunday Times' retraction, which was republished by RealClimate:

The article "UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim" (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an "unsubstantiated claim" that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall. The IPCC had referenced the claim to a report prepared for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) by Andrew Rowell and Peter Moore, whom the article described as "green campaigners" with "little scientific expertise." The article also stated that the authors' research had been based on a scientific paper that dealt with the impact of human activity rather than climate change.

In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Mr Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary.

Times' report was disputed well before retraction. Critics of the IPCC claimed that the IPCC erred because it cited a WWF report that said 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest is susceptible to drought; the critics said WWF came to that conclusion by misrepresenting a 1999 study in the journal Nature. But Daniel Nepstad, a co-author of the Nature study, has said that "the IPCC statement on the Amazon was correct," and more recent peer-reviewed research also supports the data.

Nature study author: "[T]he IPCC statement on the Amazon was correct." In response to the criticism of the IPCC, Nepstad -- who co-authored the Nature study the WWF report cited -- wrote:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been recently criticized in media coverage (e.g. Sunday Times) for presenting inaccurate information on the susceptibility of the forests of the Amazon Basin to rainfall reduction in its fourth assessment. The statement that has drawn the criticism reads as follows:

"Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation (Rowell and Moore, 2000)." (IPCC 2007, Magrin et al. 2007)

The Rowell and Moore review report [the WWF report] that is cited as the basis of this IPCC statement cites an article that we published in the journal Nature in 1999 as the source for the following statement:

"Up to 40% of the Brazilian forest is extremely sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall. In the 1998 dry season, some 270,000 sq. km of forest became vulnerable to fire, due to completely depleted plant-available water stored in the upper five metres of soil. A further 360,000 sq. km of forest had only 250 mm of plant-available soil water left.[Nepstad et al. 1999]" (Rowell and Moore 2000)

The IPCC statement on the Amazon is correct, but the citations listed in the Rowell and Moore report were incomplete. (The authors of this report interviewed several researchers, including the author of this note, and had originally cited the IPAM website where the statement was made that 30 to 40% of the forests of the Amazon were susceptible to small changes in rainfall).

[...]

After the Rowell and Moore report was released in 2000, and prior to the publication of the IPCC AR4, new evidence of the full extent of severe drought in the Amazon was available. In 2004, we estimated that half of the forest area of the Amazon Basin had either fallen below, or was very close to, the critical level of soil moisture below which trees begin to die in 1998. This estimate incorporated new rainfall data and results from an experimental reduction of rainfall in an Amazon forest that we had conducted with funding from the US National Science Foundation (Nepstad et al. 2004). Field evidence of the soil moisture critical threshold is presented in Nepstad et al. 2007.

In sum, the IPCC statement on the Amazon was correct. The report that is cited in support of the IPCC statement (Rowell and Moore 2000) omitted some citations in support of the 40% value statement.

RealClimate: Amazon "issue" is "completely without merit." In its February 14 post on "IPCC errors: facts and spin," Real Climate noted that claims that the IPCC statement on Amazon forest dieback are false are "completely without merit." RealClimate noted that Nepstad has said that the IPCC was correct and stated the "only issue is that the IPCC cited the WWF report rather than the underlying peer-reviewed papers by Nepstad et al. These studies actually provide the basis for the IPCC's estimate on Amazonian sensitivity to drought."

Media ran with initial problematic Sunday Times report to attack IPCC and global warming science

FoxNews.com ran with skeptic blog's claim in reporting IPCC's Amazon statement "was discredited ... when it emerged that the findings were based on numbers from a study ... that had nothing to do with the issue of global warming." In a January 28 article, FoxNews.com reported that the IPCC's Amazon forest "assertion was discredited this week when it emerged that the findings were based on numbers from a study by the World Wildlife Federation that had nothing to do with the issue of global warming -- and that was written by a freelance journalist and green activist." FoxNews.com noted that "EUReferendum, a blog skeptical of global warming, uncovered the WWF association." From FoxNews.com:

In the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), issued in 2007 by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists wrote that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest in South America was endangered by global warming.

But that assertion was discredited this week when it emerged that the findings were based on numbers from a study by the World Wildlife Federation that had nothing to do with the issue of global warming -- and that was written by a freelance journalist and green activist.

The IPCC report states that "up to 40 percent of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation" -- highlighting the threat climate change poses to the Earth. The report goes on to say that "it is more probable that forests will be replaced by ecosystems ... such as tropical savannas."

But it has now been revealed that the claim was based on a WWF study titled "Global Review of Forest Fires," a paper barely related to the Amazon rainforest that was written "to secure essential policy reform at national and international level to provide a legislative and economic base for controlling harmful anthropogenic forest fires."

EUReferendum, a blog skeptical of global warming, uncovered the WWF association. It noted that the original "40 percent" figure came from a letter published in the journal Nature that discussed harmful logging activities -- and again had nothing to do with global warming.

Gateway Pundit: "They fudged the rain forest data too!" In a January 30 Gateway Pundit post, Jim Hoft linked to the January 28 FoxNews.com article and wrote, "They fudged the rain forest data too!"

Barone cited Times' report in attack on global warming science. In a February 4 column titled, "How Climate-Change Fanatics Corrupted Science," Michael Barone wrote: "[T]he Times of London reports that a claim that warming could endanger 'up to 40 percent' of the Amazon rainforest came from an anti-smoking activist and had no scientific basis whatever."

Portland Press Herald: IPCC's Amazon statement "based on anecdotal reports rather than a scientific study." A February 5 Portland Press Herald column advancing numerous "Climategate" falsehoods stated that "it was revealed" that the IPCC's "attribution of 'deforestation of the Amazon rainforest' to global warming was also based on anecdotal reports rather than a scientific study."

Providence Journal: Amazon report "a propaganda case that would produce the policy outcome the United Nations and the IPCC want." On February 7, the Providence Journal published a column (accessed via Nexis) by National Post columnist Lorne Gunter stating: "Another revelation of malfeasance was the discovery that the chapter on Amazon rainforests in the IPCC s AR4, the one that included the often-repeated claim that 40 percent of the forest is under imminent threat from climate change, was written not by climate scientists but by a policy analyst who works for environmental groups and a freelance environmental author." Gunter further claimed that "it was written to present not the latest dispassionate scientific data but a propaganda case that would produce the policy outcome the United Nations and the IPCC want. It confirmed that the United Nations is a player for one side, not the source for objective facts."

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: IPCC's Amazon "reference isn't tied to peer-reviewed science but to a report by an environmental advocacy group." A February 8 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial -- titled, "Global smoke" -- stated that "the 2007 IPCC assertion that climate change threatens up to 40 percent of the Amazon rain forest. The Sunday Telegraph [sic] of London reports the reference isn't tied to peer-reviewed science but to a report by an environmental advocacy group, the World Wildlife Fund, which focused on the detriments from logging." The Tribune-Review did note, "Proponents insist the climate claim is sound."

Wash. Times advanced Amazon claim in asserting IPCC "invented" facts. In a February 11 editorial, The Washington Times wrote that "[t]he global warming fraud is without equal in modern science" and that the IPCC's 2007 report on climate change "invented a large number of purported facts." To support its claim, the Times wrote, in part:

Up to 40 percent of the Amazon rain forest was said to be at risk because of rising global temperatures. Again, the U.N. didn't cite any academic studies but merely one non-refereed report authored by two non-scientists, one of whom worked for the World Wildlife Fund, an activist organization.

BigGovernment cited Times article to attack IPCC. In a February 11 post on BigGovernment.com, John Lott wrote of "some of the false claims in the 2007 IPCC report" and stated: "The IPCC warned that up to 40 percent of the Amazon rain forest might be wiped out by global warming, but the sole source for that claim was a non-refereed report authored by two people who the Sunday Times of London referred to as 'two green activists,' one of them with the World Wildlife Fund."

WSJ's Stephens: IPCC's Amazon claim "turn[ed] out to be totally bogus." On the February 13 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report (accessed via Nexis), The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens stated that the IPCC "claimed that global warming would destroy 40 percent of the Amazon Rain Forest also or could do it in just a few years. And those turn out to be totally bogus. It turns out that the IPCC relies, for studies -- relies for evidence from studies from environmental pressure groups."

Post and Courier: IPCC's Amazon statement an "alarmist report." A February 15 Charleston (SC) Post and Courier editorial (accessed via Nexis) stated: "British newspapers also found that an alarmist report on deforestation in the Amazon, cited in the Fourth Assessment as a consequence of climate change, was drafted by the non-expert staff of an environmental lobby group writing about man-made fires, not environmental damage."

WSJ directly quoted the Times in attacking IPCC's reports as "sloppy political documents intended to drive the climate lobby's regulatory agenda." The Wall Street Journal editorial board claimed on February 16 that the IPCC's reports "are sloppy political documents intended to drive the climate lobby's regulatory agenda." To support this claim, the Journal cited "news that an IPCC claim that global warming could destroy 40% of the Amazon was based on a report by an environmental pressure group." The editorial further stated:

Take the rain forest claim. In its 2007 report, the IPCC wrote that "up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state."

But as Jonathan Leake of London's Sunday Times reported last month, those claims were based on a report from the World Wildlife Fund, which in turn had fundamentally misrepresented a study in the journal Nature. The Nature study, Mr. Leake writes, "did not assess rainfall but in fact looked at the impact on the forest of human activity such as logging and burning."

American Spectator: IPCC's Amazon claim "turns out to have been based ... not on any scientific, peer-reviewed studies." In a February 17 American Spectator "Special Report" titled, "The Disappearing Science of Global Warming," Peter Ferrara wrote:

The 2007 IPCC report, which, remember, won a Nobel Prize, also claimed that global warming threatened up to 40% of the beloved Amazon rain forest, allegedly because it is extremely sensitive to even modest decreases in rainfall that supposedly may result from warming. That turns out to have been based, again, not on any scientific, peer-reviewed studies, but on a magazine article by two non-scientists, one being an environmental activist who has worked for the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace.

WSJ op-ed: "IPCC has backed away from" its statement on Amazon forests. In a February 21 Wall Street Journal op-ed, L. Gordon Crovitz wrote:

Some journalistic digging into the 2007 U.N. climate change report revealed that its most quoted predictions were based on dubious sources. The IPCC now admits that its prediction that the Himalayan glaciers might disappear by 2035 was a mistake, based on an inaccurate citation to the World Wildlife Foundation. This advocacy group was also the basis for a claim the IPCC has backed away from -- that up to 40% of the Amazon is endangered.

Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Erroneous" Amazon report based on "material produced by environmental advocacy groups." In a February 22 editorial, the Richmond Times-Dispatch stated: "In recent weeks it has come to light that the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based some of its claims about the 'unequivocal' case for global warming not on rigorous scientific evidence, but on material produced by environmental advocacy groups." The Times-Dispatch further wrote that "[t]he IPCC relied on a report from the World Wildlife Fund to assert, erroneously, that global warming could destroy up to 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest."

Charlotte Observer op-ed: "Alarmist" IPCC Amazon claim "unsubstantiated in peer-reviewed literature." In a February 24 Charlotte Observer op-ed, Roy Cordato of the John Locke Foundation wrote that "alarmist claims from the IPCC" about Amazon rain forests are "unsubstantiated in peer-reviewed literature."

Buchanan: IPCC Amazon report "has been found to be alarmist propaganda." In a March 2 column, Pat Buchanan stated that "global warming is the great hoax of the 21st [century]" and wrote: "The IPCC report that global warming is going to kill 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest and cut African crop yields 50 percent has been found to be alarmist propaganda."

IBD: IPCC's Amazon forest claim is "fraudulent." In an April 27 editorial titled, "IPCC's River of Lies," Investor's Business Daily wrote that the IPCC's statement on Amazon rain forests was a "fraudulent claim."

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