Whitewashing IPCC Renewables: the Carbon Brief

The Carbon Brief, an advocacy site funded by the European Climate Foundation, as part of the ongoing whitewashing of IPCC’S deceptive press release on renewables, today purported to blame journalists for being tricked by the IPCC press release, stating:

Journalists were also under no obligation to adopt the framing of the IPCC’s press release. The media’s practices – including constraints on journalists’ time – must therefore be held partially responsible for presenting the misleading impressions identified above.

Elsewhere in their article, the Carbon Brief attempts a limited hangout, conceding a few small points. Although the IPCC handling of the Greenpeace scenario was presented at Climate Audit, in keeping with standard Team practice, they do not cite Climate Audit, referring, if necessary, vaguely to “critics”. Nor do they rebut the criticisms as expressed here. Nor did they even fully quote the critical part of the press release.

The Deceptive IPCC Press Release

For reference, the deceptive IPCC press release of May 9, 2011 announced:

Close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.

This claim was widely disseminated internationally – BBC and the Guardian, for example, but there are dozens, if not hundreds, of citations.

The news here was the IPCC endorsement. Greenpeace itself had previously asserted (in equivalent words) that “close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies”. Not to be outdone, WWF had even claimed 100%.

IPCC’s apparent endorsement of what had previously seemed like grandiose and probably fanciful projections by activist NGOs transformed the situation and was the news. Certainly, BBC (and many others) thought so, with the BBC, a typical example as follows:

Renewables can fuel society, say world climate advisers
Renewable technologies could supply 80% of the world’s energy needs by mid-century, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The problems, as reported here, a few days ago, included the fact that the highlighted scenario originated from Greenpeace, a Greenpeace employee was one of the lead authors responsible for assessing the scenario. But perhaps most frustrating is that IPCC itself doesn’t appear to have done ANY due diligence on this or any other scenario.

Ottmar Edenhofer, a WG3 co-chair who was much in evidence at Abu Dhabi and who approved the press release, admitted IPCC’s failure to do any relevant due diligence to Oliver Morton of The Economist, with Morton noting a sort of wistful regret on Edenhofer’s part that he couldn’t require the Lead Authors of chapter 10 to carry out the analyses that the public actually wanted and expected. From Morton’s blog:

Steve McIntyre, who runs a blog on which he tries to hold climate science to higher standards than he sees it holding itself, picked up all these IPCC/Greenpeace connections and posted on them angrily, calling for all involved to be sacked. “As a citizen,” he says, “I would like to know how much weight we can put on renewables as a big-footprint solution. Prior to the IPCC report, I was aware that Greenpeace—and WWF—had promoted high renewable scenarios. However, before placing any weight on them, the realism of these scenarios needs to be closely examined. IPCC has a mandate to provide hard information but did no critical evaluation of the Greenpeace scenario.”

His desire for solid, honest answers is plainly one to be shared. But the authors of the IPCC chapter involved declined to evaluate the scenarios they looked at in terms of whether they thought they were plausible, let alone likely. Ottmar Edenhofer, a German economist who was one of those in overall charge of the report, gives the impression that he would have welcomed a more critical approach from his colleagues; but there is no mechanism by which the people in charge can force an author team to do more, or other, than it wants to. [my bold]

The Carbon Brief Whitewash Attempt

The Carbon Brief here refers to the offending press release, but resolutely refused to quote the lead paragraph of the press release in full (carrying only the first part.)

They open with a summary of criticisms, referring to Mark Lynas’ characterization (without naming him), but do name various MSM stories (without linking them). They observe:

Some of the criticisms that have been made of the IPCC do not stand up to scrutiny. However, some of the points that have been made are reasonable, and are worth discussing

CA readers are familiar with the all-too-common practice of climate academics (and activists) not to quote actual criticisms and instead re-frame them, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so.

My biggest complaint about the lead paragraph of the IPCC press release is that, not to put too fine a point on it, it is untrue and misleading. The IPCC report didn’t show that “close to 80 percent of the world‘s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies”. Even if this claim were true (as Stephan Singer of WWF has argued in subsequent controversy), it isn’t shown within the four corners of the IPCC document, which, at most, catalogued the Greenpeace scenario and didn’t establish its feasibility with or without public policy.

Instead of squarely confronting the deceptive IPCC lead, the Carbon Brief framed the problem as follows:

The IPCC’s press release gave undue weight and prominence to one particularly optimistic scenario.

They pretty much concede the legitimacy of this framing. In doing so, they usefully point out the Dutch government’s report on WG2 , which had recommended that IPCC stop issuing one-sided summaries. Yet another recommendation flouted by IPCC.

Next they parse the following issue – again carefully re-framed/

The use of the word “could” in the IPCC’s press release was potentially ambiguous, and likely to mislead

Their analysis is the sort of Nick Stokes wordsmithing that we’ve all come to expect from the climate community to avoid conceding the obvious:

It is clear that the IPCC’s projections in its report are framed by a range of uncertainties, including those surrounding technological development and future costs of renewable energy. Given this, the use of word “could” in the IPCC’s press release (“Close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century” ) is likely to refer to future uncertainties, but may well have been perceived by journalists and the public as a straightforward statement about the technical potential of renewable energy.

Watch the pea here. The full quote was “close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.” Without the truncation of the lead paragraph, it is quite evident why “journalists and the public” perceived the IPCC press release as “a straightforward statement about the technical potential of renewable energy” – that’s how IPCC presented it.

The next claim that they considered was that:

The reduction in overall energy consumption assumed in the headline scenario is not noted in the press release – which may give a misleading impression.

This wasn’t an issue that I’d raised (it was raised by Mark Lynas and Oliver Morton) and I’m not going to consider it in this brief review.

Next, they consider:

The study on which the headline scenario is based – while originally formulated in a Greenpeace report – was published in a peer-reviewed journal

This is true, but doesn’t rebut any point that I made. I clearly noted that the Greenpeace scenario had been published as Teske et al 2010 in an academic journal (while noting that it drew heavily on a companion Greenpeace glossy.) I, for one, have consistently taken the position that peer review for academic literature can be cursory or puffball (unless of course it criticizes the Team in which case a gauntlet must be run). That the Greenpeace scenario was published in an academic journal is not a warranty that it is actually a feasible scenario.

They say:

The Greenpeace report’s lead author was not “the” lead author of the chapter in question, nor a lead author of the report as a whole.

Again, this is true , but doesn’t rebut any actual points made at Climate Audit, where I had listed all the lead authors of chapter 10. Yes, there were other Lead Authors of chapter 10, but that doesn’t eliminate the conflict of interest. Did Teske’s participation as a Lead Author influence the unfortunate decision in chapter 10 to feature the Greenpeace scenario? Did it contribute to the decision not to cross-examine the scenarios for feasibility – an oversight seemingly regretted even by WG3 Co-Chair Edenhofer? Personally I can’t help but think that Teske’s acting as Lead Author did contribute to the prominence of the Greenpeace scenario in chapter 10. I don’t know this, but I think it. This is one of the reasons for a Conflict of Interest policy in the preamble to the Conflict of Interest policy passed at the recent plenary – a policy that Pachauri says will not be enforced in AR5.

Defenders say that other Lead Authors, besides Teske, were responsible for “assessing” the Greenpeace scenario: “while the IPCC works from published cases, the scenarios are evaluated and assessed by a team”. But unfortunately, as more or less conceded even by Edenhofer, none of them actually “assessed” the feasibility of the Greenpeace scenario – that’s the problem – and, as a result, it remained unassessed.

Next, they argue:

There is no evidence that either Teske or Greenpeace had any influence over the Summary for Policymakers of the report, or the press release.

A couple of points here. WG3 say that Teske or Greenpeace wasn’t involved in the press release. Teske was in Abu Dhabi on May 9 and issued a press release for Greenpeace on May 9. Teske was definitely very up-to-date. None of us has access to IPCC documents and IPCC is not subject to FOI legislation. As a result, there is presently “no evidence” to contradict WG3′s assertions on this point. That doesn’t mean that their assertions are false – only that the only evidence on the matter is their assertions.

In commentary at Climate Audit, I did not make assertions on Teske’s role in the press release (though I was interested in getting information on it.)

At the end of the day, the lead of the press release was untrue and misleading. It’s interesting to know whether Teske was involved, but it hardly matters. The press release was approved by Ottmar Edenhofer and WG3. They’re the ones who should be questioned on their responsibility for the untrue statements.

They continue:

The press release contains a range of caveats – and when read in full, the meaning and context of its headline conclusions are made mostly unambiguous. The inclusion of energy consumption as a variable factor in scenarios is also noted.

Here we get into more Stokesian wordsmithing. Yes, it is correct that deep in the May 9 press release, other scenarios are reported, disclosing that the other scenarios are not as “optimistic” as the lead. The Carbon Brief observe that “the headline scenario is clearly identified as “[t]he upper end of the scenarios assessed””

This is true enough. However, the later glosses do not undo the lead. The lead clearly states that the new IPCC study “shows” that this “optimistic” scenario can be reached given appropriate public policy. Yes, other scenarios are listed later in the press release, but this does not undo the untrue and misleading assertion in IPCC’s lead.

Then we get to the remarkable ending, where the Carbon Brief attempt to transfer blame for the many news stories reporting the IPCC lead on the reporters:

It is clear that many of the problems identified in the press release are easily solvable (or at least readily identifiable) with the bare minimum of good journalistic practice – whether that includes parsing the report’s summary, making further inquiries to the IPCC, or simply reading the press release in full. Journalists were also under no obligation to adopt the framing of the IPCC’s press release. The media’s practices – including constraints on journalists’ time – must therefore be held partially responsible for presenting the misleading impressions identified above.

Their one concession is to allocate a very small blame to IPCC:

Nevertheless, if the IPCC’s press team were aware that for whatever reason good journalistic practice is often not followed – as seems likely – they too should be held responsible for conveying potentially misleading impressions of the report.

Let’s be clear on one important point here. Edenhofer confirmed by email that he, other WG3 co-chairs and the IPCC TSU had all approved the press release. This wasn’t a free lance effort by Nick Nuttall and IPCC press officers.

In passing, the Carbon Brief says about themselves:

Carbon Brief’s Director, Tom Brookes, is director of the Energy Strategy Centre (ESC) the communications unit funded by the European Climate Foundation (ECF). Editor Christian Hunt has worked as a researcher and web editor for Greenpeace and the Public Interest Research Centre.


  1. bill
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 4:01 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Blame journalists for being lazy? Surely anyone who’s ever had to write a press release knows that its basic to get the ‘story’ across in the first 15-50 words, just because journalists are lazy (or very busy, if you prefer). So if journalists are presenting this as an IPCC claim, then that’s just what the IPCC press release writer expected and wanted them to do. So for Carbon Brief, itself familiar with the world of PR, to imply that journalists have made a bit of a mistake here, is, perhaps, disingenuous.

    • Ian_UK
      Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 4:18 PM | Permalink | Reply

      The press clearly haven’t learned anything. In the UK, in the run-up to the Iraq debacle, the press headlined the “45 minute WMD readiness” claim in a government paper. The government knew the reporting was inaccurate but it was the journalists’s fault; it just happened to be convenient to let it go.

  2. Morley Sutter
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 4:02 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Your description of the statements from The Carbon Brief reminds me of a joke told to me by someone who experienced the Stalinist USSR.
    Apparently at that time Radio Kiev was noted for its propaganda. The joke: On one of their broadcasts the announcer says,”There is a story going round that State Factory X has given all its workers automobiles. This is true, but not quite. The objects involved were not automobiles, they were bicycles.
    This is true, but not quite; the bicycles were not given, they were taken away.”

  3. jcspe
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 4:21 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “Stokesian wordsmithing”

    a phrase I will remember.

    • mpaul
      Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 5:40 PM | Permalink | Reply

      Or the simpler verb form — to Stokanize.

  4. PaddikJ
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 5:14 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Yet again the innocent irony of all those NGOs with the words “Public Interest” somewhere in their titles.

  5. KnR
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 5:29 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Carbon Brief will have be careful , their friendly and compliant press buddies will not stay that way for long if their made the scape goat of IPCC malpractice to much and if they turn all hell breaks lose on the PR front.

  6. Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 5:33 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Hope you don’t mind me popping a bit more background in about the Carbon Brief….


    Mckitrick, Lindzen – the Carbon Brief Exxon Smear…


  7. Fred Harwood
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 6:00 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks, Steve.

  8. anonym
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 6:20 PM | Permalink | Reply

    This comes perilously close to the Animal House defence, doesn’t it?

  9. Salamano
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 7:23 PM | Permalink | Reply

    Why do some of these organizations think its special to somehow claim the ‘possibility’ of 100% renewables on an ‘if’ scenario regarding bending global public policy to an infinite effort?

    We ‘could’ colonize Mars by 20xx, ‘if’ only we had the right political will.

    We ‘could’ make all air travel free for anyone who gets a seat ‘if’ only we had the right political will…

    Given militarized controls on energy consumption and a reduction of the Global Population by 1/3 (lottery of course), we could cover the full range of (a newly defined) global energy demand with ONLY Solar power by 2050, “If” we only had the right political will (to agree to the restrictions and population reductions while mobilizing the worlds economic output wholly in Solar power deployment without any NIMBY due process, etc. etc.)

    Lickity-Split … there’s a scenario that works too (because if the solar power output goes down, we force a reduction in demand…ergo, ‘supply’ meets ‘demand’ 100%)

    Feasibility analysis? Why bother? It’s clear it’s just a matter of will.

  10. BillyBob
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 7:55 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “One of the report’s 11 chapters is an analysis of 164 previously published scenarios looking at the energy mix over the next four decades under various assumptions. The scenario which had the highest penetration of renewables put the total at 77% by 2050. The research involved was done by the German space-research institute, which has long worked on energy analysis, too; its experts were commissioned to do the work by Greenpeace, and a Greenpeace staff member with an engineering background, Sven Teske, was the scenario’s lead author when it was published in a couple of different forms in peer-reviewed journals. It has also been published, in bigger, glossier format, by Greenpeace itself under the grating and uncharacteristically fence-sitting title Energy [R]evolution.

    Mr Teske was also one of the authors of the chapter of the IPCC report that looked at those 164 scenarios, and that chose Energy [R]evolution as one of four scenarios to explore in more detail.”


  11. Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 9:21 PM | Permalink | Reply

    I have just posted this on the Economist website. I think it is relevant here too.
    “Assuming that the report is merely a repetition of the Greenpeace report for America, which I have studied carefully, it will have the same major error.

    Renewable energy is intermittent, unpredictable and is often available when it is not needed and not available when it is needed. In the case of solar power, in many cases it is needed in the evening/night in the middle of winter and it is most available in the middle of summer. Wind quite often blows for a few days and then there is a calm for a week. New Zealand relies largely on hydropower and the wind blows strongest in the springtime when the snow is melting and it is raining and blows least in the autumn when it is dry and the electricity demand is increasing rapidly.

    There is no technology available–or even on the horizon–that will provide efficient and low cost energy storage for periods of days, weeks or months. Until such technology is discovered–and I doubt if it ever will be–renewable energy can only provide a small part of our energy needs. As long as it is small scale, storage can be substituted for by using inefficient and expensive open cycle gas turbines to start up every time the wind drops or the sun goes behind a cloud. Not very sensible and very expensive. (I’m a hydropower engineer and I am very aware of the advantages and limitations of pumped storage. Most pumped storage stations have 6 to 10 hours storage.)

    How was that all of the “expert reviewers” did not pick up this simple fact? How is it that the economics does not allow for the extra capacity and cost of storage?

    • Ian_UK
      Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 4:22 PM | Permalink | Reply

      And in any case, pumped storage energy’s not free – just based on the differential between min/max tariffs.

  12. theduke
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 10:36 PM | Permalink | Reply

    So the editor of the website carbonbrief.org, Christian Hunt, is a former web editor for Greenpeace?

    Amazing. Steve unearths yet another salient fact.

  13. William Larson
    Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 10:47 PM | Permalink | Reply

    “None of us has access to IPCC documents and IPCC is not subject to FOI legislation.” OUCH! Of course this has come up here at CA before, but for some reason or other this time it hits me mighty hard. Yep, this is the state of things at this organization supposedly totally committed to “openness and transparency”. What’s so hilarious (I wish) is that this IPCC “openness and transparency” is straight out of Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-four” newspeak–you know, where the words mean exactly the opposite of their original/actual meanings. Will Mr. Pachauri please explain why the IPCC chooses/refuses to instigate an FOI policy for itself?

  14. Posted Jun 20, 2011 at 10:52 PM | Permalink | Reply

    The IPCC’s press release gave undue weight and prominence to one particularly optimistic scenario.

    Optimistic?!?! The only way to get to 77% renewable energy is to limit total energy to such a draconian level there will be a huge body count and “Them that died were the lucky ones.”

  15. Ed Waage
    Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 12:45 AM | Permalink | Reply

    I see that the Carbon Brief claims that Ross McKitrick is linked to Exxon Mobil. See
    where it states “Ross McKitrick is a senior fellow at the Exxon funded Fraser institute”.

    Using this argument, then Michael Mann is also linked to Exxon since the oil giant has donated to Penn State:

  16. PaulS
    Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 8:05 AM | Permalink | Reply


    ‘The full quote was “close to 80 percent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies a new report shows.” Without the truncation of the lead paragraph, it is quite evident why “journalists and the public” perceived the IPCC press release as “a straightforward statement about the technical potential of renewable energy” – that’s how IPCC presented it.’

    I think this is the crux of the whole issue and I’m not sure I understand your take on it. For me the second part of the sentence is the qualifier which makes it clear that technical potential is not the issue.

    From my reading Chapter 10 of the report the whole point was to determine potential *uptake* of renewables given a range of energy policy scenarios, including ‘baseline’ control scenarios without specific policy initiatives, so ‘if backed by the right enabling public policies’ is an attempt to clarify that the ’80%’ figure is about policy rather than technical capability.

    Logically, talking about technical capability doesn’t make much sense in this context. It would technically be possible to move to a 100% renewable power supply tomorrow – just shut down coal, gas and oil power plants and ban most forms of transportation. It would be economically and politically disastrous, but it would make 100% renewable power a technical reality.

    • David P
      Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 11:40 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Oh, please. Do you really believe the press release was distributed with that tortured interpretation in mind? You disprove yourself in making your own argument. If the release was speaking to “policy”-based possibilities, then why not use your %100 scenario? Why need a “study” at all?

  17. Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 8:30 AM | Permalink | Reply

    They should be careful blaming the journalists, who may be more careful in future. This would not suit the needs of the IPCC to have compliant journos.

    • Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 9:02 AM | Permalink | Reply

      Exactly. This shows they know they’re losing it. Fred Pearce is an example of a journalist who (as I remember it) got fed up of such criticism. Before that there was Nigel Calder. It’s a bad move.

      • Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 11:14 AM | Permalink | Reply

        AS if in response Leo Hickman goes irenic, as reported by Bishop Hill:

        … the most positive contribution the more moderate climate sceptics (or “luke-warmers”, as they are sometimes described) such as McIntyre and Andrew Montford have brought to the debate is their dogged insistence that climate science must be transparent, open, fair and free from influence. I don’t think anyone could argue that this is not a worthy goal and, even if you disagree with their motivations, tone and methodologies, we will come to thank climate sceptics in years to come for forcing these obvious improvements.

  18. Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 8:39 AM | Permalink | Reply


  19. John T
    Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 9:53 AM | Permalink | Reply

    “The press release contains a range of caveats…”

    Pigs could fly if they had the right kind of wings.

    In other words, nobody is willing to stand behind the validity of anything written in the press release. If nobody is willing to actually stand behind anything the press release says, then the press release and report itself is meaningless -its just a string of words that may or may not mean something.

    Who’s paying these guys to publish stuff they admit may or may not mean anything???

  20. Tilo Reber
    Posted Jun 21, 2011 at 10:58 AM | Permalink | Reply

    The Carbon Brief doesn’t seem to be worth much of an effort. They received one comment on their article and that was from me, in opposition to their position.

  21. Anthony Hanwell
    Posted Jun 26, 2011 at 11:58 AM | Permalink | Reply

    Steve did you see a reference to you and this article in this weeks Economist? ( “A climate of conflict”)Ever so slightly I detect a shift by the Economist towards a more critical stance.

3 Trackbacks

  1. [...] Source: http://climateaudit.org/2011/06/20/the-carbon-brief-a-first-coat-of-whitewash/ [...]

  2. [...] there were “legitimate issues with the organisation’s communications” – but tried to pin the blame on the media. “It is clear that many of the problems identified in the press release are [...]

  3. [...] Whitewashing IPCC Renewables: the Carbon Brief (climateaudit.org) [...]

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