The short history of the Drought Exceptional Circumstances Report (DECR) raises concerns about the relationship between government policy and climate change research. The Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told ABC1â€™s Insiders the report paints a very disturbing picture about the future of droughts in Australia:
â€œExceptional circumstances drought conditions … will occur twice as often and with twice the area of droughted parts of Australia included. Now this is a serious revision of the impact of climate change on drought.â€
Climate Change Minister Penny Wong matched the stakes and raised them by misrepresenting the IPCC (below). The actual IPCC claims are also of very curious provenance, if you read the article by Ian Castles.
There is a great deal of scientific advice about the impact of climate change on rainfall, particularly in southern Australiaâ€¦ We know the IPCC said by 2050 that Australia should expect around about a 25 per cent reduction in rainfall in the southern part of … Australia.
Why are these government officials so eager to link droughts and global warming? Could the answer be found in the terms of reference (DECR Appendix 1 pp24), where (reading between the lines) it states that the ministers want to axe the large amounts of financial support given to farmers under EC:
The Commonwealth Government
provides support to farmers and rural communities
under the Exceptional Circumstances (EC)
arrangements and other drought programs. The
state and territory governments also participate in
the NDP and provide support measures of their own.
Australian primary industries ministers have
agreed that current approaches to drought and EC
are no longer the most appropriate in the context of
a changing climate. They agreed that drought policy
must be improved to create an environment of self reliance
and preparedness and encourage the
adoption of appropriate climate change
In view of this agreement, the BoM and CSIRO were requested (DECR Appendix 1), on the basis of current knowledge of climate change science, to assess:
2. Likely changes in the nature and frequency of
severe rainfall deficiencies over the next 20-30
years, in comparison to severe rainfall
deficiencies defined by the available instrument
records. Severe rainfall deficiency is defined as
an event in the lowest 5th percentile of
historical records persisting for prolonged
periods and over significantly sized regions.
Based on this assessment, the BoM and CSIRO
are requested to comment on the appropriateness
of the current one in 20-25 year EC event trigger
based on the historic record.
What they found (DECR Summary pp4) constituted the substance of the PM’s sound bite above. The language is eerily reflective. When asked for “likely changes in nature and frequency of severe rainfall deficiencies” the scientists responded with “more declarations would be more likely, and over larger areas”.
If rainfall were the sole trigger for EC declarations, then the mean projections for 2010-2040 indicate that more declarations would be likely, and over larger areas, in the SW, SWWA and Vic&Tas regions, with little detectable change in the other regions. Under the high scenario, EC declarations would likely be triggered about twice as often and over twice the area in all regions. In SWWA the frequency and areas covered would likely be even greater.
But as I have been pointing out, the conclusion that droughts will “be more likely” is not supported by any analysis within the report. My own analysis found no reason to believe the current crop of climate models have ability to predict droughts. In fact, the models show an inverse relationship to drought, predicting increasing droughts when the 30 years moving average of the drought records is actually decreasing.
Where did the certainty that “droughts are more likely” come from? I don’t know. The authors won’t tell me. There is no peer-reviewed published research supporting it. Most studies show global climate modeling is very inaccurate regionally, particularly if what is being modeled is and extreme, infrequent event, like droughts. Nevertheless, the result was very well received by the PM, Penny Wong and the commissioner of the report, DAFF. Consider the definition of scientific bias.
Bias is a term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, especially when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective.
But now the plot thickens. In early correspondence Kevin Hennessy, the lead author, mentions an earlier report was sent back for rewriting because it was ‘too technical’. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it has started to weigh on my mind. Then last week, an anonymous comment from an insider (Hasbeen) to Ian Castles’ article, “One Hundred Tears of Droughts and Flooding Rains“, seems to indicate some reason for reticence:
“It is still my hope that the authors of the report will defend their work, as good scientists should.”
…and the silence of deafening. I wonder why that might be.?
Posted by bigmal, Friday, 5 September 2008 1:25:44 PM
Come no bigmal, you know damn well.
Much as most of these people know they have to comply with K RUDD’s instructions for their report, they don’t like actually lying, particularly personally, in public.
The one I know has signed up to do dentistry next year.
Posted by Hasbeen, Friday, 5 September 2008 1:51:08 PM
Hasbeen: “Much as most of these people know they have to comply with K RUDD’s instructions for their report, they don’t like actually lying, particularly personally, in public. The one I know has signed up to do dentistry next year.”
Sounds like you have more information on this issue Hasbeen. You can contact me via my website at http://landshape.org/enm. In particular, do you know anything about an earlier report that was sent back for rewriting?
Posted by davids, Friday, 5 September 2008 5:54:22 PM
Sorry Davids, no can do.
I think the BOM, & CSIRO are gambling a bit on history, with these rainfall predictions.
How many of you know of the barrier reef cores, taken about 35/40 years ago now. They gave information of runoff in the lower reef area, well before AGW was invented. In fact, they go back to the days when our mate Cook, was cruising our waters.
I’m a bit hazy on the figures now, & far too old to “google”, but in the early 1700s there were periods of drought, drier than we have seen, which lasted for 27 years.
Posted by Hasbeen, Friday, 5 September 2008 9:46:42 PM
This would also explain the contradictory statements about the skill of the modelling of exceptionally low rainfall from the lead author in a personal interview on CSIROpod:
(1:20m) â€¦ there has not been a clear indication of changes in exceptional low rainfall years.
(1:40m) â€¦ but in terms of a long term trend its not very clear in terms of exceptional low rainfall years.
Hasbeen’s comments suggest a possible sequence of events:
1. The Government commissions a report hoping to justify axing EC funding by showing that droughts will be more frequent under global warming.
2. The scientists return a report that accurately shows the uncertainties of climate models in appropriately equivocal language.
3. The report is returned saying it is not “in a form that will enable it to be used in future drought policy discussions, including stakeholder consultation”.
4. The new report emerges (possibly after pressure) declaring that “exceptionally low rainfall will be more likely”, stripped of statistical validation or equivocation and mirroring the language of the terms of reference.
In Dec 2007, CSIRO, the Australian Research Council and Cooperative Research Centres were told they have to have their media releases cleared by the PM’s office to make sure they reflect the new Federal Government’s key messages. Back in Feb 2006 three scientists claimed the Australian government censoring climate scientists. Of course, these events were under different governments, but in the latest case there was an actual directive from the Government.
The secretary of the Department of Innovation, Industry Science and Research, Mark Paterson, is the senior bureaucrat who issued the new directive.
Mr Paterson says it is not about controlling the message, it is about consistency.
“It was something that we were asked for from those agencies so that they were certain as to how to deal with media releases,” he said.
“The essence of the message was that the Government wanted to ensure a degree of consistency in message on key messages and therefore wanted to clear key messages through the Prime Minister’s office.”
I don’t have an opinion on drought EC funding. I have no dog in that fight. My concerns have always been with scientific bias. The DECR situation sounds like the thesis put forward in A Climate Crisis a la Gore, by Paul Spite. Could it be that climate scientists are biasing the detrimental effects of manmade global climate change to suit the review of EC funding by the Rudd government?