Greenpeace in the IPCC: Part II

Remember the IPCC renewable energy report SRREN? The one which managed to mire itself in controversy almost immediately as it came out? The whole thing started with a press release announcing a notorious “80%” figure the trail of which led Steve McIntyre to a Greenpeace-authored report.

When controversy broke out, the IPCC’s response was to mollify and contain damage. There was no hiding the pressure group’s involvement so it took a different tack. In Nature magazine, IPCC’s Ottmar Edenhofer claimed, that despite Greenpeace presence there was no ‘bias’ or ‘conflict’. Though press releases sold the Greenpeace scenario the report looked at large ‘bodies of literature’, Greenpeace’s material was but 1 of ‘over 160’ scenarios analysed, was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and the ‘decision’ to make Greenpeace ‘one of the four’ scenarios made by ‘a team’.

At the time, none of these could be verified. Draft reports and reviewer comments were nowhere to be found. Everyone was left holding just the press releases and the excuses. It was months before drafts were released.

The draft reports
Examining the drafts shows a different picture. The Greenpeace/Teske work was in the IPCC report even before it was published and right from the first order draft (FOD). In the FOD Chapter 10, the IPCC did not compare several different scenarios as was claimed. There were just two.  One of them was Greenpeace’s, straight from the pressure group pamphlet.

This is from the introduction in the FOD:

In this chapter, the renewable power cost curves for 10 world regions have been reviewed for 2030 exemplary for two scenarios – World Energy Outlook (IEA, 2008b) and Energy [R]evolution scenario (Krewitt et al, 2009a) – and one for 2050 (Energy [R]evolution scenario).

Note briefly the cited Krewitt et al 2009. This was an incarnation of Greenpeace’s ‘Energy [R]evolution’ published in 2009. The chapter then runs with table after table of Greenpeace material.

The tables and claims were referenced to Greenpeace report/s:

fod ref

Predictably, this raised questions.  One reviewer Francesco Gracceva noted the very point. The IPCC claim was to provide “robust insights”, from examining a “large and differentiated set of internally coherent and consistent scenarios” but instead

…[the] analysis carried out in 10.3.2 seems based on a quite limited set of scenarios, in fact two main sources, IEA and Greenpeace.

The U.S Department of State made the same observation:

As currently framed, this section does not adequately capture the value of analyzing 165 scenarios […]

John Kessels (International Energy Agency – IEA) on a key summary table in the chapter, noted the same thing:

IPCC reports have to be based on published literature that has been peer reviewed and to have a table based on theoritical (sic) exercises is disturbing and should be deleted unless based on published literature.

Kessels was directly critical of inclusion of Greenpeace material:

I think if you are going to use the Energy (R)evolution scenario you need to outline its assumptions and its analysis is in my view questionable.


General comment the IPCC AR4 did not use the Energy {R}evolution scenario for good reasons and to base this chapter on it is going to be seen as very bias an (sic) unbalanced.

Emmanuel Branche (French EDF) noting while the IEA scenario was in the peer-reviewed literature, questioned whether Greenpeace’s was. In a section on ‘regional energy supply curves’, Kessels reiterated: the IPCC being “reliant on one source in my view is questionable…”

The replies from the writing team prove eye-opening. In response to numerous comments on the limited nature of scenarios analysed, the authors reply – “more scenarios” will be “added”. This is how the other scenarios were added: they came in balancing the Greenpeace stuff.

To reviewers’ questions, the authors kept insisting the “Energy [R]evolution” scenario was “peer-reviewed”. Krewitt et al 2009 was peer-reviewed but did not form the source for the material presented in the chapter. There were no clear answers to where modeled data and numerical output presented in the tables came from.

Citation relay
The peer-review situation was dealt with by the authors in a remarkable manner. By the second order draft (SOD), the chapter authors had a paper in place. But it was
not the Teske et al 2010 which was not yet published by this time (Teske et al 2010 would be appear online in Nov 2010 whereas the review was in Jul-Aug 2010). Instead, in a form that essentially mirrored the pressure group’s full report, Greenpeace’s ‘Energy [R]evolution’ material appeared in a renewable energy vanity magazineSpanda.



It was the primary reference for all Greenpeace entries in the key Chapter 10. The article was published in the first issue of the first volume of its journal. Up until that point, ‘Spanda’ had only been an ‘e-newsletter’ for a renewable energy lobby.

In the final, the Spanda entry was simply replaced with the other Teske et al 2010 which by then appeared online. All citations to the Greenpeace report were deleted from the report text; all Greenpeace entries in the reference sections, removed. The IPCC report went through the review process with no one having seen the study on which its headline conclusions were based.

Several conclusions can be drawn. The report and the key chapter 10 was firmly in control of a group which intended to use Greenpeace material right from the beginning. The chapter was built around the Greenpeace narrative.

The sequence from the drafts contradicts many excuses made by Edenhofer and Teske at the time of the controversy. Teske, for example, impressed the Economist he had ‘had no peculiar Greenpeace lantern with which to bend them all [IPCC authors] to his will’.

Der Spiegel, the Economist, and Ars Technica dwelt at length on how the press release highlighted the 80% figure and made things worse for the IPCC. “It seems much of this controversy is the product of a bit too much of a hook in the press release, rather than an activist hijacking an IPCC report. “ – wrote Ars Technica’s Kyle Niemeyer.

But the drafts make clear the problems go deeper. The IPCC shepherded Greenpeace’s [R]evolution scenario through the report drafting process, sequentially incorporating its claims and substituting placeholder references in stepwise manner.


  • But the drafts make clear the problems go deeper. The IPCC shepherded Greenpeace’s [R]evolution scenario through the report drafting process, sequentially incorporating its claims and substituting placeholder references in stepwise manner.

    Indeed! And as you may recall, dedicated journos such as the Guardian‘s Damian Carrington (who I’m sure has never encountered an IPCC Press Release that he couldn’t dutifully parrot without further investigation or question!) attempted to paper over this unacceptable “shepherding” by the IPCC, was one of the first off the bat to attempt to deflect attention, as I had remarked at the time. See (your words and mine – and those of the IPCC’s and Carrington’s noble defender, RJT Klein!):

    In defence of the IPCC, “journalist” ignores the real scandal

  • On that thread, Klein offered this defense for inclusion of material from pressure groups such as Greenpeace:

    Grey literature: […] That is not to say, however, that everything produced by non-academic organisations is by definition out of bounds. I am aware of various publications by, say, IUCN, WWF or even Greenpeace that include proper research, conducted by researchers, let alone publications by organisations such as the one I work for (the Stockholm Environment Institute). […]

  • But the issue with inclusion of material from Greenpeace is not that it is ‘grey literature’. It is to do with organizations being activist environmental pressure groups.

    How would scientific output originating from these groups be untainted by bias and advocacy? These are people in the business of clothing their emotional wants in science.

    In trials and epidemiologic studies where harmful effects of tobacco are examined, industry groups’ studies tended to give results that minimized harm from tobacco. The same is true of pharmaceutical trials. When conducted well, the result of a trial or study has to be accepted for what it is, irrespective of its source. Yet, it is widely accepted that such studies, when even well-designed, produce results that are inevitably biased.

    Here were have, an organization completely dedicated to selling its viewpoint, which having managed to hijack an international organization, acquires promotion of its own viewpoint. The bias and impropriety is overt. And yet, IPCC authors like you support it.

    You support it because you occupy a position of power and you will not let anything uncloud your bias. You should not be surprised if lay people don’t think much of IPCC’s reports.

    As McIntyre observed right at the beginning, policymakers and the world is crying out for unbiased assessment of energy sources. And the IPCC comes up with this.

  • You should not be surprised if IPCC authors don’t want to engage in discussions with you because you’ve already decided for yourself what to think and how to judge.

    What I said is ‘I am aware of various publications by, say, IUCN, WWF or even Greenpeace that include proper research, conducted by researchers […].’ I did not say ‘I support the uncritical inclusion of advocacy statements taken from promotion materials.’

    I was not involved in SRREN and I don’t know the publications cited there. This is not my field and therefore I cannot comment about this particular situation. But as a matter of principle I maintain that referring to grey literature is not and should not be out of bounds in IPCC reports. There are procedures for how IPCC authors should handle grey literature, and moreover, citing does not equal endorsing.

    As for my alleged bias, I am happy to discuss anything I’ve written but that would require you to read it first. I’m not at all excluding the possibility that I am biased in one way or another, but I do not accept your sweeping allegation that I must be biased towards green activism simply because I am an IPCC author.

  • Well, I suppose one has to admire the extent to which IPCC defenders, such as Klein, will resort to non-responsive linguistic gymnastics in order to avoid (perish the thought!) acknowledging the problems inherent in the considerably less than perfect IPCC’s processes … preferring instead to blame the skeptics for IPCC authors’ failure to engage!

    It is to laugh!

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