For 30 years, climate campaigners have promoted haste and panic – using terms like emergency, irreversible, crisis, 11th hour, 50 days left, pending apocalypse, etc, etc.
Here is a collection of notably wild predictions from notable people in government and science. Every one of them has turned out to be wrong - in spades.
What’s the hurry? Seriously? It’s a very important question in which billions – nay trillions of dollars – are at stake. In getting to the bottom of this never-ending refrain, one needs to deconstruct the shouty rhetoric that so often obscures the issues that really matter.
The ‘Earth Summit’ Convention
In modern media-speak “climate change” means human-caused (anthropogenic) global warming (AGW). And “climate crisis” means that dangerous anthropogenic global warming, or DAGW (the insiders’ acronym) is imminent.
DAGW is the single most important diplomatic/legal concept in the sphere of climate policy. The Kyoto Protocol (1997), the Paris Agreement (2015), and the huge annual Conferences of Parties (COPs) are all convened under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the 1992 UNFCCC Treaty) which was first adopted at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ and has since been formally ratified by every country in the world. This is the legally binding and enforceable foundation of all climate policy everywhere.
The Earth Summit was a watershed event, directed to the reconciliation of global economic development with protection of the natural environment. It was the largest gathering of world leaders in history, with 117 heads of government in attendance. It brought together official representatives of 178 nations, who pondered and meticulously negotiated successive drafts of a Convention which could eventually become a binding international treaty. Every word mattered, if a consensus was to be wrought.
Article 2 of the final treaty provides: [emphasis added]
The ultimate objective of this Convention is to achieve stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.
The Convention does not condemn or criticise atmospheric greenhouse gases in general – instead, it emphasises the need to ensure that they do not rise to “dangerous” levels. Few could disagree with that.
Where is the disagreement?
It used to be said that “97% of climate scientists agree with climate change”. That claim was overy modest. I’m confident that at least 99% of climate scientists (and most other people) would agree with all of the following propositions:
• “the climate” is a long-term (30 years+) trend in historical weather data (temperature, precipitation, wind, etc) within any defined climate region
• the climate is constantly changing in every climate region (as it always has). These changes are chaotic, non-linear and essentially unpredictable
• carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) warm the atmosphere – in a logarithmically diminishing sequence
• the global mean surface temperature (GMST) has increased by about 1°C during the 150 years between 1870 and 2020
• during 1870 - 2020, atmospheric CO2 increased from about 300 ppm to 400 ppm and most of that increase was caused by human activities
• the partial correlation between the human-related 1870-2020 increase of CO2 and the 1°C of warming suggests (without proving) a causal connection
So, there is no serious dispute that some AGW has likely occurred in the past 150 years and may very well occur for some time into the future. To that extent, almost all protagonists are on the same page. The mass media’s endless pursuit of ‘climate denialists’ sets up straw men and is mainly political theatre.
The real key questions are: how much AGW is happening? Is it trivial or is it dangerous?
There are essentially three schools of thought on whether AGW is “dangerous”:
1. The Alarmists - who have no doubt that AGW is already dangerous and becoming ever more so to the point of posing an existential threat and even creating “global boiling”. This is by far the most numerous, wealthiest and loudest group. It includes well-known politicians and billionaires, the WEF, the UN, the mass media, academia, the finance industry and many thousands of professional campaigners.
2. The UN Scientists – who have no position on the point, rightly considering the term “dangerous” to be value-laden and non-scientific. This school is Working Group 1 (WG1) of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose consensus assessment reports on “The Physical Science” have always been the official ‘gold standard’ source of scientific advice to the UNFCCC and to world governments. Their Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) (pp147 - 2339) was tabled in 2021.
3. The Sceptics - who dismiss the notion that AGW is or will become dangerous at foreseeable levels. They contend that much of the observed warming since the Little Ice Age is the result of natural variance - oscillations, cycles, earth orbits, ocean currents, volcanoes, cosmic dust, solar magnetics, etc. They include some of the world’s most distinguished physicists and Nobel laureates. As their work is largely ostracised by academia and the mass media, much of it is to be found in the blogosphere.
Meaning of “dangerous”
The UNFCCC carefully defines “dangerous” in Article 2:
Such a level [of atmospheric GHGs] should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.
So, “danger” occurs only if the pace of human-caused temperature changes (AGW) were to exceed the Earth’s ability to adapt to them.
What is the rate-of-change of AGW? Unfortunately, the metrics can deal only in averages. At any given time, thousands of the grid cells in any global climate model (GCM) will show a wide range of warming trends, whilst almost as many are displaying cooling trends. Subtracting the aggregate of the latter from the former provides a notional “global mean” of of the trends occurring in multiple disparate climate regions.
The statistical artefact which is called ”global warming” is the tiny difference between these two large numbers.
Then comes an even more difficult question: how much of this statistical global warming is anthropogenic? UN scientists say “most” or “more than half” – but this estimate is unfortunately based on their ‘expert judgment’, as no hard evidence is available.
This difficulty arises because the mandate of the UN Scientists is restricted to “anthropogenic” warming and does not allow them to research natural climatic variance – or even natural forcings such as the Hunga-Tonga volcano. Thus they have no means of quantifying or predicting all of the natural temperature changes which are always either exacerbating or offsetting AGW.
Pace of adaptation
The Convention spells out that mitigation (of greenhouse warming) and adaptation to such warming are intertwined, rather than being diverse/alternative approaches. They are the two sides of the same coin. To the extent that the Earth and its denizens are able to adapt to any particular temperature level, then mitigation to reduce that level becomes otiose.
There is nothing special about a GMST of 16°C. Two of the most successful human populations on earth live permanently in Norway – with an annual MST (mean surface temperature) of 0.75°C – and in Singapore, which has a MST of 27.7°C. Clearly, the ability to adapt is everything!
In the case of humans, adaptation generally means steps to build resilience. We can combat heat waves with air-conditioning, sea-level rise by sea walls, flooding by efficient drainage systems. The key to resilience is the availability of funds and expertise, which are in turn dependent on economic development and growth.
Small temperature changes can have only limited impacts on natural ecosystems because most plants, insects, birds, fish and other animals can readily migrate short distances to compensate. Mean temperatures vary in direct proportion to change in latitude and elevation, as La Sorte et al (2014) reported:
Outside the tropics, average annual temperature declines on average 0.7°C for each degree of latitude in the Northern Hemisphere and on average 0.5°C for each degree of latitude in the Southern Hemisphere. With one degree of latitude equal to approximately 111 km, this translates to a decline of 1°C for every 150 km in the Northern Hemisphere and a decline of 1°C for every 197 km in the Southern Hemisphere.
UN Scientists tell us that the Earth has warmed by about 1.1°C over 150 years. NH ecosystems that migrated northwards by an average of 11 kilometres/decade would (on average) have experienced no need to adapt at all. Within the generality of changes that are constantly occurring in the natural world, such a minor average rate of re-location is quite undemanding.
In the vast taxonomy of the biosphere and hydrosphere, there are bound to be some organisms that are failing to adapt or migrate seamlessly and are ceding their place to competitors. But it was ever thus. The UN Scientists have not yet identified any rate-of-change of GMST which has already overtaken, or will inevitably overtake, the adaptation capacity of any specific species.
The sole “danger” singled out for mention in the UNFCCC is the production of food. Agriculture’s dependence on climate has been well appreciated since it was first developed by humankind about 10,000 years ago, and it is no surprise that fear of famine lies at the heart of the “dangerous” concept.
This central concern has been passed down to the 2015 Paris Agreement, which has the stated purpose of “enhancing the implementation of the UNFCCC objective”. After reciting “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger”, Article 2(b) enjoins the parties to:
“…foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production.”
It is noteworthy that the Convention singles out famine alone as the predominant potential danger from excessive AGW. Extreme weather events are omitted, presumably because the UN Scientists have always understood that any causal connection with AGW is highly tenuous…. More on this later.
The fundamental importance of sustainable economic development is also singled out for emphasis. Even if development should cause additional AGW, that increment will be sustainable (ie non-dangerous) as long as we are capable of adapting to it.
This provision recognises that policies to avert DAGW can be extremely expensive, while the Convention’s recitals also expressly recognise “the imperative of the eradication of poverty”. Climate policies inevitably come at the expense of other desirable publicly-funded policies within the fields of healthcare, education, etc and can hugely exaggerate the economic inequality which already exists within and between countries.
As mentioned below, a global policy of Net Zero by 2050 is estimated to cost the developed world (1.1 billion people) the unspeakable additional sum of US$105 trillion!!
Is DAGW happening?
The data speaks for itself. We know that eco-systems have had no difficulty in adapting to the observed gradual GMST trend of about 0.13°C/decade (which is the surface-based metric over the last 50 years, as well as the satellite metric since 1979).
During the past half-century, world population has more than doubled, with life expectancy increasing by eight years for women and nine years for men, while measured world poverty has been slashed. Food production has more than tripled while agricultural land use has increased by less than 15%. Economic development has proceeded at the fastest pace in human history while most environmental indicators have also improved.
Evidently, all ecosystems can cope perfectly well with the current rate of change and, contrary to campaigners’ tales, global populations of polar bears, penguins and people are all advancing apace.
We can be confident that the current GMST trend is not ‘dangerous’.
Will DAGW happen in future?
It is of course possible that some ecosystems might struggle to adapt as GMST continues to inch upwards in future decades. But there appears to be no advance warnings or other evidence that any significant change is pending.
The UN Scientists, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), and the International Energy Agency (IEA), are now unanimous that the most likely AGW outcome by 2100 is GMST of 2.5°C – on the basis that no further climate policies will be adopted.
This graphic is by the activist website Climate Action Tracker, which is only slightly more pessimistic than the UN consensus. Its scenarios are:
1.8°C : Technology advances rapidly and the current GMST trend reduces in future
2.0°C : Both Paris Agreement Targets and ‘Net Zero’ Pledges are achieved
2.4°C : Paris Targets for 2030 are achieved but nothing else is done
2.7°C : No further climate policies or actions occur after 2022 (worst case)
In the opinion of most futurologists, the best available prediction of the future is gained by projecting forward existing trends. Projecting the observed 50-year trend of 0.13°C/decade for 77 years yields a 2100 forecast of 2.1°C. And we know that ecosystems have readily adapted to this rate-of-change.
A 2.4°C outcome represents an average GMST trend of 0.17°C/decade while the average trend would need to increase to about 0.22°C/decade to reach 2.7°C by 2100. Taking the worst case, do we have any evidence that an incremental 0.09°C/decade would be ‘dangerous’ by virtue of exceeding the adaptation capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems?
Most plant and animal species are already well adapted to the diurnal range of temperatures that occur rapidly during each day as well as more gradual seasonal variations (both average >10°C). It seems inherently unlikely that significant ecosystems would find it impossible to adapt to an incremental temperature rise of less than a hundredth-of-a-degree per year.
As for the all-important issue of food production, those crops that cannot adapt can gradually migrate to maintain a constant temperature over the next 77 years – 75 extra kilometres northwards in the Northern Hemisphere or southwards by 98 extra kilometres in the South.
There is no issue for sustainable economic development. All the scenarios which show growth in emissions and consequent temperature increases base their figures on assumptions of rapid economic growth, especially in the developing world. It that growth does not occur then the feared temperature increases will not occur either.
Time is on our side
In his excellent short book, An Appeal to Reason, the late Lord Lawson explained that the cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is directly proportional to the speed of reduction. This is because incremental technology changes improve the efficiency of fossil fuel usage year-by-year, and large technological breakthroughs can be expected over future decades.
Energy intensity (energy use per unit of GDP) has been improving globally since 1990 with its decline averaging 1.5% per annum since 2001. This constant efficiency improvement is simply driven by the market and is not an outcome of climate policies.
McKinsey’s April 2019 report “The decoupling of GDP and energy growth” forecasts aggregate global energy demand will plateau in 2030 and thereafter begin to decline.
Carbon intensity (CO2 per energy unit) is already decreasing in all sectors, having fallen 20% over the 10 years from 2006 to 2016 (from 60kg to 48kg per MMBtu). If maintained, that BAU improvement rate of 2% per annum will itself see emissions drop by one-third by 2030.
On the supply side, it is widely expected that China will fully commercialise its next-generation nuclear reactor, to produce baseload electricity outputs costing about US$3 per MWh – less than the cost of new coal-fired plants – within about 8 years.
There are currently four small modular reactors (SMRs) in advanced stages of construction and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prediction of a US$160 billion market by 2039 is probably out-of-date.
The five countries most heavily engaged in the new nuclear race (China, India, USA, EU, Russia) collectively produced two-thirds of the world’s emissions in 2017 – and are expected to be producing nearly 80% of global CO2 by 2033.
The greatest weakness of the scenarios used by the UN Scientists is that they all assume there will be no significant exogenous technological change. While it is true that the UN cannot just assume future inventions, their double standards evidently allow them to assume the invention of NETs and cost-effective storage batteries.
What’s the hurry?
Taking account of only the known demand-side trends and supply-side progress mentioned above, it seems highly probable AGW would peak at about 2.0°C even in the absence of any political interventions at all. As usual, nature’s self-correcting tendency will come into play – Le Chatelier’s principle at work.
Consider the following:
• The threat of AGW has been cut in half in the past five years. For over 25 years, the Alarmists expected temperatures to peak at 4 to 5°C; and would have regarded 2.7°C by 2100 as a magnificent success story.
• Dr William Nordhaus, 2018 Nobel Laureate and the world’s highest-ranking climate economist, believes that the cost-benefit optimum AGW is reached at 3°C. His Integrated Assessment Model (DICE-2016R3), along with many others, show there are continuing net benefits in allowing AGW to rise to 2.7°C
• Dr John Clauser, 2022 Nobel Laureate in physics and leading expert on climate models, declares that “there is no climate crisis”. He says further that “The popular narrative about climate change reflects a dangerous corruption of science that threatens the world’s economy and the well-being of billions of people."
• In Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, all the parties unequivocally agree to aim for net zero emissions by the end of the century (2021). This global project has been endangered by self-important national governments attempting to best the team effort (by 50 years) within their own boundaries
• Alarmists no longer even claim that AGW is dangerous, within the definition of the UNFCCC treaty. Instead, they have invented a new and unscientific allegation that bad weather is always and everywhere caused by AGW. (This implausible and rather pathetic fallback argument cannot stand).
• After 30 years since the UNFCCC was born there is no evidence whatever that DAGW has either commenced or is imminent
It can be said with complete confidence that: THERE IS NO CLIMATE CRISIS
• The ultimate objective of global climate policy is to avert the possibility of DAGW, which is a “dangerous” rate-of-change (ie trend) in the global average temperature which would:
a. overwhelm the capacity of ecosystems to adapt; or
b. threaten global food production; or
c. prevent economic development from proceeding sustainably
• The fundamental issue for global climate policy is whether human-caused global warming has, or will, become “dangerous”.
• Mitigation and adaptation (including resilience and/or migration) are two sides of the same coin. Any improvement in adaptability means an equivalent reduction in mitigation goals.
• The three-fold policy objective has been met and handsomely exceeded, during the 30 years since the UN Climate Convention was agreed at the Rio Earth Summit
• The outlook for the next 80 years is for a subdued rate-of-change that is not significantly different than has been experienced over the past 80 years.
• There is no requirement for further political intervention, as benign market trends will naturally reduce emissions over the next decade or so.
• There is no urgency for additional emissions reduction. There is no climate crisis.
I am always happy to learn more about this subject. If any journalist, politician or academic should disagree with any of the facts and opinions I have expressed in this essay, I do hope they will offer a comment below – or get in touch with me.
Barry Brill OBE JP LL.M(Hons) M.ComLaw is a former MP and Minister of Energy, Petrocorp director, and chair of the Gas Council, Power NZ, ESANZ, and EMCO. He is presently the Chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition.
 Defined in the UNFCCC as: “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” Except for Iran, Libya and Yemen  For unexplained but non-historical reasons,1870 is deemed to be ‘the pre-industrial era’. It was also the approximate end of the multi-century Little Ice Age. Standout politicians include: Al Gore, Angela Merkel, John Kerry, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern. Billionaires include Bezos, Bloomberg, Gates, Rockefeller, Soros, Hewlett, Fink, Rothschild, Jobs, Forrest, annon-Brookes, Steyer, The AR6 WG1 Report must be clearly distinguished from its “Summary for Policymakers” (SPM), which is written by non-scientists and Alarmists Examples are : Richard Lindzen, Will Happer, Stephen Koonin, John Clauser, Freeman Dyson, John Christy, Judith Curry. Fears of future failures seem confined to highly implausible scenarios.