Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science


MADRID 1995: Tipping Point?The Quest (Part II)–The Last Day (Part II)


We continue our quest for how human attribution was first established by the IPCC with a close look at the dramas on the final day in Madrid using the Australian Delegation Report as our guide. The first and second essays on the  Chapter  8 Controversy will help readers follow the story, but the main tip for new readers is to catch up on the importance of  Barnett et al 1996 in maintaining the scepticism of all but the published version of Chapter 8. Also helpful will be this key to drafts and meetings:

SAR 18Apr95 draft: the version of the Working Group 1 Second Assessment  Report sent out for review before the deadline for comments on chapters in early July 1995
Asheville Meeting of Lead Authors (25-8 Jul) convened primarily to redraft the Working Group 1 Report’s Summary for PolicyMakers (SPM) in the light of comments and in preparation for Madrid
SAR 9Oct95 draft: the  version of the Working Group 1 Report circulated to the governmental delegates prior to Madrid
Madrid Working Group 1 Plenary (27-29 Nov) convened primarily to give line-by-line approval to the Summary for PolicyMakers (SPM) and to accept the underlying Report.
Rome IPCC Plenary (11-5 Dec)  to accept all the Working Group Reports and give line-by-line approval to the Synthesis Report.
SAR: The IPCC Second Assessment Report as published in June 1996, the Working Group 1 part of which is also referred to as the ‘Scientific Assessment’ [pdf].

Palacio de Congresos de Madrid

The Working Group 1 delegates entered the Palacio de Congresos de Madrid under a ceramic banner created by Artigas following a design of Miró.

If we were to fashion a comic strip, or a cartoon for some fantastic narrative of Madrid, we might imagine our evil antagonist as the chief delegate from some fabulously wealthy kingdom in Arabia.

He would arrive in costume from the North African deserts of sand dunes, oil and Mohammad. He would be Mohammad yes, but Dr Mohammad, a scientist with the best education the West could offer, enunciating graciously the lingua franca of modern diplomacy. And he would have the most wonderful Big Oil title, like:

Economic Advisor to the Minister of Oil for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban

The Saudi Arabian delegate:  Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban

And so it is Dr Mohammad Al-Sabban from Jeddah who raises his flag once again to speak. Ever polite, but never afraid to re-state his point if it were slightly misconstrued…and persistent…Is he persistent! He is legendary at the various climate conferences for his ability to keep going, tenaciously labouring a point, sometimes solo against the whole room, politely—And just one more matter if you please Mr Chair—miraculously all day and into the night if necessary, one time even until dawn, only stopping when the Chairman simply said Enough is enough! It is diplomacy by exhaustion. And then it becomes consensus by exhaustion as we shall see.

This is the sort of thing that Tim Barnett could not stand for a moment. Tom Wigley has gotten used to it, as much as a scientist could. But then there are the likes of John Zillman who seem to thrive on it. Zillman won’t tell you that. Instead, he will complain of the talks getting bogged down in some nuance, of stalling and blocking with dubious motivation, of marathons session for which no amount of coffee could prepare. But these types like Zillman still managed to stay calm and hang in through the day and into the night and then up again the next morning. They seem to be blessed with some super-human tolerances for what would do in the heads of any of us mortal folk. Mortal folk like Ben Santer for instance. He could only tolerate so much, and this time he snapped. For a moment he completely lost his cool, barking back at the Saudi: If YOU are so interested in this topic then why had YOU not joined the Side Group to discuss it!

It is already mid-morning on the final day when the Detection and Attribution (D&A) Side Group reports back to the Working Group 1 Plenary in Madrid with a new bottom line statement. The text of this statement was the product of the extensive discussions by this Side Group established ad hoc on the first day after the resounding response to Ben Santer’s presentation on the latest ‘fingerprint’ studies. At that point the conference had decided revisions were required to the key statement on the confidence with which all or part of the recent warming could be attributed to industrial emissions. The statement under contention is in the Executive Summary at the head of the Working Group 1 Report’s Summary for PolicyMakers (SPM). Given the new evidence, the previously drafted statement was out-of-date and needed changing. However, some minority opposition was expected and the formation of a side group at these conferences is a strategy to avoid unwieldy debates crippling the plenary discussion by allowing vexing issues of conflict to be thrashed out and resolved in less formal and more intimate exchanges. They are also seen as a way to short-circuit the blocking strategies of those intent against the conference proceeding to some positive resolution. Other side groups had formed on the first day, but none caused quite the controversy as this one when reporting back to the Plenary.

There are a number of accounts of this final day in Madrid, but here we will follow mostly this one from the Australian Delegation Report for its uncommon perspective:

Dr Al-Sabban suggested that – because the text had been prepared by a special group which he could not attend because his was a small delegation that was unable to cover the various parallel meetings – the Session use instead the exact text of the “Concluding Summary” the relevant Chapter of the complete report [Chapter 8].  A brief acrimonious exchange followed with Dr Santer telling Dr Al-Sabban that if the issue was as important as he said, he (Al-Sabban) should and could have given it priority. He declined to accept Dr Al-Sabban’s suggestion to use the “Concluding Summary” on the basis that “it is not an accurate summary of the science.” Dr Al-Sabban sought a ruling from the Chairman [Houghton] as to whether IPCC procedures did not require that the SPM be made consistent with the underlying scientific chapters rather than have the underlying chapter brought into line with a politically negotiated SPM.  Sir John Houghton ruled that there is nothing wrong with changing the underlying chapters to bring them into line with a better formulation of the science agreed by the Working Group. He was supported by Professor Bolin [IPCC Chairman]. Dr Al-Sabban protested that, through the last six years of his involvement in IPCC, he believed he had several times been prevented from inserting text in the SPM’s on the basis that it was not based on the underlying chapters. He indicated that he had always accepted that position and believed the ground rules were now being changed. [p9]

No wonder Santer is upset! The push for a stronger and more consistent human attribution message, begun 48 hours earlier with an extraordinary change to the agenda, now faces a major challenge. And however wicked its motivation may be, this challenge packs a punch full of moral impact for all the scientists on the podium.
Ceramic banner created by Artigas from a design by Miró above the entrance to the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid

Pushing and Pulling on Human Attribution

As the reader may recall from the previous post, the ‘Concluding Summary’ of Chapter 8 that our Dr Al-Sabban is suggesting for use in the Summary for PolicyMakers is conclusively sceptical. This is primarily due to the influence of the entirely sceptical yet-to-be-published Barnett et al paper for which Santer is also a listed author [see here]. Now here we are at this inter-governmental Plenary, which had been called to reach consensus on the wording of a Summary for PolicyMakers in fidelity with the Chapters, and the Chairman is seen working with the Lead Author in a push to over-rule the conclusions of a chapter forged in a drafting and peer-review process by the IPCC’s chosen scientific experts.

The Chairman’s justification for proceeding in this extraordinary manner is based on the emergence of important new evidence. In fact, this ‘new’ evidence, Santer’s ‘vertical’ pattern correlation results, was already available and had been presented to a plenary of chapter authors at their conference in Asheville back in July [see here]. Moreover, these results had been incorporated into the Chapter with the other recent CO2+Sulphate pattern results and altogether given a heightened emphasis in a new introductory ‘Summary.’ But also in Asheville these new results were used in the same way as they would be later used in Madrid, namely, as a vehicle to push through a stronger, more consistent attribution message. In comments already on the table in Asheville, the US Government had recommended just this – a greater emphasis on the contribution of the CO2+Sulphate pattern studies and their use to strengthen a bottom line attribution claim.1  The trouble is that this push was resisted in Asheville and so incompletely realised in the draft arriving for Madrid [9Oct95]. This is why it is necessary to continue the push in Madrid. However, the great stumbling block left unmoved in Ashville now awaits Dr Big Oil, as though a gift for his demonic performance: the unequivocally sceptical ‘Concluding Summary.’

In fact a beachhead of positive attribution had already appeared in the draft of Chapter 8 sent out for review earlier in the year [18Apr95]. This small statement in an earlier introductory ‘Summary’ was surrounded by caveats that seem to cancel it out. Nonetheless it planted a seed of positive attribution:

A pattern of climate response to human activities is identifiable in observed climate records.

After Asheville, the new introduction with the stronger emphasis on the CO2+Sulphate pattern studies delivered a new attribution statement as a ‘bottom line:’

Taken together, these results point towards a human influence on climate.

This is a contraction of the Summary for PolicyMakers bottom line:

Taken together these results point towards a detectable human influence on global climate.

However, despite the ‘taken together’ language, in the context of the entire draft of the Chapter, this is no bottom line. Even within the introductory ‘Summary’ it is preceeded by a strong statement suggesting that estimating ‘natural variability‘—here including external forcing as well as internal variability or ‘noise’—is a difficult problem that remains unresolved. While it trumpets recent major progress, this is only in that model experiments ‘have provided important information about the possible characteristics of the its internal component.’ With such meager progress on the null hypothesis, this is hardly the basis for a positive claim. Why this inconsistency?

The push for positive attribution had always been vigorously challenged within the research community, and Asheville was no exception. There it was met with ‘spirited’ debate, and even after the progress to a bottom line statement, still its retention remained tenuous. At that stage in proceedings it was not only about winning over the room. There was the legacy of the already drafted chapter to deal with. The version of the chapter they were working with was the one sent out to hundreds of scientific experts and government delegates [18Apr95]. In this version, the powerful criticisms emanating from the Barnett et al investigation was not only powerfully re-stated in the conclusion but also fully integrated into every section of the Chapter. Even if every sailor onboard were to agreed, it was almost too late to turn this ship around. But they did not agree. While we know this, and that there were extensive heated debates at Asheville, precious little detail has yet been obtained. One hint to what was going on came when the controversy broke the following spring.

In an early response to criticism for excising the entire Concluding Summary, Santer points out to his fellow authors a ‘supreme irony’ behind ‘the criticism raised by the Global Climate Coalition,’ which is that…

…I fought very hard at Sigtuna, Brighton, and Asheville to INCLUDE sections on signal and noise uncertainties in Chapter 8. [3Jun96 pdf Santer’s emphasis]

Santer is here referring to all three Working Group 1 Lead Author meetings, the first in October 1994, the others in March and July 1995. This ‘supreme irony’ is later revisited by Santer when responding to what he took as a personal attack by Seitz. In his Wall Street Journal op-ed Seitz had mentioned Santer by name as the responsible Lead Author.  In effect, says Santer, I am being ‘taken out’ as a Scientist.” It is ironic that he should be targeted when it was he who…

…fought hard during all three IPCC Lead Author Drafting Sessions to keep the extended discussion of signal and noise uncertainties within Chapter 8.’ [12Jun96 pdf]

Given the North American usage of ‘irony,’ it seems that Santer is claiming that to blame him is precisely contrary to the facts, and so misguided and unfair. It is unfair that he take the rap because it was he who had defended, again and again, the retention of the extraordinarily extended elaborations of the uncertainties in section 8.2 & 8.3 – elaborations that informed and justified the sceptical conclusion. Early removal of these sections (especially before Asheville) would have made it much easier to remove the various sceptical statements in the following discussions of the evidence, and to remove the entire sceptical conclusion. Retaining them, at his own insistence, meant that, after the full success of the push in Madrid, Santer would then be burdened with the excruciating task of recasting all these uncertainties as caveats to a new positive conclusion. And his reward for doing this? He would be singled out. He would be ‘taken out.’ Fate had delivered a severe blow. No wonder he was angry.2

There is an official reason why the post-Asheville version of Chapter 8 sent out to the delegations the required six weeks in advance of Madrid (9Oct95) remained inconsistent with its own introductory Summary on this monumental point of contention. Santer (and Houghton) will tell how his late appointment as Lead Author meant that his Chapter was ‘less mature and polished’ than the rest. But, in less guarded moments we hear of how Santer fought hard at Sigtuna, Brighton, and Asheville. This does not sound like polishing. The inconsistency appears more the legacy of an unresolved battle. There is all the appearance that after Asheville the bottom line attribution statement was decided upon, inserted in the Policymaker’s summary and then hastily installed into the introduction of a Chapter which nonetheless resisted entirely reconfiguring itself to serve this imposter. And it might even have been thanks to Santer himself that positive human attribution arrived in Madrid as but a seed of hope in a field of doubt and uncertainty.

The version of the chapters circulated to the governmental delegations for Madrid was supposed to be final, and yet the inconsistencies within Chapter 8 and between the Chapter and the Summary for PolicyMakers were picked up and highlighted in the solicited and duly submitted USA government comments on the SPM. The USA (and its allies) arrived in Madrid wishing to resolve this inconsistency one way, while the Saudis (and allies) were wanting to retain the over-riding scepticism. For the Saudis to succeed, the weak and ambiguous ‘…points towards…’ in the new introduction could remain (or remain with a slight qualification) while the Concluding Summary would inform the Summary for PolicyMakers now under review. For the USA to succeed, the content of the Chapter would need changes at multiple points, and in every section. Most difficult of all would be to neutralise the scepticism running through the entire conclusion.

Ceramic banner created by Artigas from a design by Miró above the entrance to the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid

An Unlikely Alliance in the Last Defence of Science

So here we are in Madrid on that last morning with Santer presenting the Side Group’s new expanded and strengthened D&A draft. Then Al-Sabban jumps in and suggests that we retreat to the Chapter’s conclusion, which is when Santer loses his cool. Al-Sabban had been specifically invited to the re-drafting group… Why did he not attend?

After an ‘acrimonious exchange,’ Al-Sabban seeks a ruling from the Chair. Houghton moves in firmly behind the Lead Author to give consent for this inter-governmental Plenary to over-ride the assessment process at the Lead Author’s consent. Given the exceptional circumstance of new evidence, it would not be required that the Summary for PolicyMakers is based entirely on the underlying chapters. Also present at the meeting is the founding Chairman of the IPCC, Bert Bolin. A man of immense prestige among all those involved in the IPCC, his consent on this ruling is sought and received. Al-Sabban then issues his protest: ground rules that were previously used to block his suggestions now seem to have changed.

Next, the USA, UK and Canada delegations all move quickly to make it clear that they will not accept the Chapter 8 conclusions. Nor are they willing to retreat to the Summary text prepared for them by the scientists after Asheville. In fact, in the Side Group, the USA, UK and Canada had all been bullish for an even stronger position than the compromise finally agreed. With even that compromise now under threat, they continue this push for stronger wording in the Plenary. Everyone knew when they arrived in Madrid that the stakes were high, and now on this final morning the fight is really on. The Canadians say that the new evidence of the human ‘fingerprint’ is simply ‘stunning.’ The Kenyan delegate, previously in accord with Saudis, had joined the D&A discussion where he was won over to the other side (read Schneider’s heroic tale (pdf)). A momentum sweeps the entire auditorium. The only remaining obstruction is the requirement for consensus and the infuriatingly polite obstinacy of our Dr Mohammad Big Oil.

Well, hang on there! Despite what you might have heard, he was not the only one. It is not widely known that there was another delegate prepared to stand up with Big Oil on this point of order. This is the head of the Australian Delegation, John Zillman.

Dr John Zillman

The Australian delegate: John Zillman

As director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology since 1978, Zillman, with Bolin and Houghton, had been there in the international negotiations from the beginning. He had been there when the very idea of this politico-scientific contraption had been invented. He had seen the alarmism emerging from the Villach conference (1985), from Hansen (1988) and elsewhere in the late-80s. He had grown concerned both about the integrity of science and the willingness for governments (especially the USA) to trust the scientists when their most extreme views seemed to gain disproportionate attention. He saw the need for both a sober scientific assessment and for government participation, and he believed the IPCC process got it about right. Now, on this last day in Madrid, one wonders if Zillman is the only scientist in the auditorium to notice the rising spectre of a Faustian monster? Houghton’s ruling means that the integrity of the scientific process would be abandoned and its hard-won authority traded so as to expedite a political end – however virtuous that end might be. If there were others also alarmed by the treatment of the Saudi’s objections, then they must be holding their breath, for their voice is not heard.

In the end Australia is prepared to go along with the approval process on the re-draft, but not before two objections have been noted. The first is about preserving the integrity of the science-to-policy process:

…we were disturbed at the Chairman’s ruling and Dr Santer’s suggestion that the underlying chapter should not be used as the ultimate source of authority on the current state of the science. [AusDelRpt p9]

But Australia’s objection is not only in support of IPCC process, it is also in support of the scientific assessment itself: Australia made a stand specifically in support of the science now under threat following this extraordinary procedural ruling.

Australia’s defence of the science in the IPCC assessment had already been aired in the D&A Side Group itself, to which it did send a delegate. (When interviewed in 2012, Zillman does not recall himself participating, but page 7 of the Delegation Report indicates it was him.) Against the push from its Anglophone allies, Australia expressed concerns that…

…the warming of the last century is still of the same order as (and according to other parts of the report could be smaller than) the level of natural variability evident in the observed record of the last 600 years.3

In the Side Group Australia retained concerns about whether it could be said that we had cleared the ‘yardstick’ of natural variability. This takes us back to those same old concerns that have repeated down through the long history of D&A scepticism, back to Wigley in the First Assessment, and all the way back to 1938 when Callendar first served up human attribution for scientific contention [see here]. While the unpublished Barnett et al paper is saying that we have not yet been able to establish what is normal long-term climate variability, Australia at Madrid is saying, where natural variability has been established, it has not been surpassed. What makes this objection difficult to dismiss is that, on the one hand it cannot be passed off as some rogue claim by a governmental delegation, for it is made by deferral to the underlying report. And then on the other hand, the justification given for not taking the underlying chapters as the ‘ultimate source of authority on the current state of the science’ does not help either. Santer’s ‘new evidence’ could do nought to dispel these concerns for the simple reason that it does not even address them.

Australia’s defence of the science in the IPCC assessment is then aired a second time after Santer presents the new D&A draft, after Al-Sabben’s objection and after the Chairman and the various Anglophones delegations move in behind Santer. And it might be asked why it is necessary for Australia to query the wording in the Plenary when the draft was supposed to be consensual of the Side Group participants. The Australian Delegation Report explains that at the end of their final meeting it had been agreed that Santer actually write the new draft – incorporating inter alia their concerns about unsurpassed natural variability. But the next morning, when Zillman reads the draft circulated to the Plenary, the statement on unprecedented warming since 1400 remains as one of the three planks supporting the bottom line human attribution claim.

In his introduction of the text to the Plenary, Santer had explained that he had attempted to respond to Australia’s concerns – but exactly how, it is hard to see. In fact Zillman thinks that Australia’s concerns had been ‘avoided,’ and he says so. In the subsequent discussion Santer himself uses the term ‘sidestepped.’ Note well, dear reader, this little sidestep of the null hypothesis of natural variability, for it was the beginning of something; as we like to say DownUnder From little things big things grow; like a snowball thrown from the height of scientific authority, from this Fuji summit, gathering speed and size, all the way to…Kyoto.4

Australia is not known for standing up for itself and especially not in opposition to the USA when it comes to major defence issues involving geopolitical alliances. Yet, in the context of the UN and other international forums, Australia will often take its own line even when this involves opposition to the USA.5  And here again is Zillman having his little go. While he would never see it that way, others would. And indeed, while the Global Climate Coalition was working hard in support of the Saudis, Greenpeace was also finding various means of persuasion. When Zillman is seen to be siding with the Arabs against the intentions of Australia’s good North America allies, one of the Greenpeace delegates from Australia wonders aloud to Zillman: What do you think the Australian Minister for the Environment might think when he hears about this?

It was at Madrid, and even more so at Rome two weeks later, that the lobbying by the NGOs was stepped up to unprecedented levels, including such veiled threats, and supported by newsletters, flyers and pamphlets. When arriving and departing from the conference centre in Rome, a delegate would pass through a public demonstration, a flyer showing Rome as a wasteland thrust into his hands. If he were unfortunate enough to be identified as sceptical he might even find himself surrounding by a group chanting Climate Criminal!   Witnessing this political circus enveloping these conferences was shocking and disappointing for Zillman. He still shakes his head at the very thought. Challenge him with: But this is politics, isn’t it? and this is where it gets interesting with Zillman.

One might expect that Zillman’s role as the head of the Australian government delegation—not as scientist, not a lead author, but as a government representative—is to represent the policy position of the Australian Government. Perhaps others saw it that way, and undoubtedly in other delegations. But Zillman is adamant that this was never his role, and he would never have accepted it if it were. This might have been the role of the Australian Greenhouse Office, an agency of the Environment Ministry describing itself as ‘the leading Australian Government agency on greenhouse matters.’ And the Greenhouse Office did not shy from encouraging Zillman to a more zealous stance. Brushing aside these advances, Zillman had always held, and held in trust with his Minister, that the role of the Australian delegation is to ensure that the IPCC Assessment remained true to the science. [* UPDATE] And this cut both ways. He stood by his Minister by always keeping him well-informed of the progress of the assessment and of the negotiations – like when returning to his hotel exhausted at the end of that final night he sat down and wrote out a preliminary report, faxing it off into the Australian afternoon before hitting the pillow. This was just to be sure that the Minister had an accurate account of the drama in case the press started hounding him to comment on some scandalous rumour for an Australian evening news story.

Ceramic banner created by Artigas from a design by Miró above the entrance to the Palacio Municipal de Congresos de Madrid

A Government License to Change the Report

That Santer and Houghton saw their role differently to Zillman is illustrated by their deferral to an extraordinary governmental request in defence of their actions. A week before Madrid, Houghton had received the previously mentioned collated comments on the Summary for PolicyMakers from the USA State Department Office of Tim Wirth. For the D&A section of the Executive Summary—which, you will remember, then included the weakly supported bottom line claim that the evidence is pointing towards a detectable human influence—they provide the following comment attributed to the head of the US delegation Robert Watson:

This text is not fully consistent with the rest of the SPM and various parts of Chapter 8; because this is such a new and important aspect of the report, we believe particular care must be taken. We believe the text here, with some clarification, does represent current understanding as contained in the body of the chapter, but that the executive summary and concluding sections of the chapter may need to be revised. [emphasis added 6]

This recommendation to revise Chapter 8 is re-enforced by a statement in the cover letter addressed directly to Houghton. After noting that there are several inconsistencies between the Summary and the chapters, and within chapters, it says that ‘it is essential that the chapters not be finalised prior to the completion of the discussions‘ in Madrid, and that…

…chapter authors be prevailed upon to modify their text in an appropriate manner following the discussion in Madrid. (pdf)

Thus, just before the conference is about to begin the US State Department indicates that it is not happy with the conclusion of Chapter 8 and tells Houghton that ‘it is essential’ to prevail upon the chapter authors to make changes according to the outcome of ‘the discussion.’ Although not entirely explicit, there remains a strong suggestion that this is a formal request for Houghton to direct Santer to revise Chapter 8, and especially the Concluding Summary. If that is what is being requested, and we take into account the US delegations strategic influence upon the direction of ‘discussions’ in Madrid, then there appears to be a striking similarity between the desired outcome of the US State Department and what in fact occurred. That is, following the completion of ‘the discussions’ in Madrid, this text of the D&A section of the Executive Summary would be revised and expanded as giving the ‘current understanding’ of the Chapter’s science, and the Chapter would be ‘revised’ accordingly.

Make no mistake; this is not about a government caught attempting to abuse a process of diplomacy. This is not about making a scandal of the WatsonWirthGore campaign to win a positive attribution claim in support of the climate treaty talks. We could even find justification for their extraordinary request and partly excuse it. That governmental delegations might persuade in this way is to be expected. In fact, it was expected and it was anticipated in the very design of the IPCC process. The design protected the scientists from giving way to such pressure. What is indicative of Sander and Houghton is not only that they gave way, but that they revealed and promoted this request as a key article in their defence of their actions.

At the height of the controversy Houghton publishes a defence of the chapter changes prominently in Nature under the heading ‘Justification of Chapter 8.’ Beginning with an explanation that the main tasks of Madrid were to accept the chapters and approve the Summary, he then explains ‘acceptance’ thus:

According to the rules of procedure, ‘acceptance’ means that the meeting is satisfied that they have undergone a thorough process of peer review by experts and by governments and that they present a ‘comprehensive, objective and balanced view’ of the science. 7

Houghton then explains how after the peer-review process the chapters had been duly sent out to the delegates prior to the conference. ‘Subsequently, however, many review comments continued to be received.’ Of course, review comments were expected for the Summary but the suggestion is that these were unexpected comments on the chapters. Houghton does not specify how many requests to change the chapters there were [if there were others we would be keen to see them] before gives his single example:

For instance, the US government, in submitting its points for review, commented on “several inconsistencies” and stated that “it is essential that the chapters not be finalized prior to the completion of the discussion at the IPCC Plenary in Madrid, and that the chapter authors be prevailed upon to modify their text in an appropriate manner following discussion in Madrid”

Along with further pressure by delegates and scientists during the meeting, this constitutes Houghton’s justification for the chapter changes. He finishes with an extended affirmation of the IPCC’s procedural and scientific integrity, concluding that ‘despite pressure…’the IPCC has stuck strictly to its brief’ refusing ‘to compromise its science for any political reason…

Santer is also quoted deferring to this US government request in an earlier Nature news article.7  But its first appearance in the controversy comes in that widely circulated email to ‘all the lead authors of the IPCC Report and all contributors to Chapter 8’ sent on the very day the controversy went public with Seitz op-ed. In this email Santer quotes the request ‘that chapter authors be prevailed upon to modify their text’ in order to ‘underscore the issue of requests received for changes,’ and then he comments:

Clearly, the official view of the United States was that chapters should NOT be finalised prior to Madrid. [12Jun96 pdf ]

What can we make of this? Why draw attention to an attempt by a government to change what is supposed to be a scientific assessment for a very apparent political reason exactly when you are trying to defend that assessment against accusations of political influence? Both Houghton and Santer use this request in defence against the claims by the Merchants of Doubt that Madrid was not supposed to be about the Chapters; in defence against the concerns of Doubters and Deniers that the deadline for comment on the chapters was clearly stated to be prior to Asheville back in July; and in defence against appeals by Seitz and Singer that politics should not be seen to be driving the science. Moreover, we should remember that this defence was being proffered not by some country delegate, but by the Coordinating Lead Author of the Chapter, and then again by the scientist co-ordinating the entire IPCC Scientific Assessment.

In attempting to understand why the United States ‘official view’ might be relevant to Santer’s defence, it is hard to avoid a number of political realities, like the US domination of global politics and that there was a strong lobby keen to exploit the new Clinton Administration’s strident support for global action on climate. It is also hard to avoid the fact that Santer is employed by the US government and that many of the other Lead Authors and Contributors are also dependant on the vastly inflated funding for climatology emanating from the coffers of USA and those countries (UK, Canada) aligned in the push for a positive and consistent attribution claim. Whether or not the view of the USA on chapter alterations was aired from the floor in Madrid (we are yet to see record of this), it is only by resorting to these considerations that we can understand why its official view would be important to Santer’s defence, especially when contrary views were explicitly expressed by the Saudi Arabian and Australian delegations. When Saudi Arabia expressed the very strong view that in this case, as in all cases, the Summary should be based on the underlying chapters, we now know that, for the Chairman, the ground rules had already been changed.

A defence that celebrates what is the essence of the corruption confirms the completeness of that corruption. To the outsider this defence is absurd, like the delusions of some king completely isolated by a court of flatterers. But did anyone try to break that delusion? Was this defence howled down by the scientific establishment? Was there any suggestion that those who occupy the seat of scientific authority might be taking on shades of the enemy? Not likely. Not likely that anyone saw that the snide ad hominem undermining the protests of the devil’s advocate would now ring hollow. No voice in the scientific establishment would stand up to be counted, not with the Saudis, not with Global Climate Coalition, not with the Merchants of Doubt, and not even with the governmental delegate Zillman. Instead, the court flattery would be piled on in spades. Where the political motive was acknowledged there would be praise and support for responding to the political situation in this way. Thereby, the actions of Houghton and Santer in and after Madrid would be vindicated across the scientific establishment as explicitly serving virtuous political interests.8

This is where we find agreement with Zillman’s defence of Madrid—although he would never grant it!—when he pleas that there was no conspiracy. What outraged Seitz and Singer was no shameful secret but the explicit justification of sincere and virtuous actors. And this provides some of the strongest evidence that here we have the tipping point. With all caution abandoned to the task of slaying the apparent enemy, it was this testing moment in this controversy that tipped climate science over into the service of a political cause, and with it went the entire scientific establishment. The message from institutional science became clear. How could there be climate science after Madrid? And sure enough, on this blog and elsewhere, sceptics bear witness to the encouragement and success of those emboldened to sidestep the ancient lore of repeatability, rigorous scepticism and falsification in a pretence to science that demonizes dissent while promoting the more subtle arts of plausible propaganda.


Go to Part II of The Last Day of Climate Science



Any errors of fact in the posts are by the author.  Notification of corrections are encourage and they will be applied (using strike through) and acknowledged as soon as they are verified.

Related Posts

This post is continued by Part II of The Last Day of Climate Science.

The order of the narrative is as follows:

  1. Madrid 1995: Was this the Tipping Point in the Corruption of Climate Science?
  2. Madrid 1995 and The Quest for the Mirror in the Sky (Part II)
  3. Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science (Part II)



* UPDATE: The Australian Greenhouse Office was not formed until 1998. The reference here should be to one of its precursor, ‘The Greenhouse Project: Planning for Change.’  Established by the Commission for the Future and the CSIRO, it organized the Greenhouse ’87 and Greenhouse ’88 conferences and pushed an more alarmist and activist policy position against the more skeptical and cautions approach of John Zillman at the BoM.

1.  This push on the new CO2+Sulphate pattern studies in support of positive attribution is evident in the US comments on the Summary for PolicyMakers under review at Asheville, but it is not in the separate comments on Chapter 8—which, in contrast, do not push positive attribution.  In the commentary on the SPM, the US government repeatedly claims that the contribution of ‘aerosols’ (or ‘sulphate aerosols’) to the attribution question constitute the ‘major new’ (or ‘critical new’) results for the Second Assessment. Moreover, these results provide ‘some of the most important new insights likely to be provided by the IPCC.’ Yet these are still ‘preliminary’ results and we are only at the ‘early stages’ of understanding their consequences. Nonetheless, when it comes to the D&A section of the Executive Summary, we find early evidence of the push for a double-barrelled bottom line statement. This is firstly in the recommendation of a positive statement on GMT—saying that the present wording in the negative is ‘unnecessarily weak and confusing’—and, secondly, in the suggestion to link this positive claim with a positive claim on the pattern studies, thus for example:

The global mean temperature changes over the past century are likely to be due, in large part, to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and a pattern of climate response to human activities is identifiable in the observed climate record.

As we shall see, a positive bottom line claim did appear in the post-Asheville draft, but it was much weaker than what is recommended here. Source: US Comments on the IPCC WG I Second Scientific Assessment—Summary for PolicyMakers, United States Department of State, July 10, 1995.  Also US comments: Chapter 8: Detection of climate change, and attribution of cause, July 1995.

2.  This makes for powerful evidence of the scientific controversy because in both cases Santer is addressing this claim—or more this reminder in order to point out the irony—directly to people who would know if it were otherwise; that is, to scientists who would have been at some or all of the three Lead Author meetings to which he refers.

3.  Zillman is likely referring to the discussion in Chapter 3, at 6.2 ‘Climate of the Past 100 years’ [SAR p147-7] of which this statement from his Delegation Report is an accurate summary. Moreover, he is only holding out on an unresolved problem of consistency that had already been identified in the review process.  For example, while arguing for a positive attribution conclusion on GMT (see note 1) US Gov commentary on the 18Apr95 SMP draft points to apparent inconsistencies in support of this claim. The first is in the presentation of recent global instrumental temperature anomaly data in a chart (SPM 18Apr95 Fig 3.3) that clearly shows a strong warming trend up to a peak value in the late 1930s. A second concern is where a ‘warmest’ statement is introduced on long range proxy evidence, only to have this unprecedented warmth claim delimited by the Middle Ages. The comment concludes with:

The text will also need to provide a plausible rationale for this pattern of warming in that a significant fraction of the recent warming occurred before the sharp rise in GHGs [i.e., up to 1930s]; it also needs to be noted why the 1400s were so warm, or the human effect will seem trivial in that natural forces were able to create a similar warming in the past. [The source is the US Comments as per note 1 above; this comment on Page SPM-3, Lines 18-19 appears on page 13].

4. On Zillman’s point of contention it is interesting to note that the Side Group draft was change during the Plenary debate on this point. The 20th century GMT given as ‘higher than’ any other century since 1400 was moderated to ‘as least as warm as.’ And after Madrid, Santer did change the relevant statement in the Chapter introduction, but this was more a sidestep than a moderation.


Viewed as a whole, these results indicate that observed global warming over the past 100 years is larger than our current best estimates of natural climate variations over the last 600 years. [SAR 9Oct95 8.1]


Viewed as a whole, these results indicate that the observed trend in global mean temperature over the past 100 years is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin. [SAR p412b]

5. Australia has expressed its independence on matters like trade, for example in our leadership of the Cairns Group against US and EU protectionism. After Zillman’s little protest in Madrid, in the climate treaty negotiations Australia refused to ratify Kyoto, which the Clinton Administration strongly supported (although defeated by the Senate). It was only when Bush became president in January 2001 did the US and Australia come into alignment. [Thanks to John Zillman for correcting me on this point and thanks to Aynsley Kellow for providing the substance of this note.]

6. US Government Specific Comments on the Draft IPCC WG I Summary for PolicyMakers prepared by the US Delegation for consideration at the IPCC WG I Plenary For Submission on November 15, 1995. The comment is on page 3 and refers to Page SPM.3 Lines 3-11

7. Houghton: ‘Justification of Chapter 8’, correspondence to Nature Vol 382, 22 August 1996.  Santer: quoted in ‘Sparks Fly Over Climate Report’ by Ehsan Masood, Nature, June 20, 1996; 381, 6584. Note that the phrase ‘prevailed upon’ is removed. Also, earlier in a widely circulated email 12Jun96 (pdf). UPDATE 2Sept12: This quotation is used also by the IPCC Chairman Bert Bolin in a defence with many similarities to Houghton’s later published ‘Justification.’ This is in a letter of 17Jun96 responding to accusations put by John Shlaes (GCC) and Don Pearlman (The Climate Council) of 30May96. Both letters are copied to US Senators. Bolin explains: ‘After the draft of the chapters of the Report of Working Group I had been sent out on 9 October 1995, in preparation for the Working Group Plenary Meeting in November in Madrid, additional significant review comments were received, including a number which referred to chapter 8. For instance, the United States government wrote in with their points for review and also commented as follows: “Finally, in comparing the text…[the fully passage quoted]…following discussions in Madrid”‘

8. The most extraordinary support by the scientific establishment is found in an editorial response to the controversy in Nature. This admits that there are grounds for concern but asks for the controversy to be cooled off due to pressing political concerns. There will be more about ‘cheerleading’ in a following blog.



7 thoughts on “Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science

  1. You have it wrong; Madrid 1995 might be the “first day of global political climate science” or something, but the last day of climate science itself was when the “greenhouse effect” was accepted as the basis for a “runaway global warming”, more than 20 years ago now. There is no greenhouse effect, of increasing temperature with increasing carbon dioxide; it is simply false, and that would have been obvious to any competent climate scientist, if there had been any, 20 years ago.

  2. Reblogged this on contrary2belief and commented:
    The day that climate science died.

    Houghton’s ruling means that the integrity of the scientific process would be abandoned and its hard-won authority traded so as to expedite a political end – however virtuous that end might be. If there were others also alarmed by the treatment of the Saudi’s objections, then they must be holding their breath, for their voice is not heard.

  3. Pingback: The Politicization of Climate Science Is NOT a Recent Phenomenon — Watts Up With That? | Sustainable Nigeria

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