Many of the claims in the new IPCC report are buttressed with the phrase “medium confidence”. And if you were a policymaker in a hurry, you’d want to know what the term means. It sounds fairly confident. If you were medium confident of winning a bet you might think it equidistant between a coin toss and a dead certainty. But for the IPCC “medium confidence” is the same as a coin toss, equidistant between very low and very high. And good luck nailing it down further because nowhere in the report, not even in the glossary when we tracked it down, is the term defined. It’s even undefined in an in-house guide for IPCC authors. The IPCC explains that it’s a combination of degree of agreement among some unspecified group, possibly the “author team”, and the amount and quality of evidence. It’s not immediately clear why the degree of agreement would be independent of the amount and quality of evidence, unless there’s this bogus consensus being manufactured somewhere and facts be hanged. And then IPCC further burbles “There is flexibility in this relationship; for a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels could be assigned… Confidence should not be interpreted probabilistically, and it is distinct from ‘statistical confidence.’” In short, it means nothing, and is hurled about indiscriminately. And since the Summary for Policymakers doesn’t start by admitting that when we express medium confidence it means we are making no judgement about a term that has no meaning, nothing else in the report can matter.
The whole document reads as though it was recovered from a badly damaged hard drive. It actually took us five minutes to determine that the “Glossary” wasn’t part of the “Full Report” and that, once located, it did not contain “medium confidence”. So we are going to level with you. We avoided commenting last week so we would have time to try to read at least a big chunk of the report, but the attempt has failed. Like the rest of the commentariat we didn’t read the report either. And one reason we failed is because WGIII is the weakest part of the whole IPCC report process, which is saying a lot. But another is that the actual contents of the report has come to signify nothing to the very people who claim to care the most about the topic.
That the entire pantomime has moved beyond any pretence of interest in the contents of the report is best signified by the fact the psychics at The Guardian went to print before the report even appeared, saying
“Dire warning on climate change ‘is being ignored’ amid war and economic turmoil/ Scientists fear that their last-ditch climate warnings are going unheeded amid international turmoil caused by the war in Ukraine, and soaring energy prices. The third segment of the landmark scientific report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – which could be the last comprehensive assessment of climate science to be published while there is still time to avoid the worst ravages of climate breakdown – will be published on Monday, warning that the world is not shifting quickly enough to a low-carbon economy.”
That their “environmental correspondent” armed with a crystal ball as well as a degree in English Literature was able to forecast this finding in advance is really not surprising. What else were they going to say? On second thought we decided it’s not so bad? Sorry we panicked, no crisis? No need to rush into anything foolish? Dream on. As for claiming the warnings were going unheeded, well, it’s not the fault of journalists, who did all they could to revive flagging interest in this warmed-over semi-panic.