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The FCO misleads 

Sir David King, the Foreign Office's adviser on climate change, has commissioned a report into the effects of climate change on food security. There's a monster team of authors featuring among others Tim Benton, a population ecologist and the "UK Champion for Global Food Security", and Rob Bailey, a former executive at Oxfam who now works at Chatham House.

The underlying study is a mega-hypothesis of course - it's computer models all the way down, you might say - so it's of no practical use, but with the project led by someone like Sir David, one can be reasonably sure that it will at least provide some entertainment.

The report is undoubtedly a mixed bag - a heady blend of the trivial and the deceptive. On the trivial front We learn for example that there is "very extensive and convincing evidence" that the climate is changing. Evidence that the sun rises is overwhelming too, or so I am led to believe. But we also learn that there is "good evidence that extreme weather events, from intense storms to droughts and heatwaves, are increasing in frequency and severity at a considerable rate".

The citation is as follows (links added):

See Hansen (op. cit.) and for a brief review COUMOU, D. & S. RAHMSTORF (2012) “A decade of weather extremes” Nature Climate Change DOI 10.1038/NCLIMATE1452 and IPCC (2012) A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA; CHALLINOR, A., et al. 2014. A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation. Nature Climate Change, 4, 287-291.
Examination of the source texts is illuminating. Hansen and Coumou are silent on most of the meteorological phenomena mentioned, but here is what the Summary for Policymakers of the SREX report said about droughts:
There is medium confidence that some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia. [3.5.1]
...about tropical cyclones
There is low confidence in any observed long-term (i.e., 40 years or more) increases in tropical cyclone activity (i.e., intensity, frequency, duration), after accounting for past changes in observing capabilities.

...and about heatwaves:

In many (but not all) regions over the globe with sufficient data, there is medium confidence that the length or number of warm spells or heat waves has increased.

So, all in all, the literature cited by the author team provides virtually no support for the claims they make. They are just sexing things up a bit.


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Reader Comments (25)

More CO2 = more food

More humans = less food.

Why do taxpayers need to pay for a report?

Aug 14, 2015 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

As far as I can see, King is only responsible for the rather woolly Foreword.
The false claim about "extreme weather events, from intense storms to droughts and heatwaves, are increasing in frequency and severity at a considerable rate", with the bogus citation of IPCC SREX, seems to be the responsibility of the report authors.
Two of them are from the Met Office.

Aug 14, 2015 at 2:31 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Are the met office authors known to this blog?


Aug 14, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

If anybody had watched BBC Earth (Atlantic) last night they would have been in no doubt that the major cause of disturbance (temperature/wind/clouds/sea state) was to do with that big bright thing we revolve round called....the Sun. Its been around (oh dear) a long time so climate can only be a major slave to it.

No mention of climate change during the course of the documentary otherwise I would have switched away PDQ. However, the constant rattle about dolphins was the replacement... I think?

King has himself well greased into that advisory position, having seen him on the Commons Select. He can certainly get somewhat sh*t faced when challenged.

Aug 14, 2015 at 2:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Joe Public, "More humans = less food"?

That depends on the productivity and appetites of the humans, doesn't it?

Aug 14, 2015 at 2:44 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Anyone would think there is some big climate event in the offing and all this is the preparation for that.

Aug 14, 2015 at 3:12 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

I had the opportunity to study King at clos(ish) quarters when he gave the Walker Instititute Annual Lecture at the RGS a few months ago.

It was like the proverbial Chinese meal.. after 10 minutes one realised that all the competent delivery and world-weary experience couldn't conceal that there was very little substantial content...vapourware - (or possibly vapidware) only.

My fellow conspirators/sceptics (Messrs Shotover, Katabasis and Woods) were equally underwhelmed.

I can only imagine that the alarmists have had it all their own way for so long in UK that they don't bother testing their arguments any more against robust criticism (if ever they did).

But one hopes that Ms Rudd (who is rapidly becoming a pin-up girl chez Alder) might bring some rigour into the evaluation of this guys dafter pronouncements.

Aug 14, 2015 at 3:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

"Are the met office authors known to this blog?


I suspect they must be known to Richard Betts - and he will be sure to come along here and tell us how he has put them right (and then I woke up).

Ex-Pat Colin: I watched the Atlantic documentary as well. I also expected the constant reference to CC/AGW and was surprised that it wasn't hammered. Instead, did you get the sheer number of times it made reference to 'warming waters'? All very subliminal.

Aug 14, 2015 at 3:36 PM | Registered CommenterHarry Passfield

"On the trivial front We learn for example that there is "very extensive and convincing evidence" that the climate is changing."

"Extensive" is a very odd adjective to use. If there was convincing evidence, it wouldn't need to be extensive. Hence, "very extensive" means "no evidence at all."

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterGamecock

From the report:

4.1 Plausible scenarios for extreme weather and country
4.1.1 A plausible worst case scenario for 2016
A disappointing Indian monsoon the previous year means 2016
opens with a poor outlook for wheat in India....

lol. In their dreams. Normal monsoon weather seems to be prevailing.

So, as they have already indicated, the Indians are going to give the climateers the proverbial two fingered salute in Paris. Quite right too. I'd use both hands.

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:08 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

@Ex-pat Colin/Mailman: Was that the first episode? I didn't watch it in any case because I thought "here we go again!" There is something going on at the BBC, but I am not sure what it is yet, but I am a little suspicious it could be a case of "It's quiet, too quiet, & I don't like it", then we get hit with the metaphorical arrow to the chest, perhaps I don't know!

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Wot's the pic? Looks like seven green grubs against the night sky.

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:23 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@Harry Passfield:

If I remember correctly the coral(s) were about to snuff it...1 deg C and over it goes with shots of it pinching its own ar*e or similar?. The sea was too hot but was there anything on measurement evidence..nope. Sounded finger in the air/water to me. ooo...there where those clouds forming as well. As a self appointed authority on this stuff who would question them?

Just shows how forceful the Sun is at whipping up a massive disaster (for us) and clearly able to bias the climate any way it wants. I think its had eons of practice. But I ain't an authority so I won't be appearing on the BBC..unless I wip me telescope out for The Sky at Night? Oh no...thats Maisie boy!

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

@Alan the Brit

Its a series - BBC Earth. I saw one last week which was similar. The Atlantic again and following the Gulf Stream (GS) from the Caribbean up the USA and over to W. Scotland. That was more about whales etc. However, there was a little dose of warm water and pressure/temperature change mentioned as a result of the GS. And I'm sure no CC was mentioned because my remote control would have pinged it off.

Think they have to be careful with this, talking about the sun, temperature and sea all at once. Gonna be difficult to stuff CO2 in there or perhaps a sensible head has said...enough! That woud be just one who may be on shaky ground? Saying that though most of these progs are sub contracted out...

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterEx-expat Colin

Now it's lol² . What kind of a report on future food production out to the middle of the century is unable to even mention GMO crop modifications?

Aug 14, 2015 at 4:46 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I spent most of the afternoon on interviews with the BBC about anaerobic digesters in the south-west, for which thousands of acres of productive farmland are being turned over to growing crops to be turned into pitiful amounts of highly subsidised electricity. So mitigating so-called "climate change" is reducing food production and leading to increased food and fuel poverty. Mitigating so-called "climate change" is the real risk to food security. Is this mentioned in the report?

Aug 14, 2015 at 7:28 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Philip B:

I spent most of the afternoon on interviews with the BBC about anaerobic digesters in the south-west,
Ah...the things you have to do! You deserve kudos for talking (about) sh*t to people who are skilled at producing the darn stuff - which they charge us a licence fee to bathe in. Brave man.

It reminded me of the Jeremy (I'm really an idiot) Vine show today where they talked about how to get the price of milk up for dairy farmers: cull the milk herds to make the product scarcer - and therefore more valuable. Say what??!!!

Aug 14, 2015 at 9:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

One of the Met Office people mentioned in the report was Kirsty Lewis, Principal Climate Change Consultant, and there was a brief quote from her in a news item on BBC World Service this morning (h/t Messenger on Unthreaded), transcript here:

What happens is not just the shift in average climate - we're quite used to the idea of average temperature increasing - it is really about how variable that climate is and how more frequent these extreme events are. And they're the hardest ones, really, as climate scientists, for us to model, so it makes it very difficult for us to put the figures on exactly how frequently, but the signal is very clear that these events become more frequent in the future, and the worst cases being worse than they are in the present day.

Aug 14, 2015 at 9:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Ah but Alex, isn't all made clear on the map?

Kirsty Lewis - Introduction to 'The impact of a global temperature rise of 4 °C (7 °F)' map

Maybe you will also have the same problem I did, couldn't see the map for maybes?

Also note the link referenced below the video:-

Its dead! 404 type dead!

Aug 14, 2015 at 11:30 PM | Registered CommenterGreen Sand

Harry Passfield on Aug 14, 2015 at 9:28 PM

I think the problem is that the supermarkets can buy milk from abroad more cheaply, and it is superficially easier buying from a large volume supplier, which they usually are.

I don't think there is a reliable, fully working mechanism to ensure the imported milk is of the same high standards as British milk, for H&S etc. Remember the beef/horsemeat scandal? Multiple layers of middlemen! There is also the question of ensuring a reliable food supply for strategic reasons, something which the EU would view as sabotaging 'ever closer union'. The British Government has as much power as you do over the CAP. It was something Tony Blair tried to change. He failed, but the accompanying reduced British refund still stood: funny that!

Aug 14, 2015 at 11:45 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

This report doesn't seem to be getting any better with more reading.

Commercial crop growers add CO2 to their greenhouses because they believe it works.
Michael Mann knows that his trees grew more when it was warmer.
The writers of this report appear to be wilfully down-playing likely positives:

"The analysis shown in the top row of Fig 3, assumes full effectiveness of CO2 fertilization [for maize, soy, wheat, and rice] Recently questions have been raised about the magnitude of this beneficial effect."

They don't even say how they defined or calculated "full effectiveness of CO2 fertilization", much less show data.
They then cite a reference that claims to show that in one study of nitrogen-deficient wheat crops (not maize or soy or rice), added CO2 doesn't increase nitrogen content.
(It appears not to report nitrogen content in the part of the plant that people eat).

The plants still grew more, but I would have thought that even a farmer called Homer Simpson would know that the best way to remedy nitrogen deficiency is to add a nitrogen fertilizer.

I could go on, but it just seems like shooting rats in a barrel.

Aug 15, 2015 at 4:00 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I watched the Kirsty Lewis clip on the supplied link - what arrant nonsense! No doubt the lady gets paid a salary for being a good little functionary, but if I was resident in the UK I would be applying for a refund on her efforts as she is clueless - 4 degrees C of warming indeed!
As to the milk thing, are Brits not aware of the alarming drop in the international price for milk-related dairy products?
In NZ, many dairy farmers will make a considerable loss this year and many, if they have the resources to remain on the land, are looking to switch to beef production if they can weather the interim period of nil income.

Aug 15, 2015 at 6:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

From Page 3 (last paragraph or so) to the report:

‘In addition, for some climate phenomena (such as the way that large scale circulation patterns like the southern oscillation may change), inter-model comparison shows considerable
variability. Given that “it is difficult to rank models for their accuracy, ...any model integration can be considered equally valid, and those that indicate [worse] conditions imply a future potential risk”.

I’m not the brightest, and I do quite often suffer from a failure of logic, but my interpretation of the above is not

‘In other words the rarest conditions are the most uncertain and difficult to study, but because they are also typically the most impactful, their study is most important.’

as suggested by the authors of the report - but rather... if we adopt those models with the most extreme outputs (regardless of the quality of that model and its inputs) and ignore those that attempt to model something close to reality we can get the truly scary story we set out to get.

Am I missing something...yes, yes, I know, I must be... I'm off back to my corner.

Aug 15, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrian Blagden

Kirsty is a perfect "career-alarmist". Linked-In Profile:

Climate Security Team Leader

Met Office Hadley Centre

September 2010 – Present (5 years)

As Climate Security Team Leader, Kirsty is responsible for providing climate advice and research support to government, primarily in the areas of defence and security. This involves expert analysis and interpretation of climate projections. It requires a broad overview of all areas of climate science and good links with research scientists, as well as an ability to communicate effectively across disciplines.

Kirsty's recent projects have included leading on the production of a 4 degree map outlining some of the human impacts of a global average temperature rise of 4 oC and a scoping study on the vulnerability of global energy infrastructure to climate change.

Languages: Welsh


University of Exeter

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Climate Security

2012 – 2016 University of Reading

MSc, Weather, Climate and Modelling, Distinction

2000 – 2001 Imperial College London

BSc, Physics

1994 – 1997

You wonder, did she take a student loan to invest in her future career? She seems to have spent a decade or more as a student.

Aug 15, 2015 at 7:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterLondon Calling

Martin A (4:23 PM): it’s a pile of turtles – ’cos it’s turtles all the way down, innit?

Aug 15, 2015 at 10:26 PM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

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