Hidden history about Madrid 1995: a look at the conference that changed the world

Summary:  Today we have an excerpt from a longer work describing one of the key global diplomatic meetings shaping the early 21st century world, our equivalent of the Congress of Vienna in 1815.  In the era of 4GW State-to-State wars are replaced by global conferences setting policy about currencies, trade — and climate change.

Excerpt from Madrid 1995: The Last Day of Climate Science, posted by Bernie Lewin at Enthusiasm, Scepticism and Science musings on the origins and impacts of global warming alarmism in the history and philosophy of science (for more see their About Page).  Reposted with their generous permission.

I recommend that anyone interested in climate change go to Lewin’s website and read this series in full. These excerpts give just a flavor of the rich detail he provides on this important and fascinating story.


These links go to these chapters at Lewin’s website.

  1. Introduction
  2. MADRID 1995: Tipping Point?
  3. The Quest – Part II
  4. The Last Day – Part I
  5. The Last Day – Part II: A shambolic Victory of the Virtuous
  6. For more information

(1) Introduction

When Ben Santer arrived in Madrid in the late autumn of 1995, did he know that this conference would change his life forever?

Undoubtedly ambitious, a rising star in the climate modelling scene, he was doing well at age 40 to be leading the writing of a key chapter in the IPCC Second Assessment Report.  In fact, the convener of this IPCC Working Group, John Houghton, had asked him to take it on quite late in the day, only after more established scientists had turned down the offer. Perhaps they had a hunch of what was about to unfold, for it would be Santer’s fate that great forces of history would bear down on the lead author of his chapter at this conference.

When he was through with it, when Houghton had accepted the final draft a few days later, climate science would be changed forever. After a long struggle, the levees of science gave way to the overwhelming forces of politics welling up around it, and soon it would be totally and irrevocably engulfed.

The story of Ben Santer’s late changes to Chapter 8 of the Working Group 1 Report is familiar to most sceptical accounts of the climate change controversy (e.g. here & here and a non-sceptical account). However, it is often overshadowed by other landmark events, and so it is usually not put up there in the same league with Hansen‘s sweaty congressional testimony of 1988, with the establishment of the IPCC nor with the Hockey Stick Controversy. Yet, if one looks at the greater controversy in terms of its impact on science, then this conference in Madrid might just surpass them all.

This was the tipping point. This was climate science’s Battle of Hastings, when political exigencies — the enemies of science — broke through the lines and went on to overrun all its institutions.


John Houghton writes of it under the heading Meetings that Changed the World.  Here we consider whether this meeting in Madrid was the moment when climate science gave way under the monumental pressure of politics. It culminated in famous and controversial statement in Chapter 8 Second Assessment Report:

“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. More importantly, there is evidence of an emerging pattern of climate response to forcings by greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols in the observed climate record. Taken together, these results point towards a human influence on global climate.”

{Here 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 1995 using the Australian Delegation Report (published by the Bureau of Meteorology) 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 read this summary about the importance of  Barnett 1996:  “Estimates of low frequency natural variability in near-surface air temperature“, T.P. Barnett, The Holocene, September 1996 — Ungated large pdf here.

Also helpful will be this key to drafts and meetings:

  • SAR 18Apr95 draft: the version of the Working Group 1 Second Assessment Report (SAR) sent out for review before the deadline for comments on chapters in early July 1995
  • Asheville Meeting of Lead Authors (25-8 July 1995):  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 December 1995): convened 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 here].

(2)  Excerpt from MADRID 1995: Tipping Point?

Late in the belated preparations of its 3rd report (the ‘Second Assessment’), the IPCC Working Group 1 was still saying that the science was inconclusive, uncertain and disputed. Moreover, despite enormous pressure, including his own personal interests and opinion, Ben Santer’s chapter continued to proclaim that the evidence for the detection and attribution of a catastrophic warming trend was in many ways uncertain and certainly inconclusive — hardly the bases for a legally binding global commitment to radical reform.

Climate science did not just roll over under the pressure of politics. Until the Madrid meeting, IPCC science had managed to keep on doing its thing mostly uncorrupted by the monumental political forces building up around it. In this view, one is drawn to speculate that if only somehow the whole turnaround in and after Madrid had not happen, what then? What of Kyoto? What of all the rest? Would this episode in the history of the UN have become as forgettable after 1996 as the Ice Age Scare after 1976?

But it did happen. The Assessment delivered just enough of what was needed for Kyoto. In the realpolitik of the situation, it could hardly be otherwise. In another post I will explain why.

(3)  Excerpt from “The Quest – Part II”

The nitpicking of the Doubters was as nought to the damaging critique coming out of an unpublished investigation conducted by the Chapter 8 lead authors themselves.

This investigation [pdf] is an exploration of how to properly establish the ‘yardstick’ of natural climate variability. … they set out to explore how to establish the variability in the longer centurial and millennial timeframes necessary to give some perspective on the multi-decadal warming trend in question, and to establish the pattern of this warming as a background to the pattern studies now being employed to solve the D&A question. Circulating under the title ‘Estimates of low frequency natural variability in near-surface air temperature,’ the account of this investigation is an extraordinary tale of how every toehold collapses into dust.

When they investigated the models they found that models tend to vary widely in their estimates of climate variability on longer time scales, and they tend to under-estimate this variability.  This latter is perhaps understandable because the models ‘do not incorporate changes in solar output or changes in volcanically induced aerosol inputs to the atmosphere.’

That they do not incorporate other external forces is a problem for detection studies because it is ‘likely to inflate the statistical significance of typical detection metrics by under-representing the air-temperature variance that one should expect in nature.’ The models also tell us very little about the natural spatial patterns of climate variability and what they do tell varies widely. ‘This result is particularly worrying’, says the paper, ‘since most modern sophisticated detection methods try to find predicted spatial patterns of change’ — and here referring directly to key pattern studies used in the Second Assessment.

All these facts make it difficult to say if observed spatial changes in climate are ‘normal’ or due to anthropogenic effects. One or both of these model flaws [in spatial distribution and understated variability] might bias the results of an objective detection study and lead us to believe confidently that an anthropogenic signal has been found when, in fact, that may not be the case.

If the models are left aside then there is no recourse to the instrument record because it is too short for this purpose, and anyway likely contaminated by the human impact. So the only place to establish the long-range background climate variability is in the proxy data records across the last millennium.  And this is where the critique really bites, slamming available proxy reconstructions as inaccurate, contradictory and evidently tending to underestimate variability. The conclusion of the paper heralds a warning:

Our results should serve as a warning to those anxious rigorously to pursue the detection of anthropogenic effects in observed climate data.

And the warning is:

The spectrum of natural variability against which detection claims, positive or negative, are made is not well-known and apparently not well represented in early CGCM [model] control runs.

In other words: with the question of natural variability unresolved ‘it is hard to say, with confidence, that an anthropogenic climate signal has or has not been detected.’

More than anything else cited in Chapter 8, this paper is the spoiler of all attribution claims, whether from surface pattern studies, or from vertical pattern studies (with almost no prospect of paleo proxy data), or from the analysis of the global mean. Indeed, references to it remain in the published version of Chapter 8, but the more explicit elaborations of its implications are contained in a number of the famous passages deleted after Madrid. Read it and there is no wonder that the drafts of the IPCC D&A {Detection & Attribution} chapter had concluded that ‘no study to date has both detected a significant climate change and positively attributed all or part of that change to anthropogenic causes.’

And then there are the closing words of the entire Chapter. The final paragraph of the deleted ‘Concluding Summary,’ reads as though a summary of the paper’s chief warning:

Furthermore, the large differences between the internally-generated noise estimates from different CGCMs translate into large uncertainties in estimates of detection time, even for a perfectly-known time-evolving anthropogenic signal. These noise estimates are the primary yardsticks that must be used to judge the significance of observed changes. They may be flawed on the century time scales of interest for detection of a slowly-evolving anthropogenic effect on climate. The burden of proof that this is not the case lies with climate modellers, experts in the analysis of paleoclimatic data, and with the scientists engaged in detection studies.

(4)  Excerpt from “The Last Day – Part I”

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!

… 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.

… 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.

(5)  Excerpt from “The Last Day – Part II:  A shambolic Victory of the Virtuous”

Bert Bolin had been moving around the room consulting with various delegations in an attempt to find a resolution. Finally, at 10.30pm he interrupts proceedings, ‘took over the meeting’ and declares that…

… he had decided, as an extraordinary measure, to overrule the agreed text because of the extreme importance of the wording to the way the IPCC findings would be interpreted. He said he did not wish there to be any discussion but he believed the meeting would accept, as the ‘bottom line’ on detection and attribution: “Nevertheless the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.

No one dissented from this ruling and so this is how this famous line came into being. For Zillman this is more than another admission of the failure to reach accord. He is surprised and taken aback by the decisive way Bolin resolves a matter of no small import to the whole assessment process.

…It is now a real scramble for the finish. The Executive Summary approval is hurriedly wrapped up during the final hour while delegations pack up and leave. Past midnight, with minutes to go, the only thing left to do is to ‘accept’ the underlying chapters. This would not have been of much concern if it weren’t for the (now even more glaring) inconsistencies between (the body and conclusion) of Chapter 8 and (the newly drafted) D&A section of the Summary.

The story goes that this Working Group 1 Plenary did indeed give consent for the Lead Author to revise Chapter 8 according to the consensus it had finally achieved. For example, here is Houghton again in a ‘Justification of Chapter 8′:

The plenary meeting finally ‘accepted’ the draft chapters (including Chapter 8) subject to their revision by the lead authors to take into account the guidance provided by the meeting and in particular the need for overall consistency. [Nature 382, 22 August 1996].

How explicit was this acceptance and how specific was this guidance is hard to establish. The matter would not be raised at Rome (where only the 9 October 1995 draft appeared) and precious little has been obtained recording or discussing the problem before we come to the justifications proffered months later when the controversy broke. But anyway, perhaps it doesn’t matter what was actually said or not said, agreed or not; for, by all accounts, at this stage the meeting had degenerated into a shambles.

(6)  For More Information

For an eye-opening look inside the IPCC see Donna Laframboise’s The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert.  See these excerpts at the Financial Post: part one, part two.

For more information about climate change see these FM Reference Pages:


15 thoughts on “Hidden history about Madrid 1995: a look at the conference that changed the world”

  1. I always said I’d never argue with you again about climate change. And I wont now, I’ll just make a US$100 bet with you. That by Sept 2017 (5 years) you will change your mind. If by then you haven’t, then I’ll pony up. We can inflation adjust the $100 if you want.

    This is about in line with my prediction (here and elsewhere) a few years ago that “in 10 years everyone will panic”. So 5 years is roughly in line with that time frame.

    I simply download the raw data (as I did with the entire IPCC stuff, including model projections, etc) and do my own analysis. And come to my own .. and quite different conclusions. In fact some of mine are ..well …. quite more ‘scary’ than what most people read in the press (especially the US press).

    1. I don’t follow FM’s articles on climate change very closely, but I think he has already changed his mind after reading a recent well-done study on the topic.

      Read the article more closely, FM isn’t decrying the science. He is attempting to document the moment when politics overcame the science and some scientists started making politically-motivated inaccurate statements about what they knew (and could prove) about climate change.

      1. “Read the article more closely, FM isn’t decrying the science. ”

        I’ve never done “decrying the science” (whatever that means). Can you provide an example to support your statement?

        My position has always been clear (and I can easily provide many citations to support this):

        • That the world has been warming during the past two centuries (the early part of which was obviously not driven by CO2)
        • that there is a debate among climate scientists about the causes of this, and future forecasts
        • that the climate sciences are underfunded.
        • that the standards of proof for large-scale public policy use are higher than for a typical academic debate
    2. If you are betting that I’ll change my mind, let’s see you state my views. You’ve been unable to do so accurately in the past, so that would be progress.

      “I simply download the raw data (as I did with the entire IPCC stuff, including model projections, etc) and do my own analysis.”

      Most of what I remember of your comments is your “decrying the science”, mocking scientists with relevant education and experience, who have published in peer-reviewed publications. You have been a poster child here (with Maclaren) for the growing anti-intellectualism in the west, where your ideology trumps the process of science. Here’s my favorite example: High school science facts prove global warming! Skeptical scientists humiliated by this revelation!

      Now we see that you do so on the basis of your own work. Congratulations! I await your publications! They should be interesting, since your comments make it clear you have not the slightest idea about the state cutting edge of climate sciences debated in the IPCC.

  2. Glad to see you admit the reality of global warming! While I’m sure you can find an outlier in a variety of fields who claim that global warming is not driven by humans, can you find any scientific group or scientific organization that disagrees about the human component of climate change?

    1. Every post about global warming produces this delusional replies, like putting a penny in the machine gets a gumball.

      I’ve written scores of posts discussing almost every aspects of the climate debate, citing hundreds of peer-reviewed papers. Almost every one gets a Yahoo posting something almost identical to gazelle’s in its ignorance.

      To restate the situation for the hundredth time, the world has been warming during the past two centuries — which fact by itself shows a natural component.

      There is a debate about the attribution of past warming (which probably varied over time) between natural drivers (eg, rebound from the Little Ice Age, solar influences) and anthropogenic drivers (eg, co2, aerosols, land use changes).

      The IPCC reports make few claims about attribution of current climate activity to warming to date, as that remains actively de bated in the literature.

      There is an even larger debate about forecasts, both the extent of future CO2 emissions (the IPCC consensus does not reflect well the debate among geologists about the extent of fossil fuels reserves), and the net effects of the various anthropogenic effects.

      These debates are the subject of most climate related posts, followed in frequency with those about the poor representation of these things in the general media, and how that has been the major driver of the climate policy debates.

      For the past five years my recommendations have been the same:
      (1). More funding for climate sciences. Many key aspects (eg, global temperature data collection and analysis) are grossly underfunded.
      (2). Wider involvement of our pool of talent in this debate. For example, geologists, statisticians and software engineers have been largely excluded — although their specialties are deeply involved.

    2. One fun game to play with responses like Gazelle’s: how many of the standard warmista’s standard replies does he/she hit?

      1. Pro-AGW comments often display no signs of having read the skeptics’ work.
      2. Pro-AGW comments often invent assertions which they can easily refute.
      3. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no awareness of the authoritative reports on this issue.
      4. Pro-AGW comments usually show little or no knowledge of the long struggle to force some climate scientists to release data and methods.
      5. Pro-AGW comments usually show little understanding of the scientific method.
      6. They illustrate the pro-AGW faith in computer models.
      7. They illustrate the irrationality of the “precautionary principle” as commonly used.
      8. Update: Pro-AGW comments usually consider scientists to be authorities, unless they disagree with AGW orthodoxy. Then they’re cranks. Example here.

      One, two, three, and four seem certain. Five and eight seem likely, but only by inference. Six and seven are seen in the advanced form of warmistas, after long indoctrination.

      The real test of their mettle comes from exposure to actual climate science. The more open-minded will disappear from the discussion. The hard-core believers will continue, usually responding with lies, insults, and evasion (identical responses to right-wingers defending faux economics).

      If he replies to my questions we will learn more, proving these guesses correct — or wrong!

    1. In what sense is McIntyre an “outlier”? My guess is that you cannot accurately summarize his views.

      My further guess, based not on your comment here but it’s similarity to others, is that you cannot accurately summarize any aspect of the state of the debates in the climate sciences. Just a guess, of course.

    2. Gazelle citing this as something remotely relevant to this post is quite nuts. Schmidt’s post gives his explanation for his refusal to comply with a Freedom on Information Act request, part of a multi-year-long massive program in the US and UK to conceal key data and methods from public review. A clearer violation of the core principles of science is difficult to even imagine.

      In a rare note of honesty, in the early days of this program to maintain secrecy one major climate scientist explained his motive:

      “Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
      — Phil Jones, UK Climate Research Unit, 21 February 2005 (see the full story)

    3. A few years ago the hospital where I work was audited by our feds. I messed up right from the off by letting them in without closely inspecting their photo IDs – their posse could have been any old hatchet-faced federal goons, who would not have had the statutory right to enter a clinical area. Breach of data protection act, badda boom. Our nurse was more on the ball and just responded to their attempt at small talk “So, how are your clinical studies going at the moment?” with “Lovely day, isn’t it!”. They laughed – remember, as with the police, nothing is off the record and anything you say can be used in evidence against you. They were just fishing.

      They found lots of things wrong, amounting to several Major Findings. None had affected patient care or the scientific integrity of our studies. In other words, we passed inspection. Auditors will always “find something wrong with it”. Always. But that does not mean a reasonable person or the courts would find it actually important, scientifically or ethically.

      I don’t know Prof Jones, have never been to UEA, but do know auditors and audit. McIntyre is by his own description an auditor, not a scientific researcher. He is using FOI to go fishing, and this is a controversial area in law and ethics, especially in the UK where our FOI act is very recent so his actions may end up as a test case. A lawyer would surely tell you never to talk to the police without a lawyer present, and the same applies to auditors. If I was a juror listening to prosecution present this at a trial, I know I couldn’t possibly convict Jones on this comment. His mistake was not to pass this self-appointed auditor’s requests straight to legal affairs.

      1. Gavin,

        Thank you for sharing your experience, but the situations are not remotely comparable. McIntyre is not “fishing”. He is attempting to get the supporting data used to produce conclusions upon which we’re being asked to make massive public policy decisions.

        Most of this work was publicly funded, with requirements for public access to the data. Many of the sponsoring institutions and most of the journals publishing these studies have strict and broad requirements to disclose data and methods. All of these have been ignored with the studies in question.

        Furthermore, as a result of the work of McIntyre and others, much has been released into the public domain. And some key journals are starting to enforce their disclosure and archiving requirements. These are essential for the review and replication of work, essential steps in the scientific process.

        We all owe a large debt of gratitude to these people for improving the climate sciences. Note that these kinds of disclosure and replication are routine in many other sciences.

        The previous way climate business was done:

        “We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
        — Phill Jones’ reply to Warwick Hughes, 21. February 2005; confirmed by Phill Jones. From a slide by Hans von Storch, GKSS Research Centre, presented to the National Academies of Science

  3. What is so difficult about acknowledging that climate science is filled with known unknowns and unknown unknowns? When people comment here on climate science they’re as rigid as those that comment on economics. Another similarity between them is you get the data you pay for.

    I swear I need to read The Closing of the American Mind

    1. “What is so difficult about acknowledging that climate science is filled with known unknowns and unknown unknowns?”

      The need for dogmatic rigidity — to refused to admit the existence of debate in the literature — comes from the desire for vast public policy changes. Assumption of large new government powers to regulate economic activity, to divert the world’s investment capital into specific directions.

      Since that foundation in current research does not yet exist — the known unknowns you mention — then propaganda must create it, suppressing some aspects and exaggerating others. For example the IPCC reports are quite cautious about attribution of current weather to the long warming. Yet every major weather event gets exaggerated as “historic” and blamed on global warming.

      Remember the warnings after Katrina in 2005 of a massive new era of hurricanes era? Didn’t happen. Similarly the current US drought is nothing unusual, despite the fantastic hype in the news media.

      1. “The need for dogmatic rigidity”

        It’s the same dynamic as seen in many religious, political and social organizations. In extreme forms, in revolutionary movements — such as the communist party. It maintains internal cohesion and focus.

        Very useful for the leaders. It’s like having loyal robots.

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