Top-level Review Panel Calls for IPCC Reform

A blue ribbon panel representing 15 national science academies, the InterAcademy Council's Committee to Review the IPCC, issued a long-awaited report today that focuses on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's procedures. The panel was established at the behest of the United Nations and the IPCC itself, after the disclosure of errors in the panel's last report--amplified by the brouhaha over the hacked East Anglia e-mails--tarnished the reputation of the climate science community.

The IPCC review report's key recommendations are simple and clear. An executive committee and executive director should be established, so that when issues come to light between major reports--like the embarrassing misstatements about the destiny of the Himalayan glaciers--they will be addressed promptly and effectively; to avoid such errors in the future, a more focused method of handling expert comments must be developed. More transparent methods of selecting IPCC participants need to be adopted, and no one of the eight major panels should be led by the same scientist more than once.

Evidently the panel concluded that the Himalayan errors occurred to an extent because the IPCC had responded to some 7,000 expert comments one by one, rather than keeping its eye on truly central issues. Once the errors were disclosed, they were particularly costly because nobody was in charge.

Though the review's focus was on proces more than substance, it determined that the Himalayan errors were not a completely isolated case. It found other instances of important generalizations in summary chapters not being adequately supported and explained.

Press speculation in response to the review report has centered on whether the panel implicitly is calling on the incumbent IPCC leader, the Indian scientist Rajendra Pachauri, to resign. Certainly, as Britain 's The Independent observed, the review "did nothing to lessen the pressure" on the embattled IPCC chairman. Pachauri has said he will not resign, and that while he welcomes the panel's recommendations, action will await an October meeting in South Korea of the 194 countries that participate in the IPCC.

It's probably a tribute to the review panel and its leader, Harold T. Shapiro, a former president of Princeton University, that press comment on the report has been so consistent and uniform across political boundaries. "The climate expert group is invited to reform itself," headlined France's business-oriented Figaro, so as to better respond to public criticism. Germany's left-liberal Sueddeutsche Zeitung characterized the report's thrust as an "invitation to openness": While the IPCC needs to reform itselt, there also is no basis for the sometimes excessive attacks on it. The liberal-to-moderate New York Times said the panel had found flaws in the climate panel's structure.

It was the centrist Independent that was perhaps sharpest: "IPCC feels the heat as it is told to get its facts right about global warming."

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