In response to sustained criticism of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the IPCC and United Nations officials asked the Inter Academy Council to review the processes and procedures of the IPCC and make recommendations for changes that would enhance the objectivity and accuracy of the IPCC reports. The Inter Academy Council, a multinational organization of science academies, was given a limited charter to examine only the IPCC’s management structure and methods of operation, not to evaluate the underlying scientific conclusions of the IPCC’s fourth assessment report.
On August 30, 2010, the Inter Academy Council submitted its findings to the IPCC and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The Council provided a summary to the press at a briefing in New York, after which the IPCC leaders conducted their own press briefing to comment on the Inter Academy Council’s findings. The disconnect between the two briefings was palpable.
After its pro forma praise of the IPCC’s contributions to understanding global climate change and asserting that “the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall,” the Inter Academy Council spent the bulk of its 58 page report documenting many significant flaws that call into question the scientific objectivity of the entire IPCC infrastructure.
Dr. Harold T. Shapiro, an economics and public affairs professor and former president at Princeton University, who chaired the Inter Academy Council’s review, told reporters that “I think the errors made [by the IPCC] did dent the credibility of the process.”
The Inter Academy Council recommended major changes in how the IPCC is managed and operates in order to restore whatever credibility it once had. The Council concluded that it was time for the IPCC to adopt a more professional organizational structure. It proposed a new executive management committee with decision-making authority that would include individuals from outside the IPCC to “enhance its credibility and independence.”
Here are just a few examples of the fundamental flaws in the IPCC’s processes that the Council flagged for attention. The initial reaction of the IPCC leadership does not auger well.
1. No Term Limits – The Inter Academy Council recommended that there should be a limit of only one term for key IPCC leaders, including the IPCC chairman. The Council believed such term limits were necessary from the top down in order to “ensure a greater infusion of fresh perspectives on the assessments.”
The current chairman, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, has been the IPCC chairman since 2002, commencing a second term in 2008. He was asked at the press briefing whether he would follow the one term recommendation and step down before work begins in earnest on the next IPCC assessment due in 2013-14. He replied that he did not think so, although he would do what the IPCC member states ultimately decided was appropriate. Thus, on one of the key recommendations of the Inter Academy Council, the current chairman is choosing to cling to his job rather than voluntarily defer to someone with a fresh perspective to take his place.
2. Conflict of Interest – The Inter Academy Council found that there were no rigorous conflict of interest policies in place, which best practices in other organizations would require. The Council recommended that the IPCC develop and adopt such a conflict of interest policy that applies to all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports, including the IPCC chairman and vice chairmen, authors with responsibilities for report content, review editors and technical staff directly involved in report preparation.
Dr. Pachauri has been cleared of any financial wrongdoing recently by an independent review of conflict of interest allegations involving his alleged involvement with companies which have a direct financial stake in climate policy. He also expressed support for the Inter Academy Council’s recommendation to institute a conflict of interest policy. However, he continued to defend his links to industry and other stakeholders, which may raise at least the appearance of a conflict of interest if those stakeholders are aligned on only one side of the major issues or have something to gain from the IPCC’s global warming findings. This may be another good reason for Dr. Pachauri to step down now.
3. Lack of Transparency – The Inter Academy Council criticized the IPCC’s “lack of transparency in several stages of the IPCC assessment process, including scoping and the selection of authors and reviewers, as well as in the selection of scientific and technical information considered in the chapters.” The Council recommended that “due consideration” be given to “properly documented alternative views.”
The Inter Academy Council also criticized the IPCC’s “slow and inadequate response to revelations of errors in the last assessment.”
At the IPCC press briefing, Dr. Pachauri and his colleagues continued to behave in a manner that discounted any alternative views on the robustness of the science underlying climate change. They claimed that their work is based on “clearly robust evidence that man-made drivers are responsible for climate change in the last fifty years,” which purportedly independent scientific reviews of the IPCC’s findings have since upheld. However, they omitted to mention or downplayed the scientific analyses that have questioned the IPCC’s core assumptions and evidence – for example studies of variations in the Earth’s global absorption and reflection of sunlight which some scientists believe is the critical component of the global climate. The IPCC’s report gave short shrift to this theory as too uncertain to be reliable, even though it has been backed up by substantial empirical evidence.
Dr. Pachauri only acknowledged what he called small errors in the IPCC report, including the incorrect projection of the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers. He is still in denial that the Himalayan error was only the tip of the ice glacier, so to speak. At their press briefing, the IPCC chairman and his colleagues ducked my questions regarding much larger failures going to the heart of their report, such as the failure of the IPCC computer models to predict the lowering of global temperatures during the last decade or to explain spikes in global warming prior to the Industrial Age.
I asked Dr. Pachauri about his own advocacy of dramatic government action to combat the IPCC’s finding of dangerous man-made global warming, reminding him of his quote back in 2007 when he said that the IPCC fourth assessment report was meant to “shock people [and] governments into taking more serious action.” Dr. Pachauri defended his remark, saying that any “sensible person” who read the IPCC’s report would be shocked. That may be true, but raises the question of whether the report was written and its data manipulated in such a way as to induce the desired shock reaction. The underlying question is whether any sensible person, after reading the Inter Academy Council’s critique, can trust what the IPCC has to say about global warming without truly independent verification.
In sum, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change needs to go back to the drawing board. It must entirely revamp its structure and processes before anyone can take what it says seriously. Cap and trade, carbon taxes or other comparable policy prescriptions, based on the IPCC’s fear-mongering crisis advocacy, will wreck our economy and are likely to make little difference in affecting climate change.
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