The Heat Is Online

Review Calls for Stricter IPCC Checks, More Transparency

Stricter controls urged for the UN's climate body

BBC, Aug. 30, 2010
The UN's climate science body needs stricter checks to prevent damage to the organisation's credibility, an independent review has concluded.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has faced mounting pressure over errors in its last major assessment of climate science in 2007.
The review said guidelines were needed to ensure IPCC leaders were not seen as advocating specific climate policies.
It also urges transparency and suggests changes to the management of the body.
The IPCC has admitted it made a mistake in its 2007 climate assessment in asserting that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.
Officials at the UN body say this error did not change the broad picture of man-made climate change.
The review committee stressed that previous IPCC science assessments had been largely successful, but it said the body's response to revelations of errors in its 2007 report had been "slow and inadequate".
Critics have previously called on the UN panel's chair, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, to resign. Responding to the report, Dr Pachauri said he wanted to stay to implement changes at the organisation.
In the past year, climate science and political negotiations aimed at dealing with global warming, such as the Copenhagen summit, have come under unprecedented scrutiny.
The IPCC's reports are designed to provide a detailed assessment of the state of climate science; they are read by policy-makers around the world.

In February, the UN panel suggested setting up an independent review, feeling that its 20-year-old rules might need an overhaul. It was overseen by the Inter-Academy Council (IAC), an international umbrella body for science academies.

There was also a sense the UN body may have been ill-equipped to handle the attention in the wake of "Himalayagate" and the release of e-mails hacked from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and the the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

The e-mails issue came to light in November last year, when hundreds of messages between CRU scientists and their peers around the world were posted on the internet, along with other documents.

Critics said the e-mail exchanges revealed an attempt by the researchers to manipulate data and three independent reviews were initiated into the affair.

Public scrutiny

This review of the IPCC's workings was released at a news conference in New York on Monday. Among the committee's recommendations was that the UN body appoint an executive director to handle day-to-day operations and speak on behalf of the body.

It also said the current limit of two six-year terms for the chair of the organisation is too long.
The report says that the post of IPCC chair and that of the executive director should be limited to the term of one climate science assessment.
Asked if he would consider resigning if requested to, the current chair Dr Pachauri told reporters he would abide by any decision the IPCC made. Dr Pachauri became head of the organisation in 2002 and was re-elected for his second term in 2008.
A conflict of interest charge has also been levelled at Dr Pachauri over his business interests. The IPCC chair has vigorously defended himself over these charges, but the report says the UN organisation needed a robust conflict of interest policy.
Speaking at news conference in New York, Harold Shapiro, who chaired the IAC committee's review, said: "Overall, in our judgment, the IPCC's assessment process has been a success and has served society well."

But he said fundamental changes would help the IPCC continue to perform successfully under a "public microscope".

Dr Shapiro conceded that controversy over errors in climate science assessments had dented the credibility of the process.
'Slow' response
The review did not address the state of knowledge in climate science, but instead concentrated on review processes at the UN body, including the use of non-peer reviewed sources, and quality control on data.

It says the UN body should establish an executive committee which could include individuals from outside the climate science community in order to enhance credibility and independence.

The committee said processes used by the UN panel to review material in its assessment reports were thorough.

But it said procedures needed tightening to minimise the number of errors. And the IAC urged editors to ensure genuine controversies were reflected and alternative views were accounted for.

The report asserts that each IPCC working group used a different variation of the IPCC's uncertainty guidelines and the committee found that the guidance was not always followed.
In addition, it says that the Working Group II report, which formed part of the IPCC's 2007 assessment and focused on adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, was flawed in parts.
The IAC says it contained statements which were asserted with "high confidence", but were in fact based on little evidence. The report urges IPCC authors to make future projections only when there is sufficient evidence to do so.
The use by the IPCC of so-called "grey literature" - that which has not been peer-reviewed or published in scientific journals - has sparked controversy, partly because this type of material was behind the glacier error.
The committee said such literature was often relevant and appropriate for inclusion in the IPCC's assessment reports. But it said authors needed to follow the IPCC's guidelines more closely and that the guidelines themselves are too vague.
The report's recommendations are likely to be considered at the IPCC's next plenary meeting in South Korea in October.