Monday, August 30, 2010

Change at the IPCC

In a report commissioned by the Ministers of the Environment who are party to the United Nations climate change process, significant change is proposed for how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) works.

Three major changes are proposed in a report issued on Monday, 30th August. The first is that the term of the Chairman of the IPCC should be shorter. Currently, the incumbent, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, can serve two six year terms and he was renewed for his second term in 2008. It is suggested that the next Chairman should serve to produce a single report and then pass the leadership role to a new Chairman. What would help is if the incumbent resigned to make way for the reforms, but this looks unlikely to happen. Dr Pachauri has already said he will stay in place to see the reforms through.

The second change also relates to the alleged conflicts of interest between the business interests of the Chairman and his role as the lead authority on climate change on behalf of the UN – the role of Chairman is unpaid. The Daily Telegraph (UK), amongst others, had accused Pachauri of using his connections and office to secure funds for organizations of which he was a Director and could benefit directly. Pachurai has vehemently denied these allegations. The report released this week suggests that the IPCC needs to have a robust and thorough conflict of interest policy that deals with such issues. While the allegations concerning Dr Pachurai are one area of possible conflict of interest, another is the affiliation and allegiance of some of the scientific reviewers with environmental organizations.

The final set of recommendations, and perhaps the most important, concern the way in which the scientific reviews are undertaken – especially focused on what counts as legitimate in terms of appropriate science and analysis. The concern, highlighted by the admitted error over the future of the Himalaya’s (the IPCC said that the ice covering the Himalayas would be gone by 2035, but could adduce no evidence to support this view),was with the use of so called “grey literature” (magazine articles, newsletters, monographs) which were not subject to peer review. The review committee said that the review and analysis procedures needed tightening to minimise errors. It also urged the editors of each section of the periodic assessments to ensure genuine controversies were reflected and alternative views were accounted for. This counters the Climategate emails which appeared to suggest that there was a systematic attempt to minimise doubt and alternative views and to declare a “scientific consensus”, even though one did not exist.

More specifically, where climate change models are used to present a scenario (the IPCC does not make predictions, it does suggest what might happen under certain “what if” assumptions), the review committee recommends that the cautions and risk associated with these models should be given more emphasis and that the “concreteness” of these models be cautioned by the uncertainties of simulations.

The report of the Ministerial assessment group will be considered at the next meeting of Ministers in October in South Korea.

1 comment:

oldroyd said...

Thanks for the pithy resume. The problem of leaders with 'feet of clay' reminds one of the biblical injunction "let him (sic) that be without sin cast the first stone' but on such an important issue we have to be wary also about the feet of clay of the stone casters too, unfortunately, if I am allowed a mixed, if geological, metaphor.