Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reviewing the Review - IPCC Whitewash

When the environment ministers from around the world met earlier this year, they concluded that the IPCC should be reviewed. They based this decision on the evidence of a growing catalogue of demonstrable errors of fact in the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (FAR) and on the clear evidence that many of the key findings were not based on peer reviewed evidence but on the so called “grey literature” – magazines, pamphlets from environmental lobby groups and other material. They also expressed concern about the way in which the IPCC behaved whenever criticism was made – essentially using a combination of arrogance and abuse against its critics. While some had expressed serious concerns about the credibility of the Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who defended many of the worst examples of error and process failures until his colleagues apologized for them, it was also clear that no immediate effort would be made to either review his role or remove him.

The review body, demanded by the ministers, has now been established. Who appointed the review team? The Chairman of the IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri , working in cahoots with Ban Ki Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations. What is the mandate of this review body? It has four key tasks: to analyse the IPCC process, including links with other UN agencies; to review use of non-peer reviewed sources and data and evaluate the process of quality control; to assess how procedures handle “the full range of scientific views are managed in fact and to recommend changes; and to review IPCC communications with the public and the media. In making the announcement last week, Ban Ki Moon reiterated his view “that the case for man made global warming is sound” and Dr. Pachauri said "We believe the conclusions of the IPCC report are really beyond any reasonable doubt".

The review team will take for granted that the substance of the 2007 report is robust – an idea that many scientists would now like to question. A total of eighteen key areas – the heart of the “warmist” science – are now shown to be problematic, the latest being the claim that the Amazon rain forest is especially vulnerable to very minor changes in temperatures – a claim now known to be based on contaminated data and poor analysis.

Who will conduct the review? The review will be conducted by the Inter-Academy Council and headed by its co-chairman Professor Robbert Dijkgraaf, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Amsterdam, who told reporters that the review would be entirely independent of the United Nations but would be funded by it. The Inter-Academy Council is a representative body for a number of national academies of science, almost all of which are committed to the climate change cause. Indeed, Dijkgraaf recently broadcast on Dutch radio a statement about the “consensus” on climate science, suggesting that the science is settled and that there was nothing substantially wrong with the 2007 report.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph this week, Gerald Warner suggests that we know already what this panel will suggest – remove the Chairman, clean up the process but continue to argue that the science is settled. When the panel reports in August 2010 they will likely repeat the Ban Ki Moon line that a few paragraphs in a 3,000 page document which are problematic do not lead to the conclusion that the substance of the 2007 assessment is wrong. Warner suggests that this would be “not only a whitewash but one in which the paint is spread so thinly as to be transparent”.

What many in the science and public policy community are hoping for is for a more open, self reflective and critical review of all aspects of the science of climate change, untainted by the political agenda of those lobbying for green policies and the “green economy”. Professor Mike Hulme of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit, for example, has suggested that the IPCC has had a tendency to politicize climate change science which in turn has also helped to foster a more authoritarian and exclusive form of scientific knowledge production – just at a time when a globalizing and wired cosmopolitan culture is demanding of science something much more open and inclusive. Suggesting that the IPCC may have run its course, he is recommending a more open approach to the science, which makes extensive use of the tools of social media.

Whatever the panel reports, any attempt to “whitewash” the IPCC will be its death knell. Large numbers of the citizens of the world now see climate science and the politics of climate mitigation as so tainted and corrupted by vested interests that they will have no truck with a set of recommendations that perpetuate current practice with some slight modification.

Rather than review the IPCC processes, the team should have been asked to suggest to the environment ministers how they can get themselves out of the quagmire they have created by their own relentless pursuit of a partial view of science as a basis for their own public policies. Unless a radical rethink of how the analysis of current evidence from all viewpoints becomes the normative practice of these ministers, we will continue to see half-baked policies being pursued through grey literature fed science by ministers unwilling to listen to a range of views which may caution their reformist radicalism.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The difficulty in policy making is that the sense is always incomplete. The same arguments when leaded gas was being phased out. The howling was shrill and persistent. Measurement of the consequences however (e.g., the lowering levels of lead in the blood of urban kids) was proof, after the fact that the decision was sound. Was MTBE any better? Another good Q.