Climate panel signs off reforms - but how ambitious?

 
Cyclists by factory

As discussed in my previous post, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Friday signed off most of the reform proposals under discussion at its plenary meeting in Abu Dhabi.

According to the panel itself, the measures agreed will ensure "a stronger governance structure and a set of forward-looking policies across a range of management issues".

Revised procedures for dealing with errors after the publication of reports and with scientific uncertainty have been adopted, and a policy on conflicts of interest has also been agreed.

The need for the first was starkly flagged up by the furore in 2009 that followed allegations of an error over the likely melting date for Himalayan glaciers - allegations that turned out to be true, despite the early strenuous denials of IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri.

The new uncertainty guidelines should unify procedures across all of the IPCC's output.

And while the adoption of a policy can never completely rule out the possibility that conflicts of interest (or the appearance thereof) will arise, the fact of having established procedures based on best practice for international institutions may make it less likely, and will certainly protect the panel against allegations that it doesn't care about the issue.

So, the rules under which IPCC experts will work as they compile the next global climate assessment are now in place.

To put the reforms in some sort of perspective, I re-read just now five think-pieces published in the journal Nature just over a year ago, before the InterAcademy Council (IAC) started its review of the IPCC, which led to the current reforms.

Those articles were written by people who all had first-hand experience of working with the panel; yet they produced very different blueprints for the future.

Brisbane floods The Brisbane floods are among the extreme weather events to visit Australia recently

At one end, Thomas Stocker, current co-chair of the IPCC working group on climate science, contended that little was wrong with the existing basic model.

At the other, global temperature specialist John Christy argued for a new model of assessment based on the wiki approach, Mike Hulme called for the panel to split into three separate expert organisations, and Eduardo Zorita proposed a major upgrade to transform the institutionally slim IPCC into a fully-fledged expert UN agency.

We can see clearly now that these more radical ideas were not on the table for long, if at all.

Although its assessments are compiled by academics in fields such as physical sciences and economics, the IPCC is fundamentally shaped by governments.

They fund it, they endorse its headline conclusions - and they get to decide how the assessments should be run. And changes must be approved by consensus.

So it's perhaps not surprising that government delegates have decided to tidy up the existing processes rather than re-shape the organisation along the lines suggested by Drs Hulme, Christy and Zorita.

As things stand, the existing comprehensive five-yearly global assessments give governments baselines on which to seat their climate policies.

More frequent, less formal, wiki-style processes would undoubtedly produce more up-to-date snapshots; but with the science base perceived to be changing annually, how much more difficult would it be for governments to set national policies, never mind to agree on aims for the UN climate negotiations?

In principle, the tri-partite structure of three working groups encompassing basic science, adaptation and economics should produce a relatively coherent whole - more so, and with a more impressive imprimatur, than if each were assessed on its own, perhaps against the backdrop of turf wars.

And in the current economic climate, an upgrading of the IPCC's institutional scale and a concomitantly greater cost was never politically attractive - just as the idea, mooted last year, of upgrading the UN climate convention to the status of a separate agency did not, in the end, receive political approval.

So, we have what we have - which will be disappointing to some, but re-assuring to others.

And the work goes on, with Dr Pachauri among those leaving Abu Dhabi for Australia and a workshop on extreme weather events - a topic of real interest to many Australians, but with implications in many corners of the globe.

"We are sure that the kinds of events that we've seen recently are likely to become much more frequent and much more severe," he told the ABC's Sarah Clarke.

But as to estimating how big the changes in intensity and frequency might be: "That's precisely what we're going to try and come up with to the extent possible based on existing knowledge."

...which is what the IPCC will be about for the foreseeable future, just as it has been since its inception - but now, perhaps, with more rigour.

 
Richard Black Article written by Richard Black Richard Black Former environment correspondent

Farewell and thanks for reading

This is my last entry for this page - I'm leaving the BBC to work, initially, on ocean conservation issues.

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  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 101.

    lol, give it up Simon

    the NAS reports and the subsequent congress hearing, confirmed temperatures are not at their highest in the last 1000 years - 400 years, yes, but then recovery from the LIA would mean current temperatures are higher

    That's not to say that current recorded and adjusted temps are not rising, subject to Fall et al 2011 being verified by independant scientists

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 100.

    I doubt very much that the NAS STILL agrees with a report that has been retracted by the publishers for plagiarism. Amazed that anyone else still pretends to support a plagiarised paper.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 99.

    OK, Simon, set aside the Wegman report - the NAS report still agrees with the withdrawn Wegman report

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 98.

    Mango, there you go with your 'ifs' again. At the moment Wegman's piece is simply a dscredited, plagiarised report that has been retracted by the publishers becaus eit does not meet their basic standards. Weird that it is still good enough for you....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 97.

    Simon, I am supporting the NAS report on the Hockey Stick and suggesting if Wegman recognises and amends his report, then it should be accepted

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 96.

    That's allright Mango - just keep on supporting the plagiarised and withdrawn article from someone whose views you just happen to agree with. That's what any independent thinking scientist would do, isn't it?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 95.

    2 independant reports on the Hockey Stick from different sources both ageeing the Hockey Stick is unreliable

    2 reports on AGW. The 2nd extensively referencing the first, using the same source material, backs up the first report. It would have been surprising if they had reached a different conclusion. I disagreed with the first report, I disagree with the 2nd. It's essentially the same report

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 94.

    Mango - It is abundantly clear that what matters you has nothing to do with how NAS or anyone else reaches their conclusions, Your only criteria is whether the conclusions are in line with your own 'thinking'. Intriguing approach to scientific enquiry! Good luck and good bye!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 93.

    extensively references not refers in part

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 92.

    Mango on 89, you argued that the basis for continuing to endorse Wegman despite his plagiarism was the positive NAS report (that predated the uncovering of Wegman's plagiarism). Yet you reject the comprehensive 2010 NAS report on climate simply because it refers in part to IPCC, amongst many other sources. Yes, that is a clear double standard. And you simply can't see it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 91.

    I mesant denial of your applying a double standard. But if the cap fits then you are welcome to wear it.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 90.

    and yes, of course, it's always those of us who are sceptical of CO2 induced climate change that are in denial

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 89.

    It's not a question of liking one or the other.

    The NAS report into the Hockey Stick agreed with Wegman.

    The NAS report to congress drew on AR4 to reach the same conclusion as AR4. Since my understanding of CO2 driven climate suggests CO2 is not capable of causing significant climate change, then yes I disagree with the report

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 88.

    This to & fro is getting tedious. Actually it was tedious a long time ago. Will endeavour to resist temptation to respond to Mango's next denial.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 87.

    Mango - Completely separate! Of course to you they are - you like one conclusion, you don't like the other. The technical term could be cherry picking, but I suspect you don't like that either.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 86.

    The NAS 2010 report quote is from "Advancing the Science of Climate Change (2010)", which references AR4 extensively:

    "This conclusion is based on a substantial array of scientific evidence, including .........the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report (IPCC, 2007a-d)"

    So IMHO, the 2 issues of NAS / Wegman and the NAS 2010 report are completely separate

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 85.

    Mango the NAS did not say IPCC yay or nay, they did their own assessment of climate science and reached a set of conclusions. Exactly teh same as for your precious example. That you only accept results that confirm your view is yet another example of your double standard when it comes to climate science. That you don't see it, makes it worse.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 84.

    Simon, the NAS report into the Hockey Stick is a completely different issue from the NAS report endorsing the IPCC. Where is the double standard?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 83.

    Great Mango. You cite the NAS in defence of the flawed work of Weman because you like Wegman's position, but dismiss the NAS was irrelevant when you disagree with them. You are again applying a double standard.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 82.

    Since the conclusion is based on the flawed work by the IPCC (CO2 induced global warming), no I do not accept it’s conclusions

 

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