The IAC Report One Year Later

September 1, 2011 at 12:06 pm

A year ago today I blogged about a historic report. In late August last year a committee established by the InterAcademy Council delivered 100+ pages of findings regarding the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

IPCC officials and supporters have long advanced an outrageously misleading marketing message. We’ve been told this UN body is in a class of its own with respect to its thoroughness and transparency – that there is no “parallel on the planet.”

We’ve been told it is “one of the most rigorous scientific review bodies in existence.” Words like authoritative, gold-standard, and eminent are routinely uttered by those describing the IPCC (see a hyperlinked list of quotes here).

But the first time a group of outsiders took a close look at how the IPCC actually behaves it identified “significant shortcomings in each major step of the IPCC’s assessment process” (see the first paragraph here – the entire report is available here).

The first time anyone bothered to look past the highfalutin rhetoric at IPCC reality they noticed that the IPCC claims to have high confidence in “statements for which there is little evidence” (see p. 4 here). They also concluded that “procedures are not always followed” (see p. 5 here).

In the UK, the media characterized this report as damning (see here and here). A year later, therefore, a few questions are worth asking: How much progress has been made? In there any evidence the IPCC has turned over a new leaf?

Ever-so-diplomatically, the committee said the IPCC’s chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, should go. Rather than enumerating his many faults (see here, here, herehere, and here), the committee instead presented this 71-year-old with a face-saving exit.

“A 12-year appointment (two terms),” said the committee, “is too long for a field as dynamic and contested as climate change.” The IPCC would, it said, benefit from “a greater variety of perspectives and approaches” at its most senior level.

Yet not only did Pachauri – who is well into his second term – not take the hint, the IPCC’s major funders (currently the German, Japanese, Swiss, and US governments) failed to insist on his departure.

A year later, therefore, the IPCC continues to be headed by a person whom it is impossible to trust or respect. That’s strike one.

Strikes two and three unfolded quietly a few months back, in the total absence of any media coverage.

Among the IAC committee’s explicit recommendations was one that said (see the coloured box on p. 5 here):

The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature…ensuring [that such literature] is appropriately flagged in the report.

(By way of background, despite Pachauri’s frequent claims that IPCC reports rely solely on peer-reviewed literature this is not the case. Moreover, the IPCC has long had a policy that said non-peer-reviewed material should be clearly identified as such when listed by the IPCC in its references. But that rule was ignored 99.9 percent of the time.)

In April Canadian blogger Hilary Ostrov noticed that an internal IPCC document was suggesting that the flagging rule be abandoned altogether since the IPCC’s clerical and technical employees felt it “would not be practical” to identify grey literature in reference lists.

A month later a new policy for dealing with grey literature was adopted at an IPCC meeting. All mention of flagging non-peer-reviewed literature has now vanished. The desires of IPCC bureaucrats – not the clear recommendation of the committee – prevailed.

Then there was Steve McIntyre’s discovery in June. Another report recommendation involved the establishment of an IPCC Executive Committee. This new body should, in the words of the report, include “three independent members who include individuals from outside of the climate community” (see p. 2 here).

So what did the IPCC do? It set up this new committee all right, but in lieu of three independent members it appointed four IPCC staff members instead. Really.

So let’s repeat those crucial questions: How much progress has been made? In there any evidence the IPCC has turned over a new leaf?

The damaged-goods chairman remains. The flagging rule, rather than being strengthened, has been ‘disappeared.’ A committee with new powers that was supposed to include outsiders has instead been stacked with consummate insiders.

It’s now quite clear that IPCC movers and shakers have no intention of complying with either the spirit or the letter of the IAC committee’s recommendations. That this is a thoroughly unaccountable organization could not be any plainer.



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