Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

An Even Younger Senior Author

Yesterday I wrote about Richard Klein, a Dutch geography professor currently working in Sweden, who began writing reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at the tender age of 25.

That was nine full years prior to earning his PhD, and part of a larger pattern. Sari Kovats also became an IPCC author 15 years prior to completing her doctorate, Lisa Alexander became an IPCC author a decade prior to getting hers, and Laurens Bouwer hadn’t even finished his Masters when he first served as a lead author. The IPCC has a history, therefore, of pretending that grad students are the equivalent of the world’s top scientists.

Klein’s personal website claims that he:

…remains the youngest ever coordinating lead author in the history of the IPCC, a mark he set when first appointed coordinating lead author in 1997. [bold added]

This claim is repeated on page five of his CV. However, Klein appears to be mistaken. Another Dutchman – economist Richard Tol – got there first.

Richard Tol

Nothing about the IPCC is straightforward, and this matter is no exception. In addition to the large assessment reports published in 1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007, several smaller IPCC reports on specialized topics have also been produced.

Klein’s claim to being the youngest coordinating lead author (the most senior of the IPCC’s three classes of author) relates to one of these special reports. It was titled Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer and was published in 2000. Klein served as the sole coordinating lead author for Chapter 15 – a task he began at age 28.

Tol, however, was one of two senior people responsible for Chapter 5 in an IPCC special report titled The Regional Impacts of Climate Change. An online version of that report is dated 1997 – three years prior to the report in which Klein participated. It was published on paper in 1998.

Given that Tol and Klein were born a few months apart in 1969, and the report in which Tol was involved came first, it would seem that it is Tol who holds the dubious distinction of being the youngest ever person to oversee an IPCC chapter.

Tol earned his PhD in 1997 – around the time his report was released. In that respect, his case is less egregious than the others cited above. But this still means the IPCC assigned him the most senior of author roles when he was a 20-something grad student.

If climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity, why have kids filled key IPCC positions for the past 15 years?


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