Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.

Should UN Employees Be IPCC Lead Authors?

Koko Warner is an American citizen who was selected to be a lead author of the next edition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. For these purposes, it has been decided that she officially represents the country of Germany. [see p. 8 of this 27-page PDF]

Warner is one of at least four people assigned to work on the new IPCC report who is employed by an entity called the United Nations University. First and foremost, this institution exists to further “the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

I can’t be the only one who finds this troubling. Scholarship is one thing. Scholarship sponsored and supervised by bureaucrats perched atop the world’s political org chart is surely another. Why does the United Nations feel the need to cultivate its own army of scholars? Of all the things in this messed up world on which the UN could be spending its money how can this be a priority?

Is it not also awkward that the IPCC – itself a UN body – thinks UN employees are the sort of experts who should be writing what is supposed to be a dispassionate climate change report? Is there no concern that the UN appears to be influencing the outcome? After all, in one chapter of the upcoming climate bible (Working Group 2’s Chapter 24) two of the 11 people responsible for writing it are affiliated with this university.

Warner herself will contribute to a chapter titled Climate-resilient pathways: adaptation, mitigation, and sustainable development – which will be produced by eight authors backed up by three review editors. As one of those eight authors, her judgment will inform this chapter’s findings.

So what do we know about her? For one thing, she is the lead author of a lavishly illustrated document (36-page PDF here) titled In Search of Shelter published in May 2009. Rather than being a scholarly work, this is a glossy public relations brochure – an overt example of advocacy literature. We know this because the first sentence on the acknowledgments page admits as much:

This report and related activities advocating for the protection of environmental migrants are possible due to generous support from the UN Refugee Agency… [bold added]

Numerous people connected to a range of United Nations bodies are thanked for their assistance with this report, individually as well as collectively. For example, the authors acknowledge receiving “constructive feedback from the [United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention] and other UN…organizations.”

Cue the alarm bells. The UNFCCC is an international treaty. It is an entirely political mechanism. The people involved in that organization are political animals. Period.

One of Warner’s coauthors is an employee of CARE International, an anti-poverty NGO. The report advises us that media inquiries regarding this report should be directed to an e-mail address at CareClimateChange.org. The report then thanks seven additional CARE employees by name, a couple of employees of another NGO called Germanwatch, and someone from Oxfam.

In other words, this document has been produced by people who have agendas – agendas that cannot be pursued unless others (nations, foundations, and private citizens) fund them via charitable donations. Which means these people, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, have an enormous incentive to exaggerate and dramatize their subject matter.

In a subsequent blog post I’ll discuss the report itself. But for now it’s worth noticing that this non-peer-reviewed document was officially released during the Bonn Climate Change talks in June 2009. Rather than being a run-of-the-mill academic study whose findings are released to the media whenever it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, this report received very special and unusual treatment.

It wasn’t merely accorded its own press conference at a larger event in which representatives of the world’s media were already in attendance. Rather, its findings were delivered under the guise of a Media Training Workshop sponsored by the UNFCCC itself. In a video of that event it is a representative of the UNFFCC who introduces Warner and her co-author to the press corps.

What does all this mean? It means Warner is not an independent scholar. She is a UN employee. Her research has been funded by the United Nations and brazenly promoted by the United Nations in a manner intended to advance the United Nations’ climate change agenda.

And now she is an IPCC lead author.

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UPDATE: A critique of the Warner report appears here

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