Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

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

IPCC Admits it Isn’t a ‘Gold Standard’ Body

Forget every media claim you’ve ever read about the IPCC being a “gold standard” organization. It now admits it’s just an ordinary UN organization following ordinary UN rules.

Last week I blogged about an article in the New Scientist that claimed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would henceforth require more participants from Africa than from North America.

The article has since been updated (you can see the original here). The difference is that, the first time around, the writer claimed that formal geographical quotas would apply to IPCC authors. Instead, this measure was directed at the IPCC’s guiding lights – its 31-person Bureau.

The IPCC has since issued a statement in response to the New Scientist article (backed-up here). To informed observers it is a source of some amusement. Let us begin with the statement’s first bullet point – separated into its component parts below:

  • “The IPCC has always sought, among other considerations, to achieve geographic representation, including representation from developing countries, in the selection of authors for its reports.
  • This is because the IPCC wants its assessment to reflect a range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and expertise, and not to be subject to any one perspective.
  • There has never been any question, nor is there now, of imposing geographical or gender quotas on authors – the scientific experts who volunteer to work on its reports.”

The first two points, above, are factually correct. The problem is that they directly contradict what the public has long been told. For years, the media has described the IPCC not as a group of scientists from all regions of the world who possess a range of views, skills, and experience.

Instead, we were assured that the IPCC is “hundreds of the world’s leading scientists.” That it is “the world’s top climate scientists.” That it relies on the expertise of “thousands of the best scientific minds” (see here for the source of these and many similar quotes).

Leading scientists. Top climate scientists. The best scientific minds. That was the fiction. Now, at long last, the IPCC is admitting that its authors don’t, in fact, all belong to the highest echelons of the scientific community. Instead we’re advised that the IPCC has “always sought” to “achieve geographic representation.”

The end of Chapter 5 in my book reads:

Journalists say we should trust the IPCC’s conclusions because its reports have been written by the world’s finest scientific minds. But in order for that to be the case the IPCC would need to apply very different criteria when selecting its authors.

It would need an explicit policy that says something along the lines of: Even though we are a UN body, we are not influenced by UN diversity concerns. We select the world’s best experts and only the world’s best experts – regardless of where they come from or what gender they happen to be.

Now here’s bullet point #2 from the IPCC’s recent statement (again, broken into pieces):

  • “At a meeting in Geneva on 6-9 June 2012 the Panel revised the rules for the election of the IPCC Bureau – the elected officials comprising the IPCC chair, IPCC Vice-Chairs, Working Group and Task Force Co-Chairs and Working Group Vice-Chairs.
  • The Bureau is the main advisory body that provides guidance on scientific and technical aspects of its work and is authorized to take certain decisions.
  • Members of the Bureau are chosen on the basis of their scientific qualifications.
  • The composition of the Bureau has in addition always represented the different regions of the world, in common with the practice of many United Nations organizations regarding their executive bodies.”

The paragraph continues on for a few more sentences, but I’ll stop there. That last declaration makes matters explicit. Forget every media claim you’ve ever read about the IPCC being a “gold standard” organization. The IPCC is finally admitting the truth. It’s just another UN organization following normal UN rules. Nothing remotely exceptional is going on.

Hallellujah. Now we’re finally getting somewhere.

That being said, the veracity of the claim that Bureau members “are chosen on the basis of their scientific qualifications” has by no means been established. Are we really supposed to believe that Sudan is a hot-bed of scientific excellence – that that is the reason two out of 31 IPCC Bureau members come from this basket case of a country?

screengrab from The Economist. Click for article.

Was scientific excellence really top-of-mind when the representatives from Cuba, Mali, Madagascar, Morocco, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Maldives were elected?

If you go to this page on the IPCC’s website, scroll down about halfway and click the blue Current Bureau button you can see photos of these IPCC leaders for yourself.

No information is currently provided about Suzana Kahn Ribeiro (who represents Brazil) or Eduardo Calvo Buendia (who represents Peru). These people may possess top-notch scientific credentials. Or they may not. What’s noteworthy is that the IPCC feels no need to provide any evidence whatsoever.

Why is this important? Because, just a little lower down on that same page, under the Authors heading, it says that the IPCC’s Coordinating Lead Authors (chapter heads) and Lead Authors are selected by members of this bureau.

In other words, the people in those photographs make the most important decisions of all. They shape the quality and direction of IPCC reports when they decide which experts will be chosen to be lead authors and which will be shunned.

That’s what this IPCC statement means when it says, vaguely, that Bureau members are “authorized to take certain decisions.”



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