Thursday, 11 March 2010

Climate Panel Details Its Review Plan

U.N. Appoints Another Global Science Body to Investigate Problems in Now-Controversial 2007 Report on Warming Trend

The United Nations detailed its plans for an outside review of its beleaguered panel on climate change, amid political reverberations as critics and advocates each jockeyed to use the announcement to their advantage.
The InterAcademy Council, a body representing scientific academies around the world, is to conduct a wide-ranging review of the procedures and management of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The review, to be done by August, comes in response to revelations of questionable behavior and factual errors by some scientists who contributed to the IPCC's 2007 report, which won a Nobel Peace Prize.
The report called climate change "unequivocal" and "very likely" caused by emissions from human activity. Most scientists say the conclusions haven't been undermined by errors in the report, but at minimum their disclosure has hurt the credibility of the report and the panel that carried it out.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, co-chair of the InterAcademy Council, said in an interview that the most delicate task will be to pick who participates in the review. The council needs people who have knowledge of climate science but aren't too close to the IPCC: "Clearly you cannot be the reviewer and the reviewed at the same time," he said. But people involved in previous IPCC reports could serve on the review committee, he said.
The council was set up in 2000 to advise international institutions such as the U.N. and the World Bank. The IPCC chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, participated in a previous council report on energy issues, but Mr. Dijkgraaf said that wouldn't compromise the council's objectivity.
Journal Community
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made climate change one of the top priorities of his tenure. Mr. Ban took no questions Wednesday and didn't directly address trhe future of Mr. Pachauri, who has faced calls to resign. But the two stood together at the U.N. podium and Mr. Ban was supportive.
"Regrettably, there were a very small number of errors" in the panel's 2007 report, Mr. Ban said. "Remember, this is a 3,000-page synthesis of complex scientific data. I have seen no credible evidence that challenges the main conclusions of that report." In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Pachauri said he would "certainly not" resign.
Critics of proposed greenhouse-gas regulations in the U.S. have begun using questions about the IPCC as their latest ammunition. Peabody Energy Co., one of the country's major coal producers, filed a petition last month with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's move to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions because it relies on IPCC determinations.
The EPA "relied on a study that has enough uncertainty that you need to go back and revisit this finding," Gregory Boyce, Peabody's chief executive, said last week. The EPA said in a statement that it is confident its move will withstand legal challenge. "The question of the science is settled," the agency said.

The IPCC expressed "regret" earlier this year that its 2007 report erroneously claimed that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035. The report also said inaccurately that about half of the Netherlands sits below sea level. IPCC leaders, including Mr. Pachauri, say an independent review is needed to try to restore public confidence in the panel.
The InterAcademy Council's board is likely to elect members to its review committee on March 22, Mr. Dijkgraaf said. He said the committee probably will include some people who have little exposure to climate science, but have expertise in issues such as quality control of data and use of non-peer-reviewed literature. The report will go through the council's board, which consists largely of presidents of national science academies.
"Scientific reputations will rest on this, and if it can be shown the science was sloppy, their stars will fall," said scientific ethicist Thomas M. Powers, director of the Science, Ethics, and Public Policy Program at the University of Delaware, speaking of those involved in the IPCC report. "Apart from divining rods, the best we can do is get the smartest people in the world, the people who know science, and ask them to review their peers."
Environmentalists said that they hoped the review would quiet criticism of the IPCC. It should "restore public confidence that has been shaken by an aggressive campaign to sow confusion about climate science," said a statement by Peter Frumhoff, who helped to write the 2007 report and is director of science and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is among those calling for Mr. Pachauri's resignation, on Wednesday said that the U.S. "cannot afford to continue to base our energy and environmental policies on contaminated U.N. data."
The InterAcademy Council will probe, among other things, the IPCC's guidelines for using non-peer-reviewed literature in its reports, how to ensure the IPCC considers a "full range of scientific views," and how it corrects any errors in its reports once detected, Mr. Dijkgraaf said, The council also will "look at the management of the IPCC," he said.
Neither the U.N. nor the IPCC will "exercise any control" over the study by the InterAcademy Council, Mr. Dijkgraaf said.
Write to Jeffrey Ball at