Thursday, 11 February 2010

Britain is getting dirtier, finds Defra survey

Britain is getting dirtier with more graffiti and grime on the streets, according to the latest Government survey.

By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:00AM GMT 11 Feb 2010
The inspection of thousands of parks and streets found a slight decrease in the amount of cigarette butts and food packets thrown on the ground.
But dog mess, tag graffiti and chewing gum stains on the pavements has increased over the last year.

The Keep Britain Tidy survey, funded by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), looked at more than 12,000 sites around Britain.
The biggest litter problem is detritus from smokers but the proportion of sites where cigarette butts were found fell slightly to just over three quarters. The amount of crisp packets and empty drinks cans littering the streets also fell.
However, dog mess was a problem for local people at 8 per cent of sites, compared to 6 per cent last year. Chewing gum spat out on the street had stained just under a third of areas, compared to a quarter last year. Tyre tracks or "staining" left by vehicles leaking oil was up and "tag" graffiti has also increased.
Overall the "cleanliness score" given by inspectors was down slightly from last year.
Environment Minister, Jim Fitzpatrick, said people need to take more responsibility for litter.
"It only takes a little effort to put our litter in the bin, but it makes a huge difference to our own well being and to the environment," he said.

Flexi-fuel drivers left high and dry after Government subsidy U-turn

Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Drivers who took the Government’s advice and chose a low-emission car could be left with a white elephant after a U-turn by ministers.
Britain’s biggest supplier of biofuels will announce today that it is closing its pumps because the Government is ending financial support from April.
It is the second time in five years that the Government has changed its mind and cancelled subsidies after encouraging motorists to invest in a particular type of green car.
In 2005 it withdrew grants for drivers to convert their cars to LPG. Now motoring groups are advising drivers to think very carefully before accepting Government grants for electric cars because ministers’ current enthusiasm for them may not last.

Morrisons will withdraw pumps at 144 filling stations that dispense B30, a blend of 30 per cent biodiesel and 70 per cent ordinary diesel, which is used in 5,000 vehicles.
The supermarket group is also considering withdrawing E85, a blend of 15 per cent normal petrol and 85 per cent ethanol. Businesses and individuals which have adapted their vehicles to use the high blends of biofuels will find that their investment has been wasted. They will have to revert to using ordinary petrol and diesel and will no longer be able to claim any environmental advantage.
Avon & Somerset Police, Somerset County Council, Wessex Water, Wessex Grain and the Environment Agency all bought fleets of flexible-fuel vehicles on the assumption that the Government would continue its 20p a litre duty discount on ethanol. This will be withdrawn on April 1.
Edmund King, the president of the AA, said: “People who invested in these vehicles capable of taking these high blends of biofuel are being left high and dry.”

National Trust to cut fossil fuel use in half by 2020

The UK's largest private landowner says the move will cut emissions from energy use for heat and electricity by 45%
Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent, Thursday 11 February 2010 09.22 GMT
The National Trust has unveiled plans to reduce its use of fossil fuels by 50% over the next 10 years, to achieve its goal of reducing its energy consumption by 2020.
The trust – the UK's largest private landowner and custodian of many of Britain's most treasured historic buildings – said the move would cut its carbon emissions from energy use for heat and electricity by 45%. That would exceed the government's overall target of a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020, though the trust said the initiative would not cover the millions of car journeys by visitors.
The plans are set out in detail in a new report, Energy – Grow your own, which analyses the challenges of harnessing renewable resources in a sustainable way within the context of the natural and historic environment.
The initiative will apply to the trust's entire building stock, which includes 300 major historic houses, office buildings, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages. The trust currently spends nearly £6m a year on electricity, oil and gas and said there was "a direct business incentive" for better use of energy.
Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust, said: "World leaders may not have provided a political solution to the climate change problem at Copenhagen, but that should not delay us from delivering practical solutions on the ground.
"The trust has a responsibility to look after the special places in our care for ever, requiring us to make longterm decisions that will protect them for future generations to enjoy."
The reduction in the use of mains electricity, gas, oil and LPG (liquid petroleum gas) would be the equivalent of removing 4,500 family cars from the road. In 2008 the trust consumed 86,193 megawatt hours of energy in its operations, generating nearly 32,000 tonnes of CO2.
But with visitor numbers holding up well – there were 16 million visits last year, despite the challenges of adverse weather and the recession – Reynolds said the initiative would not apply to reducing the massive carbon footprint of the millions of car journeys to and from National Trust sites.
The trust anticipates that most of the schemes will break-even over the next decade, even allowing for the variability in the price of energy and uncertainty over the future of government grants and subsidies which are vulnerable in the run-up to a general election.
It already has more than 140 renewable energy systems in operation on sites across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with an installed capacity of 2.3MW heating and over 1MW of electricity generation. Twenty-seven of these initiatives have been installed with the help of the trust's energy partner, npower, which has developed National Trust Green Energy. Revenue from sales of this product helps fund the trust's green energy initiatives, which includes helping two communities in trust-owned villages cut carbon emissions and save money on energy bills.
The trust has plans to install more than 50 new wood-fuel boilers into its mansions and larger buildings over the next five years. The fuel will be sourced either from the trust's own estates or from local suppliers, with replanting and maintenance benefiting woodland and wildlife habitats. Other examples of existing practice include recently installed solar panels on the roof of Dunster Castle – a Grade I-listed building in Somerset – and on Greenway, Agatha Christie's Grade II-listed holiday home.
The trust is also looking at hydropower, making use of existing infrastructure such as old mill sites with dams and leats to harness energy sustainably. It is planning the restoration of historic hudro systems at Castle Drogo on Dartmoor and Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire.
Reynolds said the trust started looking at fresh ways to reduce its energy consumption in the 1980s. "Much has been achieved since then but we now need to work much harder and faster to reduce our use of fossil fuel energy," she said. "Many properties in our care are based in the countryside, away from mains gas and in some cases from mains electricity. We have a special interest in helping rural communities find alternatives to coal and oil for heating and to contribute to a renewable energy grid."
Jonathon Porritt, founder-director of Forum for the Future and former chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, welcomed the initiative. "This is exactly the kind of ambition level we need to help us navigate our way towards a low-carbon society," he said. "Millions of people will be inspired by the trust's initiative, especially on some of its older properties."
The trust also unveiled a new strategy – Going Local – designed to give more local control and community involvement to fund-raising and management of its properties. And in the first major exercise of its kind and as a spring bonus, the trust is opening its doors for free to all members of the public on the weekend of 20 - 21 March. Reynolds explained: "You are never more than 40 minutes away from a place looked after by the National Trust, wherever you are in the country. This is the perfect excuse to discover what's on your doorsetep, perhaps revisit somewhere you pass regularly or explore somewhere totally new."
In other developments, the trust is planning to introduce a wider range of its own branded food – including biscuits, bread, jam and pies – to supermarkets later this year.

Green Valentine's Day gifts: Chocolates

It's a favourite with all ages, it's affordable and it's readily available. What's not to like about ethical chocolate?
Eco concerns• Pesticides. Like any food crop, the cacao plantations that provide our chocolate often use pestcides - Brazil uses them prolifically. Buy organic-certified chocolates to avoid pesticides.
• Pay. It's no coincidence that Maya Gold Green & Blacks chocolate was the first official Fairtrade product in the UK, so look for the Fairtrade label or, as suggests, buy from brands that have a close relationship with growers.
Carbon footprint. Most of the chocolate we eat in the UK is sourced from Africa, central America and southern America, so inevitably it clocks up carbon enroute. There's not much you can do about this, until carbon labelling takes off in a big way; Cadbury, for example, has already measured the CO2 emitted from making a bar of its Dairy Milk.
Top 5 green choices
1. Malagasy - many of the co-operative growers supplying this British brand are certified organic, and the company aims to keep profits in the local Madagascan economy. Bars start at £3.25
2. Divine - a Fairtrade stalwart, Divine has plenty of gift sets that are perfect for Valentine's. It's not organic, but Divine point out that many of its Ghanian farmers use organic methods without certification. Bars start at around £1.25
3. Green & Blacks - a great staple with organic certification. From around £1.75 and upwards.4. Chocolala - a small Yorkshire firm that sources Fairtrade chocolate and local cream from a dairy down the road. The story of founder Niladri makes for interesting reading. Box sets from £25.5. Booja Booja - organic chocolates handmade in Norfolk. Lots of gift ideas, with a box of champagne truffles costing £7.29.

A (green) Valentine's flower guide for helpless enviromantics

How can you reduce the environmental impact of your Valentine's bouquet – and still pick the best of the bunch?
Greening up the most traditional of Valentine's Day gifts is harder than you'd think, since most cut flowers are imported by plane at this time of year. Fortunately a number of specialist florists mean you can reduce the environmental impact of your blooms by buying locally-grown and Fairtrade options. I've rounded up five below.
Eco concerns
• The CO2 produced from transporting and growing flowers. British-grown flowers such as red tulips are theoretically the best way to reduce the CO2 emitted from growing your stems, but local doesn't always mean low carbon: one study suggested roses grown in Holland had a carbon footprint 15 times larger than those grown in Kenya. Waitrose has a handy calendar that shows which British flowers are in season now.
• Like food crops, flowers are often grown with pesticides. Several reports have raised concern over pesticides, from the World Health Organisation highlighting toxic chemicals used on Colombian flower farms to one study finding DDT in Mexican hothouses. Sadly, organic flowers are hard to come by in the UK – Waitrose is the only supermarket to sell them, but it doesn't stock any at this time of year.
• There's also the ethical issue of low pay for the workers who grow our imported flowers. For a guarantee that a fair wage is being paid, seek out the increasing number of Fairtrade bouquets.
Top 5 green choices
1. Wiggly Wigglers: British-grown seasonal bouquets from £25. 2. Arena Flowers – a selection of flowers, including these £33 gerberas, certified by the Fair Flowers Fair Plants scheme.3. Scilly Flowers – seasonal bouquets from £25 and up, grown on the Isles of Scilly.4. The Organic Flower Company – despite the name, TOFC doesn't stock organic blooms at this time of year, but it does have a ban on air-freighted flowers and is selling 50 red tulips for £40.5. Waitrose – lots of Fairtrade flowers, including sunflowers for £20 and pricier mixed bouquets for £39 and up.

Green Valentine's Day gifts: wine & champagne

Wines made from organic grapes, packaged in lightweight bottles and transported in a low carbon fashion are just some of the choices you've got when it comes to sustainable vino.
Eco concerns• The trend away from natural cork towards plastic corks and metal screwtops could threaten the Portugese habitat of the Iberian Lynx.
• The carbon emitted from making heavyweight glass bottles and transporting them around the world adds up. Greener options include buying wine packaged in glass alternatives, trying one of the New World brands that's carbon offsetting (such as Cullen Ellen Bussell, below), or checking out the increasingly highly-rated English wines.
• An analysis of 40 European wines in 2008 found a total of 24 pesticides, though the European Crop Protection Association dismissed the report, saying the pesticides were essential and safe. Bear in mind that wine made from organic grapes can't strictly be labelled "organic wine", because all wines have sulphites added for preservative reasons.
Top 5 green choices1. Served at Rick Stein's fish restaurants, the Camel Valley range of award-winning sparkling wines, including a rose made from pinot noir, will impress even the most enthusiastic aficianados of real Champagne - but without the carbon emissions from transporting it from France. 2. If nothing but the real thing will do, try this AOC Champagne Carte Rouge. It's biodynamic and relatively cheap (£22 a bottle) and good quality.3. Cullen Ellen Bussell White Margaret River Western Australia - this Australian white is biodynamic, organic and carbon offset too.4. Chapel Down Flint - an English wine that "smells of English fields" says our wine expert Victoria Moore. Waitrose is currently out of stock, but Everywine will sell you a case for six for £72. 5. Anything from Vinceremos - this former Which? organic wine specialist of the year has a huge selection of organic wines.
What sustainable tipples do you like? Share your recommendations below.

Green Valentine's Day gifts: cards

Composing a poem or singing a song beneath a balcony may be the zero-carbon alternative to a greeting card on Valentine's, but it won't be for everyone. If you want to buy a card, make it one of these greener options
Making paper has a surprisingly hefty environmental impact - paper mills use a huge amount of water and discharge large quantities of chemicals. Recycling only goes so far, because the fibres that hold recycled paper eventually become too weak to be recycled again into virgin material. When paper ultimately ends up in landfill, it produces methane, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases.
So if you are going to buy a card, make it one of our top five green choices
1 M&S - a surprisingly wide selection of FSC-certified Valentine's cards from the Plan A retailer.
2 Carve your own Valentine's card - you could just find a piece of wood in a skip, but if that sounds like too much bother, Nigel's Ecostore is selling this slab of soft FSC-certified wood that you can carve to create a leftfield Valentine's card.
3 Jibjab - e-cards aren't completely clean in terms of carbon emissions, but they are perfect for last-minute cards. Jibjab's 'starring you' video cards are a cut above most e-cards and put most 'p-cards' to shame in terms of the personalised touch.
4 Make your own - Sally Cameron-Griffiths has a great guide to making DIY cards by reusing old newspapers and magazines.
5 Shared Earth - there's nothing especially green about these, but they are very pretty and are made to fair trade standards (not official Fairtrade) by long-standing ethical shop Shared Earth

Society ignores the oil crunch at its peril

Warnings of a crash in oil production are no longer limited to a prescient few individuals - major British companies and oil CEOs are now sounding the alert

Jeremy Leggett, Wednesday 10 February 2010 11.02 GMT
In the years approaching the credit crunch, whistleblowers were limited to a few insightful economists and financial journalists. Now whistles are blowing again about another grave threat to the global economy and the security of nations. They warn of an oil crunch: an unexpected crash in global production such that supply can no longer meet demand, even if China and India throttle back.
This time the warning is not limited to a prescient few individuals. Major British companies, led by Virgin, Scottish and Southern and Stagecoach, are flagging the danger, in today's report from the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security . So too are the CEOs of oil companies themselves, in the case of Total and Petrobras, and growing numbers of other senior oil industry figures, usually recently retired. Even the International Energy Agency is sounding the alert, in a coded sort of way.
With modern economies geared to their rivets on just-in-time supply of copious amounts of affordable oil, society surely ignores this risk issue at its massive peril.
But that is what BP, Exxon, Saudi Aramco and many other institutions of the hydrocarbon era would have us do. And theirs is the perceived wisdom. I do not know of a single company, outside the taskforce group, where peak oil is on the agenda as a serious risk issue. As for government, Whitehall's official line is typical, as things stand: there is 40 years of oil supply, no need to worry, and certainly no crisis. To be fair, that view may be in the process of changing, in the light of recent events in the energy markets.
The taskforce report is the second such. The first, published during the financial crisis in October 2008, charted global production capacity coming onstream, factored in depletion, and found that overall global production would peak in 2013, and then fall rapidly while demand continued to rise. The taskforce worried that things could be worse even than this early peak in oil production, if other risks we are concerned about kick in: more giant-oilfield production collapsing in the manner of Mexico, flaws emerging in reserves estimates in Opec countries, and so on.
In 2009 came the recession, and a steep fall in global demand for oil. This has helped, in the narrow sense of that word. It may have bought us two more years. The new report projects production dropping in 2015, though the risks that it could be earlier remain.
The CEOs and chairmen of the taskforce companies have a simple message for government. This monster threat is very likely to descend on the next government in office, in their first term, and the nation needs to act now.
The stakes are arguably higher than with the financial crisis. The taskforce's worst-case fear is that premature peak oil will involve not just global energy crisis, but potentially energy famine for some oil importing nations – including the UK.
During the financial crash the world went within weeks from a received wisdom that investment banks had squeezed risk out of complex derivatives, to a spiralling doubt, to a tipping point of disbelief and panic. With peak oil, officials around the world, corporate and governmental, would experience exactly the same collapse of confidence in their cosy cultural assumptions. A second giant industry would have been found to have its asset assessment systemically and ruinously wrong. The net impact would be that oil-producing nations would begin to husband their own resources: keeping exports back for use in their own oil-hungry multi-hundred-billion dollar-and-rouble infrastructure programmes.
This is a scenario that could lead to food delivery lorries failing to reach Tesco in time for Friday-night shopping.
The lessons from the financial crash ought to be stark. The prevailing culture mocked the disbelievers, ahead of the crash. Gillian Tett, capital markets editor at the FT, saw the crisis coming because she was a trained anthropologist and knew how to recognise a cult when she saw one. She was accused of scaremongering from the stage of the World Economic Forum. The pattern is the same this time. BP, in particular, has a tendency to mock the concept of peak oil and its advocates.
Meanwhile, as with the climate crisis, there is a general desperation to believe the comforting narrative ahead of the uncomfortable one. This is why it is so important that companies who understand risk speak out, as the taskforce companies have. It is why governments – who must lead in matters of national security – should listen to the uncomfortable arguments and, given the stakes, buy insurance against them.
History is going to judge us all on how we manage the risk of premature peak oil. And soon.
Jeremy Leggettis the chairman of Solarcentury and SolarAid, and the convenor of the UK industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security

Chinese farms cause more pollution than factories, says official survey

Groundbreaking government survey pinpoints fertilisers and pesticides as greater source of water contamination

Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Tuesday 9 February 2010 15.26 GMT
Farmers' fields are a bigger source of water contamination in China than factory effluent, the Chinese government revealed today in its first census on pollution.
Senior officials said the disclosure, after a two-year study involving 570,000 people, would require a partial realignment of environmental policy from smoke stacks to chicken coops, cow sheds and fruit orchards.
Despite the sharp upward revision of figures on rural contamination, the government suggested the country's pollution problem may be close to - or even past - a peak. That claim is likely to prompt scepticism among environmental groups.
Anti-pollution riots break out in ChinaChinese villagers storm factory blamed for lead poisoning of 600 childrenChinese citizens set to launch first ever environmental lawsuit against government
The release of the groundbreaking report was reportedly delayed by resistance from the agriculture ministry, which had previously insisted that farms contributed only a tiny fraction of pollution in China.
The census disproves these claims completely. According to the study, agriculture is responsible for 43.7% of the nation's chemical oxygen demand (the main measure of organic compounds in water), 67% of phosphorus and 57% of nitrogen discharges.
At the launch of the paper, Wang Yangliang of the ministry of agriculture recognised the fall-out from intensive farming methods.
"Fertilisers and pesticides have played an important role in enhancing productivity but in certain areas improper use has had a grave impact on the environment," he said. "The fast development of livestock breeding and aquaculture has produced a lot of food but they are also major sources of pollution in our lives."
He said the ministry would introduce measures to improve the efficiency of pesticide and fertiliser use, to expand biogas generation from animal waste, and to change agricultural lifestyles to protect the environment.
While the high figure for rural pollution is partly explained by the immense size of China's agricultural sector, it also reflects the country's massive dependency on artificial farm inputs such as fertilisers.
The government says this is necessary because China uses only 7% of the world's land to feed 22% of the global population. An industrial lobby is pushing for even greater use of chemicals. It includes the huge power company CNOOC, which runs the country's largest nitrogen fertiliser factory in Hainan's Dongfang City.
But the returns on this chemical investment are poor. According to a recent Greenpeace report, the country consumes 35% of the world's nitrogen fertiliser, which wastes energy and other resources, while adding to water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
"Agricultural pollution has become one of China's gravest environmental crises," said Greenpeace campaign director Sze Pangcheung. "China needs to step up the fight against the overuse of fertilisers and pesticides and promote ecological agriculture which has obvious advantages for human heath, the environment, and sustainable development of agriculture."
Wen Tiejun, dean of the school of agriculture and rural development at Renmin university, said the survey should be used as a turning point. His research suggested that Chinese farmers used almost twice as much fertiliser as they needed.
"For almost all of China's 5,000-year history, agriculture had given our country a carbon-absorbing economy but in the past 40 years, agriculture has become one of the top pollution sources," he said. "Experience shows that we don't have to rely on chemical farming to resolve the food security issue. The government needs to foster low-pollution agriculture."
But in what appears to be a statistical sleight of hand, the government said the new agricultural data and other figures from the census would not be used to evaluate the success of its five-year plan to reduce pollution by 10%.
Zhang Lijun, the environmental protection vice-minister, claimed China was cleaning up its pollution problem far faster than other countries during their dirty stage of development.
"Because China follows a different pattern of development, it is very likely that pollution will peak when per capita income reaches US$3,000," he said, comparing this with the $8,000 he said was the norm in other nations.
If true, it would suggest the worst of China's pollution problems may already be over. According to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, per capita incomes in China have already passed this point. If exchange rates and a low cost of living are factored in, Chinese incomes may be equivalent to more than $6,000.
But Zhang's claim is contestable. As countless pollution scandals have revealed, many industries and local governments routinely under-report emissions and waste.
Many harmful or controversial forms of pollution are either not measured - as is the case for carbon dioxide and small particle emissions - or the data is not made public, as is the case for ozone.
Zheng said the government would expand its monitoring system in the next five-year plan.
Extracts from China's first pollution report (for 2007):
• Sulphur dioxide emissions 23.2 million tonnes (91.3% from industry)
• Nitrogen oxide emissions: 18 million tonnes (30% from vehicles)
• Chemical oxygen demand discharges: 30.3 billion tonnes (44% from agriculture)
• Soot: 11.7 million tonnes.
• Solid waste: 3.8 billion tonnes (of which 45.7m tonnes is hazardous)
• Heavy metal discharges: 900 tonnes
• Livestock faeces: 243 million tonnes.
• Livestock urine: 163 million tonnes
• Plastic film on cropfields: 121,000 tonnes (80.3% recycled)

How to reform the IPCC

The Guardian asks experts around the world what needs to change to enable the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to continue to play a central and positive role in enabling the world's governments to take the right action against climate change

David Adam and Suzanne Goldenberg, Wednesday 10 February 2010 11.18 GMT
The IPCC and its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, have come under unprecedented pressure following a false claim that all Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 and the controversy over the hacked climate science emails at the University of East Anglia. Yet before that, the IPCC was credited with having settled the debate over whether human activity was causing global warming, sharing the 2007 Nobel peace prize with Al Gore. Here, the Guardian asks experts around the world what needs to change to enable the IPCC to continue to play a central and positive role in enabling the world's governments to take the right action against climate change
Political oversight
The IPCC says its reports are policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive. Perhaps unknown to many people, the process is started and finished not by scientists but by political officials, who steer the way the information is presented in so-called summary for policymakers [SPM] chapters. Is that right, the Guardian asked?
"The Nobel prize was for peace not science ... government employees will use it to negotiate changes and a redistribution of resources. It is not a scientific analysis of climate change," said Anton Imeson, a former IPCC lead author from the Netherlands. "For the media, the IPCC assessments have become an icon for something they are not. To make sure that it does not happen again, the IPCC should change its name and become part of something else. The IPCC should have never allowed itself to be branded as a scientific organisation. It provides a review of published scientific papers but none of this is much controlled by independent scientists."
William Connolley, a former climate modeller with the British Antarctic Survey, said: "I think it is inevitable that there will be enormous and pointless fighting over the exact wording of the SPM. And [that is] to some extent, desirable. The science is done by the scientists. The SPM headlines, that the politicians are going to have to act on, will have some political spin, and before the sceptics run wild, let me add that the spin so far has always been in the toning-things-down direction. [It would be better] written just by scientists, but too hard to manage to be worth wasting much time about."
StaffThe city of Southampton spends more than twice as much each year on street cleaning - £8m - than the world does on the IPCC - £3.6m. The reports rely on the unpaid work of thousands of researchers, but is there a case to make the process more professional? Pachauri, IPCC chair, told the Guardian last week that the IPCC was already moving to beef up the organisation with full-time staff, such as in communications. Chris Field, new head of one of the IPCC's working groups, said: "I do think that the 2035 [glacier melting] error could potentially have come out, just by having a stronger editorial component that was part of a professional staff. We need to really be training the authors. There is a huge emphasis on engaging authors from all over the world who have different scientific backgrounds and different training experience."
Joel Smith, of Stratus Consulting, a lead author on the 2007 report, said: "The questions IPCC will address should come from governments. However, once those questions are settled, the IPCC needs to run the process independent of the governments. This may require a larger permanent professional [staff] for the IPCC, as the US National Academy of Science has."
The IPCC was set up in 1988 to advise governments on the emerging problem of climate change. It produced its first report in 1990, and three more since. It is made up of three working groups (WG) which assess the science (WG1), impacts (WG2) and response to global warming (WG3) respectively. In yesterday's Guardian, scientists from WG1 blamed the mistake over the Himalayan glaciers, on "sloppy" researchers from other disciplines from WG2.
Connolley said: "While some of the WG2 is fine, it is clear that some sections have been edited by people who should not have been trusted with the job.It should be done more on merit. At the very least, get someone competent to review the edit comments for their sections."
Field, the new head of WG2, believed ensuring existing rules are implemented is key: "The IPCC needs to make 100% sure that the procedures that have served well in the past are applied."
A more radical suggestion came from John Robinson, professor of resources, environment and sustainability at the University of British Columbia. He said: "The IPCC should continue to improve its elaborate quality control processes, but perhaps make them more transparent. Few people know anything at all about the process works, or what the checks and balances are. Perhaps there should be journalists embedded in the process."
Others argue that the science report, which relies almost exclusively on peer-reviewed research, should be separated from the other reports which researchers say necessarily rely more on "grey" literature, ie, reports that have not been peer-reviewed.
Reports and timing
The IPCC reports are mammoth productions, taking up to six years to complete. The last one contained 900 pages. Is it still relevant for experts to produce such weighty volumes that wait several years to be updated? And should the emphasis of the reports be changed, given that the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming has been firmly established?
Robert Muir Wood, head of the research group at Risk Management Solutions, said the current IPCC report system was "fossilised" and that the organisation needed to move into the 21st century by setting up Wikipedia-style rolling publishing, that could be updated each month. Others suggested changes almost as radical. Connolley said the "useless" synthesis reports should be ditched, while Robinson said: "There needs to be continuous review of what the timing and topics should be."
But significant changes may have to wait until after the next assessment report, expected in 2013, said Mike Hulme, climate scientist at the University of East Anglia. "We can do lots of little tweaks but I can't see governments willingly going back to the drawing board."
Hulme wanted to see the social and cultural aspects of the impacts and response to climate change reflected in different ways in future reports, such as by drawing more on local knowledge, and distinguishing more between the way different societies may react.