Recommendations are for managerial reform, not on climate science and assessment reports
The Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council (IAC), a global organization of the world's science academies, released a comprehensive report yesterday reviewing the processes and procedures of the embattled Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
The report was requested last March by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, both of whom welcomed the report.
The review states that the process by which the IPCC produces its periodic climate assessment reports has been "successful overall," but that the panel "needs to fundamentally reform its management structure and strengthen its procedures to handle ever larger and increasingly complex climate assessments as well as the more intense public scrutiny coming from a world grappling with how best to respond to climate change."
The report specifically recommends that the IPCC chairmanship, as well as working-group co-chairs, be limited to one term of about seven years, or one assessment report period. The current limit of chair and co-chairs is two six-year terms, which the IAC states is "too long."
The last IPCC assessment report was released in 2007, and the next is due in 2013/2014. The IAC report also recommends that an executive director post be created to oversee the panel and provide strong leadership and accountability. The proposed position would also last for one six year term.
Harold Shapiro, who chaired the IAC committee that wrote the report, made clear the recommendations do not reflect on current leadership of the IPCC under Dr. Pachauri:
This recommendation is not in any way motivated by an evaluation of the current leadership of IPCC. Such an evaluation was beyond our charge. Rather, this recommendation has to do with ensuring a variety or perspectives at the top as well as maintaining the overall vitality of the assessment process," he said yesterday. "Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership," he added, "the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained."
Dr. Pachauri, who has served as IPCC chair since 2002, has been elected to remain in his post through the fifth assessment report (due in 2013/2014) but offered yesterday to step down if IPCC member governments request it at the panel's next plenary meeting in October.
In addition to the term limits and proposed addition of an executive director, the report recommends that an exacting and rigorous conflict-of-interest policy be developed for all authors, review editors, and other staff responsible for content of the assessment reports. Shapiro again stressed that the report is not meant as a statement on recent "controversies" reported in the press and heralded by IPCC detractors:
It was beyond our charge to review the conflict-of-interest controversies that have been reported in the press," he said, "but we did note that the lack of a conflict-of-interest policy was troubling to many of the stakeholders we heard from, and that many government and nongovernment institutions that conduct assessments or provide scientific advice have adopted such policies to assure the integrity of, and public confidence in, their results."
In January, the Daily Telegraph published allegations of conflict of interest and profiteering against Pachauri - allegations that proved false and for which the newspaper finally issued a retraction and apology earlier this month, saying, in part, that it had never "intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC."
For his part, Pachauri stressed that the IAC report is now the seventh climate science review this year. While improvements in process and communication have been recommended, there have been no findings in the exhaustive examination calling into question the climate science assessments from the panel.
While the IAC review was limited to the IPCC's processes and procedures, several of the other six reviews looked directly at the science of climate change," Pachauri said. "None of these other studies - none - found flaws with the fundamental science of climate change. By overwhelming consensus, the scientific community agrees that climate change is real. Greenhouse gases have increased markedly as a result of human activities and now far exceed pre-industrial values."
Pachauri also sought to make a distinction between honest scientific debate and willful distortion and disinformation:
Science thrives on honest, well-reasoned debate," he said. "And there has been a productive debate this year about how to further strengthen the IPCC's work. But we also have to remember that honest scientific discourse wilts under gross distortions and ideologically driven posturing. Sadly, such tactics have been a prominent feature of climate science for many years - and they show no signs of letting up."
"My hope," he added, "is that the accumulation of so many investigations into climate science in such a short period of time will strengthen public trust so that we can move forward."
Image credit: Environmental News Service, courtesy United Nations