Report criticises UN climate body


The international body set up to study global warming needs major changes in the way it is run following a series of high-profile mistakes, a report said today.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which reviews climate science for governments, needs to ensure it can handle more complex assessments of global warming and intense public scrutiny, the report found.

Its work has come under fire in recent months following revelations of inaccuracies in the last assessment of global warming provided to governments in 2007 - for which it won the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore.

The mistakes, including the claim that the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035, prompted the launch a review of the IPCC’s processes and procedures by the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an organisation of the world’s science bodies.

The review today found that the IPCC had been successful overall in delivering its reports, but called for fundamental reforms to its management structure and a strengthening of its procedures.

Harold Shapiro, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said: “Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership, 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.”

The IAC said that, with intense scrutiny from the public and policymakers likely to continue, the IPCC needed to be as transparent as possible in how it worked, how it selected people to participate in assessments and its choice of scientific information to assess.

The council’s report said the process by which the IPCC examines the known information and scientific work on climate change and its impacts and delivers reports to governments to help them shape policy was “thorough”.

But stronger enforcement of the procedures laid down for the reports’ authors could reduce mistakes, the IAC study suggested, while specific guidelines were needed over the controversial use of “grey literature” which has not been published or peer-reviewed by other scientists.

The IPCC also needed to be more consistent in how it showed what was still uncertain about climate change, the report said, pointing out that one section of the 2007 report had made statements with “high confidence” for which there was very little evidence.

The IAC review said the credibility of the IPCC required leadership at all levels.

It urged the IPCC to establish an executive committee for the panel — which should include people from outside the IPCC and even from outside the climate change community altogether, as well as an executive director.

The current term limit for the position of chairman should be reduced, with a new chairman, executive director and co-chairs for each assessment to ensure a variety of perspectives and fresh approaches to each report, the review said.

The errors in the IPCC report emerged as climate science weathered a sustained attack on its credibility in the wake of the “climategate” affair, when emails were hacked from a key UK research centre and seized upon by sceptics who claimed they showed scientists were manipulating data to back up a theory of global warming.

Three reviews of the emails and the science produced by the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit cleared the researchers at the centre of the row of altering or suppressing data to make the climate change case stronger.