Update: Nature has just published a thoughtful commentary on the report
The Inter-Academy Council report on the processes and governance of the IPCC is now available. It appears mostly sensible and has a lot of useful things to say about improving IPCC processes – from suggesting a new Executive to be able to speak for IPCC in-between reports, a new communications strategy, better consistency among working groups and ideas for how to reduce the burden on lead authors in responding to rapidly increasing review comments.
As the report itself notes, the process leading to each of the previous IPCC reports has been informed from issues that arose in previous assessments, and that will obviously also be true for the upcoming fifth Assessment report (AR5). The suggestions made here will mostly strengthen the credibility of the next IPCC, particularly working groups 2 and 3, though whether it will make the conclusions less contentious is unclear. Judging from the contrarian spin some are putting on this report, the answer is likely to be no.
403 Responses to "IPCC report card"
The IPCC isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly doing a good job. Nevertheless, improving the process is always a good idea. There was a paper in Nature regarding IPCC reform which was pretty interesting, I discussed it here: http://climatesight.org/2010/02/24/ipcc-reform/
Ken Rushton says
Generally, this sounds like a good approach to increase the IPCC’s credibility.
However, in my opinion, there is a very large risk that the next IPCC will understate the high-end risks, especially anything where the state-of-the-art is even the least bit fuzzy.
The big one that comes to immediate mind is the risk of runaway methane & CO2 release. The current measurements and state of knowledge here are still at an early stage, so it may get short-changed.
The first paragraph of the main conclusion:
“The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well. The commitment of many thousands of the world’s leading scientists and other experts to the assessment process and to the communication of the nature of our understanding of the changing climate, its impacts, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies is a considerable achievement in its own right. Similarly, the sustained commitment of governments to the process and their buy-in to the results is a mark of a successful assessment. Through its unique partnership between scientists and governments, the IPCC has heightened public awareness of climate change, raised the level of scientific debate, and influenced the science agendas of many nations. However, despite these successes, some fundamental changes
to the process and the management structure are essential, as discussed in this report and summarized below.”
Seems to have been ‘missed’ by most of the early reports in the media.
‘Report slams IPCC’ appears to be the preferred slant.
Jim Galasyn says
A quick scan of the headlines at Google News is depressing…
Review Finds Flaws in UN Climate Panel Structure (New York Times)
Pachauri-led IPCC needs fundamental reforms: UN panel (Times of India)
Flawed science (Telegraph)
Pachauri escapes indictment (Hindustan Times)
Independent Audit Panel Slams U.N.’s Climate Group (FOX News)
U.N. climate body needs ‘fundamental reform,’ says report (CNN)
Report: Climate Science Panel Should Be Better Run (CBS News)
And so forth.
Edward Greisch says
Please help explain this to http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/
A separate article on Roger A. Pielke Jr. and why Rajendra Pachauri is more qualified in climate science would also help Andy Revkin.
Lou Grinzo says
I hate to say this, but I find the coverage and spinning of this event not the least bit surprising. (As Lily Tomlin once said, “I grow more cynical every day, but it’s still hard to keep up”.)
Hansen, Schmidt, Mann, Alley, et al. could hold a news conference and announce that they had found a cure for all forms of cancer that had zero side effects, cost the patient a grand total of $10, and was already approved by the FDA, and the contrarians would lambaste them for  not making the breakthrough sooner, and  not warning the world in advance so that many people undergoing cancer treatment could be spared the additional pain and expense of now-useless treatments while waiting a couple of weeks or months for this new therapy to become available.
I have complained to my favourite news source about their coverage, pointing out how imbalanced it is. I suggest you all do likewise.
Hank Roberts says
” … when people had their misperceptions challenged certain people, at least, were more likely to become more firmly entrenched in that belief.
BRENDAN NYHAN: That’s right. People were so successful at bringing to mind reasons that the correction was wrong that they actually ended up being more convinced in the misperception than the people who didn’t receive the correction. So the correction, in other words, was making things worse….”
Debunk This!… popular cultural myths that refuse to die.
Hat tip to: http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/thegreengrok/sciencescandals0810
“Stricter controls urged for the UN’s climate body”
What they are out of control? How about:
“IPPC has served society well but improvements recommended”
It is of great concern that so much misconception remains about the IPCC and its processes, and that the media create and perpetuate non-existent issues. For example, some web reports suggest the following:
“The IAC report makes several recommendations to fortify IPCC’s management structure, including establishing an executive committee to act on the Panel’s behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. To enhance its credibility and independence, the executive committee should include individuals from outside the IPCC or even outside the climate science community.”
Now, who are individuals “outside the IPCC”? IPCC members are the world’s governments, ie those that have ratified the UN Framework Convention. That leaves a handful of states “outside the IPCC”. Searching the IAC report, I found no suggestion of including individuals “outside of the IPCC”, but rather the inclusion on a proposed Executive Committee (to act on IPCC’s behalf between plenary sessions) of 3 independent members, including some from outside the climate community. So the media in this case are falsely promoting this idea of an “in-group” and an independently minded “outside-IPCC” grouping. Weird and wrong.
The IAC report itself has some very penetrating criticisms about IPCC processes, including response to reviewers, role of review editors, level of engagement and expertise of developing country scientists, confusing use of uncertainty language, including diverse conventions between working groups and even between chapters in the same working group. There is much worthy of careful discussion in this report, and its key recommendations seem set to strengthen this critical process on the whole.
The principal criticism should not be of the IPCC, but of governments, for failing to take up the findings and acting on them.
Anne van der Bom says
I don’t have time to read the entire report, but from the link that Hank provided, I spotted the following two recommendations:
– “strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature” [pdf] and
– find ways to better ensure the “full range of thoughtful scientific views” (including those that disagree with the reports’ conclusions) are included and documented.
In other words:
– you must tighten the rules regarding the use of non-peer-reviewed material, in order to avoid embarrassing mistakes
– you must relax the rules regarding the use of non-peer-reviewed material, in order to give more attention to the contrarian arguments
Hmm, how will the IPCC comply?
[Response: You are overreaching. These two issues have come up as potential issues, and the advice is to act in order so that they not be issues in future. Seems sensible enough to me. It certainly doesn’t mean that IPCC is going to let people who think that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist run the show. – gavin]
Bob (Sphaerica) says
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is journalism that is failing this country, not science. Thirty years from now people will look back and ask where the h*ll all of the real, professional journalists were hiding, and how they got the story so very wrong.
OT: Realers might be interested in yet another ancient AGW told-you-so. One of the Australian public broadcaster’s longest running programs, ABC Radio National’s Science Show celebrated its 35th aniversary this week. Veteran presenter and science journalist Robyn Williams chose to re-run this piece from his very first show, all those years ago.
Sadly, for Americans generally, anything that smacks of “global government” is condemned out of hand and the slightest mention of changing it can only be interpreted as “it’s a shambles and a scam, get rid of it” – and that’s the sentiment the US media pander to.
Any failure to implement the recommendations of this report will be treated by some governments as an excuse to do nothing.
John Whitman says
30 August 2010 at 6:10 PM
You said ” . . . for Americans generally, anything that smacks of “global government” is condemned out of hand . . .”
I think you are on to something there. As an American, I support that view. : )
If someone wants America to do something then all you got to do is convince enough of the electorate, and, Voila . . . it is done. Global government? What is that? Is it people outside of America voting on what Americans must do? Ha Ha Ha.
Actually, flxible, the term Americans isn’t the best terminology to use, although most everyone would clearly understand what you mean. More accurately we are citizens of the USA. Americans can also imply, in a geographical sense, the people in North America or Latin America or South America. In some broader geographical sense they might be considered Americans. Just as a European isn’t quite accurate if you are specifically talking about Germans.
John P says
Bob (12) my thoughts exactly. Journalism is failing I just read most of Jane Mayer’s piece in the New Yorker on the Koch brothers and their massive funding of disinformation and propaganda. What can realclimate do to counter this right-wing noise machine? All we have here are facts and the mathematics and physical principles to interpret them. :-(
Gerry Beauregard says
Re #14: “anything that smacks of ‘global government’ is condemned out of hand”
George Bush almost certainly contributed to that. Withdrawing from the United Nations is part of the Texas GOP’s official party platform:
“United Nations – We believe it is in the best interest of the citizens of the United States that we immediately rescind our membership in, as well as all financial and military contributions to, the United Nations.”
[Go to http://www.texasgop.org/inner.asp?z=6, click “2010 Republican Party of Texas Platform”]
Similar text appears in previous years’ versions of the official Texas GOP platform. I don’t know whether it’s ever been part of the Republican platform at the national level, but Bush is from Texas, so surely the Texas platform at least had some influence at the national level.
Eli Rabett says
If you want to see the black helicopters fly, just wait until climate changes enough to make the situation dire. This is something the denialists have not figured out
A lot of comment here has been about the spin on the report. But overall the recommendations strike me as professionalizing and institutionalizing the IPCC in the sense that there will be much more paid staff and a much larger budget and more hierarchy. Presumably some scientists would be employed by the IPCC and get to focus more closely – exclusively? – on the various processes that now they do in addition to the other things on their plate.
It seems that to the degree there has been difficulty, particularly in WG II and II, with keeping strictly to some guidelines, this would help. But I wonder what the IPCC participants at RC think about such a process. A good thing definitely, or does such a process come with risks? Or am I reading this aspect wrong?
As an “American” living in Canada, I well understand the use of the name, and that a pretty sizeable portion of the populace in the USA would totally agree with the Texas GOP – many “USians” see the UN as a big problem rather than a step toward a solution, and would happily help them pack up and move out. Note that the IPCC is effectively a “branch” of the UN, and so is considered as an attempt [by some evil overlords] to trump the “freedoms” of the US.
dennis baker says
reinforcment of the arguement is quaint.
Now what the F–K you going to do with the information.
I feel a little better havibg read this, and Gavins positive take on it. I had only seen media headlines, and BBC America, which is only marginally better than the US press. So I was concerned that it was about allowing denialist groups the ability to gum things up.
I think another area that is going to be very important for estimating the cost of inaction, but which is not likely to be pinned down with any degree of certainty, is just how much the high precipitation events are likely to increase given X for CO2 equilivalent. I am certainly under the impression, that the high end events have increased in frequncy by 20% to 100%, which is pretty extraordinary given a 4% increase in atmospheric moisture. I imagine any high end predictions will be very contentious.
Rattus Norvegicus says
Of all those headlines, only the one from CBS got the essence of the report (NB: I’ve only read the executive summary) correct. Basically the reforms proposed were pretty minor, with the exception of the executive committee and executive director positions, which seem like a good idea.
Ricki (Australia) says
thanks for all your great work to state and re-state the science.
A news report on the ABC in Australia suggested that the IPCC was in need of reform. OK, that is basically correct.
However, what is not clear in the report is that the report does NOT undermine the integrity or the basic message of climate change: that it is happening and our GHG emissions are the primary cause.
Can RC please make a strong statement to the effect that the conculsions of the AR4 are NOT under question!
journalists will write anything as long as they’re paid … noone wants bad news … AGW is bad news … public is being lied to.
Martin Vermeer says
Re #25, yeah, journalists are again making a mess of it.
Actually I wouldn’t call most of the reforms proposed minor; they are pretty radical (and correspond to process criticisms that I have heard a lot, also from scientists involved). But, they mostly concern the presentation, not the science.
You will hear the usual suspects whine that “the science” was not reviewed in this report. And they are damn right, it wasn’t, because the science is not the problem — it’s doing just fine. The problem is presentation and communication, image and appearance: the perception of credibility — things that scientists have traditionally been weak on. I expect that the changes proposed will help a lot here.
Note the language on the need for a communications strategy and a “media-relations capacity”. In plain English, arm for battle against the liars. Some lessons clearly have been learned.
Sorry that should have read as:
“Sadly, for Americans generally, anything that smacks of “global government” is condemned out of hand”
Not sure that is quite true. I suspect that for many Americans it is any world government that isn’t run by America which is condemned out of hand.
David Kidd says
Perhaps some of us are not aware of what the IPCC Director Dr. Rajenda Pachauri is being subjected too. Please open the attached link and read the article.
Mikael Lönnroth says
I think the BBC report was better than most. One major role of the media is, after all, to be the government watchdog and as such it’s understandable to usually focus on lackings and suggested improvements.
The troubling thing, though, is that constant reporting on shortcomings without much attention given to the big picture will leave most people (including decision makers!) with a false understanding of reality, and this is where even the serious media organizations have much to improve.
Uncle Pete says
Oh God, here we go again, another excuse, for another decade of inaction . this is truly depressing.
Philip Machanick says
Here in Australia, our second government channel SBS reported it as flaws in the IPCC and one of the things noted was the way ice melts are contributing to sea level rise. They failed to mention that the 2007 report understated those. Oh well. I need to write more article like this.
I was really hoping to see a LOT more support of the IAC’s recommendations in the comments here. Instead, the comments which have been posted by Gavin seem to be more directed at how others (MSM, et al) are characterizing the report.
I see the IAC’s recommendations to be something which can be support by ALL parties who have an interest in increasing human’s understanding of the earth’s climate, the drivers, and future possibilities.
The one thing I have learned, science is always refining current understanding of nature and history. That which we believe to be true today, could quite possibly be proven to be wrong “tomorrow”.
What we all must support is improvements to processes which will lead to improved understanding.
I am pleased to see the recommendations of the IAC and hope that ALL of the recommendations get implemented in time to affect the release of AR5.
Ken Rushton says: Comment 2.
‘….. there is a very large risk that the next IPCC will understate the high-end risks, especially anything where the state-of-the-art is even the least bit fuzzy.’, and
‘The big one that comes to immediate mind is the risk of runaway methane & CO2 release. The current measurements and state of knowledge here are still at an early stage, so it may get short-changed.’
Ken, isn’t that precisely the point? If ‘the state of knowledge’ is ‘still at an early stage’ what is it you want the IPCC to do? Speculate (for that is what it would be given early state knowledge) on the high-end risks?
I’m not sure you’ve understood that what is losing the IPCC public credibility is a perceived tendency to exaggeration, and a perceived tendency to one-sidedness in impacts, as per the Dutch report.
Rod B says
Doug, global government is condemned out of hand because almost by definition it is a despotic, inefficient, bumbling, axiomatic pipe dream.
Jim Galasyn says
Rod: “axiomatic pipe dream”?
I do not think it means what you think it means.
Geoff Wexler says
(My italics). My knowledge is a decreasing function of the trend from wg1,through wg2,to wg3. As a guess wg3 in particular, will always, by its very nature, be partly contentious. In principle pure climatology should be free of all ideology except that of respecting the truth. That is not so obvious for wg3. Apart from the problem of excluding ideology , the goal of being rigorous may perhaps be harder to achieve for wg3?
Perhaps Ike Solem might have something to say on this?
“Doug, global government is condemned out of hand because almost by definition it is a despotic, inefficient, bumbling, axiomatic pipe dream.”
Well, global action on climate change is not the same as global government, thankfully.
However, without global action on climate change, there isn’t any hope of addressing the issue.
We’ve been able to agree global rules that deal with trade, patents, human rights (to some degree), war etc.. We’ve even agreed global rules on how countries report their GHG emissions. A global approach to reducing emissions should not be beyond us.
One good approach is for countries to be bound to emissions reductions targets, and make up their own minds as to how they meet them. Like Kyoto, but with China having a target.
Rod B wrote: “… global government is condemned out of hand because almost by definition it is a despotic, inefficient, bumbling, axiomatic pipe dream.”
Oh yes, because “by definition”, absolute global might-makes-right lawlessness and anarchy between nations is an axiomatic utopia.
The biggest problem with the IPCC seems to be that policy-makers don’t take its conclusions sufficiently seriously. Not seriously enough to actually start working towards carbon neutrality in time to avoid 2°C of temperature rise, at least.
While scientists should not be saying: “Here is what your government’s climate change policy should be” they should definitely be saying: “Here are the plausible consequences of the policy you are pursuing now, and they don’t match with the outcomes you say you want to achieve (like avoiding over 2°C of temperature increase)”. They could also very legitimately say: “If you want to avoid handing a transformed world over to future generations, here is the minimum that must be done”.
Susan Anderson says
Thanks to those who have taken the time and trouble to weigh in over at DotEarth. Please note that he highlighted my recommendation to get the history of the IPCC from Stephen Schneider’s Science as a Contact Sport, which I am reading with fascination.
I was thinking about this, and got depressed because I realize the recent change in the noise about the IPCC and Pachauri is the outcome of the largely successful campaign to demonize the state of the art in climate science starting just before Copenhagen. I’m not saying it wasn’t going on before that, just that the concerted and well organized campaign to make things appear different has now built up such a head of steam that no amount of truth or consequences will stop it.
However, one must live, and since our very lives depend on it, I still thank those who join in the complicated and perhaps future effort to stem the lies with truth.
Hank Roberts says
Rod B says:… “global government is condemned out of hand because”
The notion reliably does triple duty interrupting conversations:
— a straw man, a red herring, _and_ a paranoid fantasy
Eli Rabett wrote: “If you want to see the black helicopters fly, just wait until climate changes enough to make the situation dire.”
I think helicopters are a pretty welcome sight in Pakistan right about now.
Ike Solem says
It would be nice to see the IPCC make projections for atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over the next 100 years based at least in part on carbon/nitrogen cycle models, hydrology/permafrost models, and so on.
It’s true that the main uncertainty there is human behavior, but at least the IPCC could attempt to answer questions like “Given such-and-such human behavior, what is the expected global carbon cycle response to that behavior?”
For example – all fossil fuel combustion is eliminated within 50 years – how does the carbon cycle respond? If fossil fuel emissions remain at today’s levels, will the carbon cycle response be greatly different?
If the IPCC is unwilling to include a scientific discussion of renewable energy and “clean coal” claims, then they should stay out of policy decisions entirely and just focus on climate science, along with the rest of the climate science community. Well-meaning suggestions based on ignorance about energy science do more harm than good.
Perhaps we can get this Virginia prosecutor to go after the clean coal sector’s research records on zero-emission clean coal projects, now that the persecution of Michael Mann has been suspended by a Virginia court? .
I’d like to see a zero-emission coal researcher say that with a straight face, however. If there’s anything in the government science sector that needs external investigation, this is it:
Of course, if you think it’s no big deal that the head of science programs at the DOE is also BP’s Chief Scientist, that’s your right – but isn’t there a little conflict-of-interest there? Certainly a much greater conflict-of-interest than anything involving IPCC members, isn’t it?
BP is relying heavily on CCS claims as justification for tar sand developments in Canada, too – along with the U.S. State Department, which is blocking the EPA from having any say in tar sand imports to the United States.
In other words, what you are seeing is massive hypocrisy and double standards in government science and corporate science, depending on whether the science supports the fossil fuel lobby’s agenda or not. This has been going on for some time, but is getting ever-more-flagrant as the media backs off from covering these issues under pressure from their own ownership.
It’s getting to be ridiculous.
J Bowers says
Susan Anderson — “just that the concerted and well organized campaign to make things appear different has now built up such a head of steam that no amount of truth or consequences will stop it.”
Oh yes it will, you just have to get stuck in. One thing I’ve realised is that the more faux arguments the plastic sceptics regurgitate then the more I actually learn, because I find myself toddling off to check out what they’re saying and stumble across things I’d have never found otherwise. Every cloud has a silver lining I guess.
Pre-HTML formatted lists of papers help as well ;)
Martin Vermeer says
Yes, that graphically summarizes a drive to establish such a one by a fairly recent U.S. administration, backed by its neocon ideologues… my idea of global governance is a little more modest, the kind that prevents you from finding the strontium-90 from Syldavia’s latest atmospheric test in your morning coffee.
Bob (Sphaerica) says
I think that’s the point. The coming disasters make you want the helicopters, and then the next thing you know, they’re not going away (“What if it happens again? The people want and need us to control all traffic through helicopter gunships, so we can guarantee the safe flow of food products… it’s in their best interests…”).
I mean, imagine what would happen if there was a huge terror attack, and the government used it as an excuse to extend wire tapping efforts and suspended habeas corpus and opened special prisons and such. You could never do anything like that without such a traumatic experience. Of course, in that case, we’d quickly rein in such excesses because our freedom is so important to us, and losing it to our own government would be as bad as the threat of losing it to terrorists. No black helicopters there…
Jon P says
You are overreaching. These two issues have come up as potential issues, and the advice is to act in order so that they not be issues in future. Seems sensible enough to me. It certainly doesn’t mean that IPCC is going to let people who think that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist run the show. – gavin]
Hmm I would have thought that Science would run the show, no matter where it lead, my bad.
[Response: if you think that science and the existence of the greenhouse effect are somehow opposed, that would indeed be ‘your bad’. -gavin]
Jimmy Haigh says
Eli Rabett says:
30 August 2010 at 8:29 PM
“If you want to see the black helicopters fly, just wait until climate changes enough to make the situation dire. This is something the denialists have not figured out.”
Which way Bugs? Warmer or colder?