It’s been a gloomy year for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a damning review of its processes and procedures released this week wouldn’t have helped lift the fog.

The IPCC needs to stop focusing on policy and advocacy and concentrate more on climate science, says the independent review. It also suggested management restructure at the IPCC to better cope with current demands.

As one of the most important and influential bodies for climate research, and joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former US vice-president Al Gore “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”, the review pointing out the failures of the IPCC must be a little disheartening.

One of the key recommendations of the review involves the creation of an Executive Committee to be better able to respond to issues promptly and effectively. It also encourages that controversy within climate science be better reflected in IPCC reports and that comments and arguments about IPCC reports be addressed more clearly. Perhaps most importantly it recommends: “Quantitative probabilities (as in the likelihood scale) should be used to describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence.” [my own emphasis]

Presumably this last point comes after the IPCC was slammed for declaring in its 2007 report that the Himalayan glaciers would be melted by 2035. The IPCC embarrassingly admitted in January that the claim was based on media interview with a scientist, not on peer-reviewed scientific literature.

The internal management of the organisation also needs restructuring, says the report. “…IPCC has shown itself to be an adaptive organization in the past in the sense that it has adjusted the processes and procedures surrounding its assessments both in response to scientific developments and as a result of lessons learned over the years…. Nevertheless its overall management and governance structure has not been modified, and in my view this has made it less agile and responsive than it needs to be,” declared Harold T. Shapiro, the chair of the review.

The InterAcademy Council, a group consisting of national academies of science from over 100 countries, conducted the report (which can be found in full here). It was a wide-ranging review of the IPCC, focusing on:

“…every aspect of how the IPCC’s periodic climate science assessments are prepared, including the use of non-peer reviewed literature and the reflection of diverse viewpoints. The review also examined institutional aspects, including management functions as well as the panel’s procedures for communicating its findings to the public.”

But despite some of the reviews more negative findings, the IPCC still remain hopeful: “The IPCC will be strengthened by the IAC review and by others of its kind this year,” said IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who’s currently battling calls for his resignation. “We already have the highest confidence in the science behind our assessments. We’re now pleased to receive recommendations on how to further strengthen our own policies and procedures.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey