Update: Feb 13, 2010 NY Times letter to the editor by Paul Epstein deserves a quotation here:
That fossil fuel industry-financed forces are continuing their campaign to undermine the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its chief scientists should not distract us from what we know about our climate.
Two physical findings stand out. In the last 50 years the world ocean has accumulated 22 times as much heat as has the atmosphere (data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the Department of Commerce). It is this repository of heat — through processes like evaporation and ocean overturning — that drives the changes in weather we are experiencing: heavier precipitation events, sequences of large storms, bitter cold spells and prolonged droughts in some regions.
The I.P.C.C. 2007 report also found that winds have changed — specifically circumpolar westerly winds (those blowing from the west) in both hemispheres. This ominous sign means that weather fronts and weather patterns are less stable.
Our society, security and the health of the global economy depend upon a stable climate. Getting off fossil fuels is the first, necessary step toward achieving climate stabilization.
Paul R. Epstein
Boston, Feb. 9, 2010
The writer, a doctor, is associate director at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School.
The AP is reporting on a Nature Opinion piece in the Feb 11, 2010 issue of the magazine. Headline: “Scientists seek better way to do climate report“.
Some climate scientists are calling for drastic changes in how future United Nations climate reports are done.
The proposals to reform the International Panel on Climate Change are published in Thursday’s issue of the journal Nature. The suggested changes come after four embarrassing but small errors have popped up recently in one of the panel’s four reports.
The Nature Opinion piece is located here: IPCC: cherish it, tweak it, or scrap it?
Five climatologists provide their opinions on what to do with the IPCC. There recommendations are discussed below with quotations from the Nature Opinion piece. None of the climatologists suggest scrapping the IPCC, so the Nature headline is a little misleading.
Mike Hulme: Coordinating lead author, lead author, review editor (AR3), University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
“The IPCC needs a complete overhaul. The structure and process are past their sell-by dates.”My suggestion for radical reform is to dissolve the IPCC after the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014. The work would be split into three types of assessment and evaluation, each rather different to the three existing IPCC working groups.
The first group is called a Global Science Panel that would monitor the Earth system and put out a larger number of “smaller, sharply focused” reports on a rolling basis. Hulme suggests that the reports would be short, on the order of 50 pages. The second group would be made up of “Regional Evaluation Panels” and focus on the specific climate change effects on 5 to 10 areas of the world. The third group is described as a Policy Analysis Panel — “a standing panel of expertise, global in reach, with interdisciplinary skills and a diverse analytical capacity. Perhaps 50–100 strong, this panel would undertake focused and rapid (6–12 months) analyses of specific proposed policy options and measures that have global significance.”
This restructuring would allow clearer distinctions to be made in areas that have been troublesome for the IPCC: assessments of published knowledge versus policy analysis and evaluation; the globalized physical sciences versus more geographically and culturally nuanced knowledge; a one-size, top-down model of ownership and governance versus more inclusive, representative and regionally varying forms of governance. It would better serve the world, and its peoples, in understanding and responding to anthropogenic climate change.
Eduardo Zorita: Contributing author (AR4), GKSS Research Center in Geesthacht, Germany.
The IPCC should be made stronger and independent. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; there are excellent examples of agencies that society has set up when credibility is of the utmost importance. The European Central Bank, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Energy Agency and the US Congressional Budget Office all independently navigate their way through strong political pressures, delivering valuable assessments, advice, reports and forecasts, tapping academic research when necessary. These agencies are accountable and respected.
Zorita proposes the creation of an international climate agency with a staff of 200 full-time scientists who would be “independent of government, industry, and academia”. The scientists “who have a widely recognized credibility” would be chosen by scientific unions such as the AGU or EGU.
Such an agency should be resourced and empowered to do the following: issue streamlined biennial state-of-the-climate reports; be a repository and quality-controller of observational climate data; advise governments on regional assessments of climate impacts; and coordinate the suite of future-climate simulations by research institutes.
Thomas J. Stocker: Co-chair IPCC Working Group I (AR5), coordinating lead author (AR3, AR4), University of Bern, Switzerland
Stocker proposes continuing the model of the IPCC and continue strict adherence to procedures and scientific rigour at all stages.
The basis of the IPCC is the voluntary contributions of thousands of dedicated scientists from all over the world. The Principles Governing IPCC Work (IPCC, 1998) provide a clear framework for an open, transparent and robust process. This bottom-up endeavour is a unique model of providing scientific information, mainly from the peer-reviewed scientific literature, for decision-making on a challenging problem. It has worked extremely successfully for the past 21 years.
In this field of different and divergent forces, confusion may arise. An honest broker therefore is an asset. From my perspective, the IPCC has fulfilled this role with remarkable rigour and integrity. This role is now at risk, as the stakes are higher than ever before. The requirement that assessments are policy relevant but never policy prescriptive, as formulated in the Principles Governing IPCC Work, is of paramount importance. Our task is to inform the policy-makers and the public strictly in a ‘what if’ mode. Any other approach must be left to NGOs, negotiators or individuals. Only with strict adherence to procedures and to scientific rigour at all stages will the IPCC continue to provide the best and most robust information that is needed so much.
Jeff Price: Lead author (AR3, AR4), director, climate-change adaptation, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) United States
Price proposes more reports AND faster production along with changes to the peer-review requirements. Furthermore, the selection process for Lead Author should be changed to get the “best experts” rather than adhere to the current diversity policy.
Currently, authors are selected to represent “a range of views, expertise, gender and geographical representation”. However, given the importance placed on these assessments, the most senior positions should be filled by the nominees most expert in their field, regardless of balance.
For topics of emerging importance or uncertainty, we need reports based on expert meetings and literature synthesis that undergo only a single round of extensive peer review with review-editor oversight before publication.
Finally, the current period between assessments is too long. One option would be for the IPCC, or another body, to produce an annual review, assessment and synthesis of the literature for policy-makers (for example, three annual review volumes with a synthesis chapter in each volume) prepared by experts in the field. Although the editors of the volumes should ideally be drawn from past IPCC authors and editors, the review articles could be submitted by any author, as they would for a journal, with appropriate peer review and assessment for publication.
John Christy: Lead author (AR3), University of Alabama in Huntsville, USA
Christy is the most critical of the IPCC and proposes more open debate: Wikipedia-style. He also is critical of the selection process of lead-authors.
The IPCC selects lead authors from the pool of those nominated by individual governments. Over time, many governments nominated only authors who were aligned with stated policy. Indeed, the selections for the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report represented a disturbing homogeneity of thought regarding humans and climate.
However, voluminous printed reports, issued every six years by government-nominated authors, cannot accommodate the rapid and chaotic development of scientific information today. An idea we pitched a few years ago that is now worth reviving was to establish a living, ‘Wikipedia-IPCC’. Groups of four to eight lead authors, chosen by learned societies, would serve in rotating, overlapping three-year terms to manage sections organized by science and policy questions (similar to the Fourth Assessment Report). The authors would strike a balance between the free-for-all of true science and the need for summary statements.
Richard Black at the BBC blogs about the suggested IPCC-refits, and similarly summarizes the positions of the 5 climatologists.
All food for thought; and though it appears likely that the IPCC will remain working roughly in the way it has done until the fifth assessment report (AR5) is complete, with minor tweaks to take account of Himalayan and other issues, it is entirely within the gift of governments to make whatever changes they see fit once that process is over.
Translation: no changes are being made — at the moment.
The Guardian chimes in with some notable quotations from their own survey of scientists around the world:
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. [William] Connolley said the “useless” synthesis reports should be ditched, while [John] Robinson said: “There needs to be continuous review of what the timing and topics should be.”