Yesterday, IPCC chairman Pachauri told Oliver Morton of The Economist at an IPCC event in Brussels that conflict of interest policies would not not apply to AR5 authors. IPCC thereby sabotaged recommendations from the Interacademy Council and announced its plans to evade the conflict of interest policies passed at the 33rd IPCC plenary only a month ago.
The Pachauri Interview
Here’s what Pachauri said in response to Oliver Morton – see Morton’s interesting blog article here:
B: Are you happy with the IPCC’s new conflict-of-interest policy? [adopted at the panel’s recent plenary]
RP: Absolutely. I must say that was a very heartening piece of work. People put in a lot of effort to come up with what I think is a very robust policy in terms of conflict of interest.
B: At what point should it start to apply?
RP: It’s applicable right away. Of course if you look at conflict of interest with respect to authors who are there in the 5th Assessment Report we’ve already selected them and therefore it wouldn’t be fair to impose anything that sort of applies retrospectively.
All sorts of editorial responses spring to mind (one of which is that, in transcription, Pachauri sure sounds like Acton of East Anglia.) But first let’s follow some backstory – through the IAC Report and the COI policy adopted at the 33rd IPCC plenary.
Last summer, the Interacademy Panel (in rather sharp terms) recommended that IPCC adopt a Conflict of Interest policy, first noting that many institutions had conflict of interest policies and reporting on the IPCC situation as follows:
The IPCC does not have a conflict-of-interest or disclosure policy for its
senior leadership (i.e., IPCC Chair and Vice Chairs), Working Group
Co-chairs and authors, or the staff of the Technical Support Units. The
professional staff members of the IPCC Secretariat are employees of
WMO and/or UNEP and are subject to their disclosure and ethics policies.
In particular, all IPCC Secretariat staff in Geneva, except for the Deputy
Secretary, are WMO employees and therefore are required to follow the
WMO code of ethics; the IPCC Deputy Secretary follows UN staff regulations;
and the IPCC Secretary must comply with the rules for both UN and
WMO staff because the Secretary is seconded from UNEP and WMO.
The lack of a conflict-of-interest and disclosure policy for IPCC leaders
and Lead Authors was a concern raised by a number of individuals who
were interviewed by the Committee or provided written input. Questions
about potential conflicts of interest, for example, have been raised about
the IPCC Chair’s service as an adviser to, and board member of, for-profit
energy companies (Pielke, 2010b), and about the practice of scientists
responsible for writing IPCC assessments reviewing their own work. The
Committee did not investigate the basis of these claims, which is beyond
the mandate of this review. However, the Committee believes that the
nature of the IPCC’s task (i.e., in presenting a series of expert judgments
on issues of great societal relevance) demands that the IPCC pay special
attention to issues of independence and bias to maintain the integrity of,
and public confidence in, its results.
Note that the IAC drew specific attention to the problem of authors assessing their own work – one of the issues involved with the current Greenpeace situation and obviously not dealt with yet. In response, the IPCC said that they would discuss it at the next Plenary session – the 32nd session last October:
The IPCC Secretariat informed the Committee that the Panel will be
discussing options for conflict-of-interest and disclosure policies for the
various actors in the IPCC process (e.g., members of the Bureau, non-UN
staff, non-WMO staff, and authors) at its next Plenary session.
IPCC Conflict of Interest Policy
I haven’t yet parsed the minutes of the 32nd session, but the minutes of the 33rd session(May 2011 in Abu Dhabi) indicate that they formed a Task Group on Conflict of Interest Policy, which reported prior to the 33rd session at which a conflict of interest policy was adopted. Conflict of interest is defined in the policy passed in May 2011 as follows:
11. A “conflict of interest” refers to any current professional, financial or other interest which could: i) significantly impair the individual’s objectivity in carrying out his or her duties and responsibilities for the IPCC, or ii) create an unfair advantage for any person or organization. For the purposes of this policy, circumstances that could lead a reasonable person to question an individual’s objectivity, or whether an unfair advantage has been created, constitute a potential conflict of interest. These potential conflicts are subject to disclosure.
The policy distinguished between conflict of interest and bias, an important distinction. In respect to bias, the new policy requires;
Those involved in selecting authors will need to strive for an author team composition that reflects a balance of expertise and perspectives, such that IPCC products are comprehensive, objective, and neutral with respect to policy. In selecting these individuals, care must be taken to ensure that biases can be balanced where they
While our attention to WG3 has been attracted by conflict of interest, WG3’s ability to function as a source of trustworthy information is arguably prejudiced even more greatly by its failure to comply with bias policies – a point neatly put by Morton as follows (see original post for more discussion)
The real problem for the IPCC is not that Greenpeace infiltrated it; it is that when it comes to the world of renewables Greenpeace didn’t really need to.
The opening sections of the IPCC policy on conflict of interest state the purpose of the policy very clearly:
2. The role of the IPCC demands that it pay special attention to issues of independence and bias in order to maintain the integrity of, and public confidence in, its products and processes. It is essential that the work of IPCC is not compromised by any conflict of interest for those who execute it….
4. The IPCC Conflict of Interest Policy is designed to ensure that conflicts of interest are identified, communicated to the relevant parties, and managed to avoid any adverse impact on IPCC balance, products and processes, thereby protecting the individual, the IPCC, and the public interest. The individual and the IPCC should not be placed in a situation that could lead a reasonable person to question, and perhaps discount or dismiss, the work of the IPCC simply because of the existence of a conflict of interest.
Quite so. This states about as clearly as possible why the policy recommended by IAC and adopted by the 33rd Plenary should apply immediately to AR5. But instead, Pachauri says that these limited and sensible policies will not apply to AR5 because application of these sensible policies would not be ‘fair’ to the conflicted authors.
What isn’t ‘fair’ – either to the non-conflicted authors and, more importantly, to policy-makers and the public – is the refusal of Pachauri and other IPCC plenipotentiaries to forthwith implement the policy – not just on conflict of interest, but on bias.
Had IPCC not sabotaged the IAC recommendation for independent members of the Executive Committee, it would have been possible to notify them of the problem. However, as noted earlier today, IPCC sabotaged that IAC recommendation as well.