IAC review of the IPCC

It am all de rage, as they say. But is it any good? And who are the IAC anyway? Go on, hands up, before they were asked to do this: had anyone heard of them? Thought not: I certainly hadn’t. This is an organisation so well-known that the wikipedia article on [[IAC]] (note: that is today’s version; I assume that someone will add it, eventually) doesn’t even include them, although it has space for 15 or so other IAC’s. Although Gavin seems to quite like the report, I’m less sure. So before getting down to reading the report, here is another piece of meta-analysis: if you read the exec summary it notes that the first IAC report was Inventing a Better Future – A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology. You’ve heard of it? Unlikely – google news shows no hits and all the google hits seem to be to the usual people you’d expect to note it and ignore it. I note that All IAC draft reports undergo an intensive process of peer-review by other international experts though unlike the IPCC it isn’t an open review process – we can’t see the reviewers comments, let alone see the various drafts (and it does need review: there is an error on p iii of the exec summary, where they fail to capitalise Winnacker’s surname. Trivial, obviously).

A bit more preamble, in the spirit of declaring COI: when I was in science, I was very peripherally involved in the IPCC, as was everyone; but I never rose to the dizzy ranks of contributing author or even close; I just talked to a few people who were writing stuff.

Anyway, I can no longer put off actually reading the thing… but then I realised I couldn’t be bothered. So I just read the exec summary. This means you should discount what I say by some appropriate amount.

But before I go on, I should quote the preamble, which is there to be ignored (most of the news reports on the IAC report did, of course):

Since its founding more than 20 years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) can claim many important accomplishments to its credit. First among these are the periodic assessments of our understanding of the nature, origin, and impact of observed changes in the world’s climate. Also among its significant contributions has been the sustaining of a global focus on climate change. Indeed IPCC has provided the framework for a continued and rather remarkable international conversation on climate research both among scientists and policymakers. In many ways IPCC, with its massive, far-flung, and decentralized network of scientists along with the governments represented on the Panel, represents a significant social innovation. For these and other contributions the IPCC was one of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

Or, put another way: “the IPCC has been a great success. But faced with some worthless criticism we’ll ignore all that and produce some headless-chicken recommendations.”


First reaction is per Dean‘s comment at RC: 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. Would this be a good thing? Probably not.

In the Governance and Management section we find:

The complexity and scale of climate change research and the associated assessment task have grown significantly over the last two decades, as have public expectations regarding the assessments. Yet the fundamental management structure of the IPCC has remained largely unchanged… The Panel makes all of its major decisions at annual Plenary sessions. However, important decisions need to be made more often, and the Bureau has too limited a set of responsibilities and meets too rarely to meet this need.

Is this true? What are these important decisions? Presumably, applying corrections for minor matters like the 2350 / 2035 glacier melt stuff wouldn’t need an executive.

Anyway, after this I read the rest of the exec summary but got bored. I think they have the wrong answers, and are answering the wrong questions, too panicked by the recent kerfuffle to see clearly. The problem with the IPCC is largely that the whole process has become too unwieldy; grafting on yet more bureacracy isn’t the answer. The answer is lightening the process, and trying to make it more sane. As I said back in February. But no-one will listen. Committees like the IAC have an inevitable trajectory.

Probably, you want to read Bart, not me (or his follow-up).

Oh, and before I go: the final proof of the IAC’s timidity: the IPCC co-chair structure (helpfully available in the “governance chapter” from IAC. The way this works is that WGI, II and III have competent chairs from real countries… and then the third-world countries are thrown a bone by being given vice / co-chairships. But the IAC doesn’t dare criticise this tokenism.

Refs

* Anatomy of IPCC’s Mistake on Himalayan Glaciers and Year 2035
* IPCC use of non-peer reviewed material?
* Richard Tol is being oppressed!
* Indians go wacko

Comments

  1. #1 John McManus
    2010/09/03

    It is almost like I saw this report years ago. It is remarkably like every other institutional restructuring report ever released on a gullible public.

    The process seems to be: a group of self important people are charged with drafting a report. They realise that if they say things are pretty good they will look like useless baggage. They then decide to push out a bunch of essentially meaningless suggestions they expect to be forgotten when the door hits them on the ass. Everyone is pleased that action will be taken and nothing will change.

  2. #2 Lorne50
    2010/09/03

    Not on wiki huh why did you take it off and i think they did a fine job or have you read it yet WC

    [Are you from Barcelona? -W]

  3. #3 Paul Kelly
    2010/09/03

    How many IPCC reports does it take to screw in a light bulb? The bureaucratic solution for inefficient bureaucracy always seems to be more bureaucracy. If the purpose of the IPCC is to inform governments on climate change and its possible impacts, the job is pretty much done. If the purpose is to provide a rationale for global taxation and control of CO2, we’ll be arguing over the results of AR15.

    [Indeed, well said, and I should have remembered that. There is a very strong case for arguing that the "political" purpose of the IPCC is done - that it should now fade into the background. I might try to develope that -W]

  4. #4 Eli Rabett
    2010/09/03

    IEHO the two major changes were the recommendation that questions from “reviewers” can be grouped and need not be answered one by one and that “questions” that are really statements of political opinion need not be answered. This puts the Richard Courtneys and Christopher Moncktons of the world out of business.

    The recommendation for an executive committee that can speak for the IPCC between reports is also important. In the recent nonsense, only Pachauri could defend the IPCC and speak for it. An executive committee would have made things a lot easier.

    [But is that true? Why would an exec ctte speak better than a prez? I *think* what you're saying is that no-one much trusted RKP, for whatever reason -W]

  5. #5 jyyh
    2010/09/04

    “Real country”, lol, I guess the Palestinians, West Saharans and Canadians are out then… or is the Canadian governement still appointed by the queen?

  6. #6 snide
    2010/09/04

    They are supposed to allow dissenting views, which they already do. But not grey literature. So that takes care of most of the dissent.

  7. #7 SteveF
    2010/09/04

    Sadly, it referenced the Booker and North Telegraph piece about Pachauri. The Telegraph piece that they had to apologise for:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/7957631/Dr-Pachauri-Apology.html

    report says:

    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 advisor to, and board member of, for-profit energy companies (Booker and North, 2009; 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.

    [That is a bit rubbish of them, but it does illustrate the prevailing atmosphere -W]

  8. #8 Bart Verheggen
    2010/09/04

    Paul Kelly,

    The rationale of the IPCC as I see it is to provide governments and the public with an update of the latest science related to climate change.

    As science is not static, this will be useful as long as society deems it a problem that needs tackling and as long as isn’t yet tackled. Which would mean that there will be an AR15 in all likelihood.

    It’s a bit absolutist though, and as I wrote in a comment at my blog, lack of knowledge isn’t what’s holding us back in tackling this problem: It’s not the limiting factor. More science and more scientific assessments a la IPCC are therefore not going to change anything in the short run. In the long run however, they may prove important. After all, if it weren’s for the science, how would we know about the problem at all? Even if there’s a few decades delay between scientific knowledge and societal response, that doesn’t mean we could stop assessing the knowledge for a few decades, assuming it won’t have any effects in decades down the road.

    IPCC’s rational has never been to provide a rational for a specific policy response (as in that the assessment was made to fit a desired policy response).

  9. #9 Paul Kelly
    2010/09/04

    Bart,

    Neither the advancement of science nor governments’ awareness of it is dependent on the IPCC. I don’t know the situation in all other countries, but in the US, we have NASA (the world’s largest employer of climate scientists) NOAA, GISS, Cabinet Departments of Energy and Interior, the EPA, standing committees in both houses of Congress, and a White House science adviser. Surely someone there is capable of assessing the science.

  10. #10 JBL
    2010/09/04

    Post 9 (mirc indir) is another Turing test for you.

    [I passed that one before reading this, so it is no longer there -W]

  11. #11 Bart Verheggen
    2010/09/04

    Paul,

    True, but individual institutes don’t have the same standing as the IPCC, for good reason: The IPCC is International, draws on widespread experience from a large amount of working scientists, and is thoroughly reviewed. It’s a comparison between eg the KNMI or UNEP’s or Copenhagen Diagnosis’ compendium of climate science vs the IPCC.

  12. #12 guthrie
    2010/09/04

    PAul Kelly’s comment #3 makes me ask him – how many bureacrats are employed by the IPCC?

  13. #13 Paul Kelly
    2010/09/04

    guthrie,

    Three. One to hold the bulb and two to turn the ladder.

  14. #14 Eli Rabett
    2010/09/04

    Simply because one person cannot be everywhere and is much easier to attack

  15. #15 Michael Hauber
    2010/09/05

    What influences politics – what the man on the street will vote for.

    What influences the man on street’s opinion – what he believes.

    What would influence the man on the street’s opinion more – Wikipedia or the IPCC report? My vote is Wikipedia. As a distant second behind the mass media.

    And the mass media is going to be most influenced by what the man on the street already believes, and by what is entertaining. Scary climate disasters and scientific incompetence are both entertaining.

    Reform wikipedia and overthrow the mass media for Web 2.0 (anyone remember that old buzzword)

  16. #16 guthrie
    2010/09/06

    COngratulations PAul, that is not even the right question, ergo you are clearly not taking this seriously. SO you failed the test.

  17. #17 Paul Kelly
    2010/09/06

    Guthrie,

    Lighten up, buddy. If you really want to know how many bureaucrats work for the IPCC, go to the official site of the officially named Bureau of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and count them.

  18. #18 t_p_hamilton
    2010/09/07

    “Lighten up, buddy. If you really want to know how many bureaucrats work for the IPCC, go to the official site of the officially named Bureau of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and count them.”

    If you want to know how many are employed, you count payroll.

  19. #19 Chris S.
    2010/09/07

    If you go here: http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization_bureau.htm

    You get piccies and links to bios so you can find out where some (most?) of them are employed.

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