TCS Daily

A Dishonest Broker?

By Iain Murray - January 31, 2005 12:00 AM

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is supposed to act as the world's honest broker on global warming issues, is now hopelessly compromised. One prominent scientist resigned in protest at one of its lead authors associating himself with scientifically unsupported assertions. One of the world's most prominent economists judiciously terms the panel's handling of economic data as "at fault" and questions how representative of current economic thought the panel is. Most recently, IPCC Chairman Dr. Rajendra Pachauri publicly endorsed a particular policy agenda that contradicts the IPCC's role as "policy relevant but not policy prescriptive." Dr. Pachauri shows no sign of even considering this institutional conflict of interest. The IPCC clearly needs a new leader who is willing to tackle these problems, or what credibility it retains will disappear into the ether.

The resignation of Chris Landsea, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the world's top hurricane experts, rocked the IPCC in January. Dr. Landsea's hand was forced by two factors: actions by Dr. Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research -- who is the lead author of the IPCC's research climate change observations -- and Dr. Pachauri's reaction to Dr. Landsea's complaints about those actions. At a news conference last October, Dr. Trenberth said that global warming had made last year's hurricane season worse. This view is contrary to the scientific consensus, represented by Dr. Landsea, that, "all previous and current research in the area of hurricane variability has shown no reliable, long-term trend up in the frequency or intensity of tropical cyclones, either in the Atlantic or any other basin." As Dr. Landsea noted, "none of the participants in that press conference had performed any research on hurricane variability, nor were they reporting on any new work in the field."

Dr. Landsea was concerned that a prominent IPCC figure, introduced at the conference as such, should be promoting a view directly contradicted by IPCC research. But the IPCC leadership dismissed his complaints out of hand, claiming variously that Dr. Trenberth had been misquoted -- which Dr. Landsea's investigations showed was not the case -- or that he was accurately reflecting IPCC science -- which he clearly was not. To Dr. Landsea, this suggested that the IPCC process had become "both...motivated by pre-conceived agendas and...scientifically unsound" and led directly to his resignation. The whole of Dr. Landsea's open letter to the climatology community can be read here.

Meanwhile, in Britain, Professor David Henderson, formerly Chief Economist at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, testified before the House of Lords on the inadequacies of the IPCC's models. He and Ian Castles, former Head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, analyzed the IPCC process and found a fundamental error in its economic projections, which are vital to projections of future temperature increases due to human activity. He pointed out two severe deficiencies.

First, the IPCC and its former Chairman, Sir John Houghton, had claimed that their economic analysis had been meticulously reviewed and cleared "the highest possible hurdles." Professor Henderson commented,

        "But sections of the Report which deal with topics in my own area of interest 
        make what many economists and economic statisticians would regard as 
        basic errors; and in doing so, they have shown a lack of awareness 
        of relevant and well known published sources. I would add that the same 
        is true of documents issued through the IPCC process more recently, 
        and also of material published not long ago by one of the IPCC's two parent 
        agencies, the United Nations Environmental Programme. I believe that in its 
        treatment of economic issues the IPCC process, including the 
        intergovernmental reviews that Sir John Houghton referred to, is neither 
        professionally watertight nor professionally representative."

Secondly, he argued that the IPCC has become a self-contained process, to which its member governments give undue weight. As he put it,

        "As to the economic aspects of its work, I hold that the IPCC should 
        not be viewed as a professionally representative and authoritative source; 
        and I have come to feel similar doubts and concerns about aspects 
        other than the economic one. In particular, I share the concern voiced not 
        long ago by a leading Australian climate scientist, Dr John Zillman, who was 
        for many years a member of the IPCC Bureau. Zillman has expressed 
        the view that the Panel has now become 'cast more in the model of 
        supporting than informing policy development.'"

Dr. Pachauri, by publicly associating himself with one particular set of policy options, validates Professor Henderson's latter concern. Most recently, he served as scientific adviser to a study by avowedly leftist advocacy groups that puts forth assertions that the IPCC's science does not support, such as the idea that a temperature rise of 2°C constitutes "dangerous anthropogenic interference" with the climate. Indeed, Dr. Pachauri has a history of endorsing advocacy. He provided a foreword to an alarmist report from the United Kingdom's New Economics Foundation and told Reuters that he hoped the next IPCC report, due in 2007, would "produce a much stronger message" for the world. While there is, of course, nothing wrong with policy advocacy per se, Dr. Pachauri's actions are clearly incompatible with his role as chairman of an allegedly policy neutral body.

These recent events demonstrate that the IPCC has, at the very least, severe institutional problems. The organization's culture appears to have deviated substantially from its mission, which is to act as honest broker over the vast gamut of evidence relating to climate and human and natural effects upon it. When its leader publicly associates himself with one particular viewpoint, he has clearly abandoned any pretense of neutrality.

The IPCC is on the verge of losing that substantial credibility it yet possesses. If anything useful is to be salvaged from the IPCC process, Dr. Pachauri has to go and the organization needs to reinvent itself free from the biases and self-affirmation exercises that currently plague it. If Dr. Pachauri really wants to be the honest broker, he should do the honest thing and resign.



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