UN Review of Climate Science Panel Begins as Experts Flag Glacier Mistakes

A team of economists and scientists began a review of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after the Nobel-prize winning body was criticized for errors on melting Himalayan glaciers and flooding.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, which oversees climate science for the UN, told the 12 reviewers that his panel had made errors and that he would do his best to implement their recommendations. He was speaking at the opening session in Amsterdam of the probe by the InterAcademy Council.

“We need to develop an ability and capacity to communicate far more effectively to the outside world,” Pachauri said in the proceedings, which were carried in an audio webcast. “We will try and make this as fool-proof as is humanly possible.”

The panel, whose reports guide climate change policy and treaty talks for governments around the world, has come under fire from global warming skeptics for exaggerating data about the speed glaciers are melting in the Himalayas and overstating flood risks in the Netherlands.

The glacier and flooding errors were both flagged earlier this year, more than two years after the IPCC published an assessment report that said scientists are more than 90 percent certain that humans are causing global warming.

Pachauri said working groups that prepare the reports aren’t permanent bodies and are typically disbanded when their chairperson steps down, a flaw in the system. When criticisms arise, researchers who wrote relevant chapters must be tracked down and questioned, he said.

Gone Fishing

“If you want to respond to anything that goes back to the previous assessment, you have to go to the report authors and the team,” Pachauri said. “The relevant scientist could be out fishing.”

The last assessment carried out by the panel, published in 2007, examined more than 20,000 papers and reports on climate change. The next one, due in September 2014, will probably have to take into account 60,000 papers according to Pachauri.

“This is a gigantic task,” Pachauri said. “It’s going to take scholarship. It’s going to take application of the highest order.”

Pachauri also said his panel needs to continue to look at studies by non-governmental organizations as well as peer- reviewed scientific papers. The mistaken paragraph on glaciers in the most recent report was attributed to the environmental group WWF. The so-called “grey literature” includes studies by the International Energy Agency, the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, he said.

The InterAcademy Council review was announced on March 10 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The dozen reviewers are led by Harold Shapiro, an economist and professor emeritus of Princeton University. They come from Canada, Brazil, South Africa, the U.K., Japan, the U.S., China, India, the Netherlands, Mexico, Germany and Malaysia.

The panel is scheduled to submit its findings to the UN by the end of August.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net.

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