UN Climate Panel Should Change Management, Study Says

The UN climate-science agency that was criticized for errors in forecasting when glaciers in the Himalayas may melt should “fundamentally change its management structure,” a review of the Nobel Prize-winning body said.

The United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change should appoint an executive director and name an executive committee with members from outside the group and who aren’t part of the climate-science community, the Amsterdam- based InterAcademy Council said today on its website.

The review by economists and scientists at the council was called for in March by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after errors on glacier melt rates and flooding were flagged in 2010 by readers, more than two years after the IPCC published an assessment that said scientists were more than 90 percent certain that humans are causing global warming.

The recommendations “will help bolster confidence in the IPCC,” Jennifer Morgan, program director for climate and energy at the Washington-based World Resources Institute, said in a statement. “Around the world, we are witnessing the types of events consistent with climate models. The world must now focus on the serious business of finding practical solutions to the climate crisis.”

Climate-change skeptics including U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, have said errors by the IPCC show the Earth isn’t being warmed by human-caused carbon emissions.

‘Strong Leadership’

“Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership,” said Harold Shapiro, a Princeton University professor who headed the committee that wrote the recommendations. The IPCC needs “the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained.”

The error in forecasting the retreat of Himalayan glaciers involved an assertion that the ice formations may vanish by 2035 because of the Earth’s warming.

The IPCC relied on data from a report by WWF, an environmental lobby group, that was based on an interview with a scientist who then disputed the published forecast.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Geneva-based IPCC, on Jan. 22 explained the mistake by saying that “established processes” weren’t “diligently followed” by the group.

The IPCC’s response to the error was “slow and inadequate,” according to today’s report. The group should implement a communications strategy that emphasizes transparency and includes a plan to quickly respond to crises, the report found.

Term Limits

The report also recommends that the IPCC chairman’s term be limited to one assessment report “to maintain a variety of perspectives and fresh approach to each assessment.”

“The panel’s recommendation that the IPCC appoint a new executive director for each assessment is not unreasonable,” James McCarthy, board chair of the Cambridge, Massachusetts- based Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “A new executive director would provide a fresh set of eyes to oversee the day-to-day operations.”

The IPCC, the main scientific adviser to many governments on climate change, was formed in 1989 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to be a clearing house for research on global warming.

Last month, U.K. scientists at the center of an international debate over the quality of climate-change research were cleared of wrongdoing by investigators, except for failing to disclose information to the public.

‘Climategate’ Probes

The most recent of three “climategate” probes into the theft and leaking of e-mails at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit found that while the honesty and rigor of scientists weren’t in doubt, they may have deleted e-mails to avoid having to make them publicly available. Data from that U.K. university were used in the last IPCC Assessment Report.

“Despite the muckraking and crude attempts to undermine the findings of the IPCC, the scientific consensus is clear: Climate change represents a serious threat to the future of the environment and humanity,” the environment group Greenpeace said today in an e-mailed statement.

The assessment reports by the IPCC form the scientific basis for global climate change negotiations that seek to limit carbon emissions and slow global warming. The next talks are scheduled for late November in Cancun, Mexico.

The InterAcademy Council, with representatives of 15 science academies from countries including the U.S., Japan and the U.K., provides scientific advice to national governments and international organizations.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jeremy van Loon in Berlin at jvanloon@bloomberg.net; Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net

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