Himalayan blunder: UN probe seeks reforms in IPCC structure

Last Updated: Monday, August 30, 2010 - 22:46

United Nations: A UN-ordered probe into the working of the RK Pachauri-led IPCC has suggested that the body initiate a comprehensive reform of its structure to prevent errors in its analysis like the ones in its 2007 reports on the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

The report by the InterAcademy Council (IAC) found
that the erroneous conclusions drawn by the UN climate panel
were a result of the failure of its review process to examine
existing scientific literature and take into account review
comments by experts.

The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) came under heavy criticism after it was found that its
report spelling out that the Himalayan glaciers were likely to
disappear by 2035 was an exaggerated claim.

The probe into the working of the IPCC was requested
by the UN and the panel itself, following the criticisms over
its reports on the impact of global warming on the Himalayan

"Failure of the authors to carefully consider
thoughtful review comments.... which would have improved the
quality of the report," the IAC said was a prime reason for
the errors in the IPCC report.

Additionally, the failure of review editors to ensure
that "reviewer comments were adequately addressed and that
controversies are reflected adequately in the text of the
report" was another critical lacunae, it said.

This also led to "insufficient evaluation of
non-peer-reviewed literature by the Lead Authors," the report
released today said.

The report suggested a fundamental reform in the
climate panel`s structure, including appointing of an
executive director to be at the helm of its affairs.

It said the current position of the IPCC secretary
does not carry a level of autonomy or responsibility
equivalent to that of executive directors at other

Therefore, IPCC also should appoint an executive
director - "with the status of a senior scientist equal to
that of the Working Group co-chairs - to lead the Secretariat,
handle day-to-day operations, and speak on behalf of the
organisation," it said in its recommendations to fortify
IPCC`s management structure.

It also said that the body`s chairman should be
changed with every review.

Pachauri said the recommendations, including that
chairman should be changed with every review, will be debated
by its member nations which will subsequently take a decision
on whether he should step down in line with this arrangement.

"This will be debated by all the governments of the
world and they will decide what is to be implemented and when
it is implemented," Pachauri told media persons.

The recommendations also included the suggestion of
establishing an executive committee to act on the Panel`s
behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability
is maintained.

"To enhance its credibility and independence, the
executive committee should include individuals from outside
the IPCC or even outside the climate science community," it

It also said a rigorous conflict-of-interest policy
should be applied to senior IPCC leadership and all authors,
review editors, and staff responsible for report content.

The InterAcademy, founded in 2002, assembles leading
scientists and engineers from all nations to provide
peer-reviewed advice to international bodies.

The InterAcademy has, previously, produced two reports
for the UN.

The investigation into the working methods of the IPCC
was set up in March following the discovery of exaggerated
claims in the fourth report of the scientific body.

The findings on the Himalayas was one of the most
cited with respect to errors.

"Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in
any other part of the world and if the present rate continues,
the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and
perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the
current rate.

"Its total area will likely shrink from the present
500,000 to 100,000 (km sq) by the year 2035," the IPCC 2007
report had said.

IAC found that the six experts that reviewed the first
draft of this section did not make any critical comments, and
despite a couple of comments questioning sections of the
second draft, it was not changed.

One critical reviewer, David Saltz from the Ben Gurion
University, wrote then, "100,000? You just said that it will

Another sceptical reviewer, Hayley Fowler from
Newcastle University wrote, "I am not sure this is true for
the very large Karakoram glaciers in the Western Himalayas".

Hewitt (2005) suggested from measurements that these
are expanding -- and this would certainly be explained by
climatic changes in precipitation and temperature trends seen
in Karakoram region.

The IAC noted that "had the authors and/or review
editors consulted the references, they would have found two
peer-reviewed articles, which at the very least, were more
cautious about the disappearance of the Himalayan Glaciers".

Acknowledging that while reform of the IPCC was
essential, Pachauri, stressed that there were no doubts about
fundamental truths of the climate science.

"Climate Change is real," he said, speaking after the
release of the IAC probe-report at the UN headquarters.

"This is not to say that IPCC cannot improve. It can
and it will".

Noting that the IPCC had not yet reviewed the IAC
report, Pachauri did not offer specific comments on its

The IPCC chief, however, cited several sources that
underlined the authenticity of the IPCC`s work, including the
Dutch Environmental Assessment Agency.

"Overall the summary conclusions are considered
well-founded and none were found to contain any significant

The US Environmental Protection Agency concluded that,
"climate science is credible, compelling and growing
stronger," Pachauri said.

The Indian scientist also said that some of the
criticism against the IPCC had been driven by climate sceptics
for ideological reasons.

"We also have to remember that honest scientific
discourse wilts under gross distortions and ideologically
driven posturing. Sadly, such tactics have been a prominent
feature of climate science for many years and they show no
signs of letting up," he said.


First Published: Monday, August 30, 2010 - 22:46

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