IPCC: An Organization in Crisis

DQI Bureau
New Update

    By the year 2035, 80% of the Himalayan glacier area
would melt and disappear from the face of the earth.

    Netherlands is highly susceptible to both href="">
sea-level rise and river flooding as 55% of its territory is below

sea level.

    By 2020, in some African countries, crop yields
from rain-fed agriculture could reduce by upto 50%

    Upto 40% of the Amazonian forests could die due to
even a slight reduction in precipitation or early advent of drought

These are fairly serious doomsday prophecies. And they are not the
figments of imagination of a sci-fi novel or the scriptwriter of those

typical Hollywood disaster flicks. Instead when they are coming from a

responsible global agency like the United Nations' href="">Intergovernmental

Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), not too many would have doubted

their authenticity. Therefore, when these claims in IPCC's Fourth

Assessment Report are found to be false, the severe flak the august

body is taking seems to be justified.

That however does not justify the personal diatribes raging against the
IPCC chief href="">Rajendra

Pachauri. Especially from the media, and particularly the respected

British newspaper Guardian. Somehow it looks like a witchhunt out there

with the motive to displace Pachauri. True, in case of loss of

credibility for IPCC, Pachauri as the head should not escape censure.

But that does not imply reams being written about his Golf Links home

in Delhi or his supposed 'haughtiness'. Perhaps, it's the media

excesses following IPCC's Nobel win (Indian media projected it almost

as Pachauri winning the Nobel) that's coming home to roost now.

Instead of focusing on Pachauri's lifestyle, the whistleblowers need to
analyze in detail the IPCC mistakes. The forecast of glaciers melting

was indeed a 'Himalayan blunder': it seems 2035 was a 'typo' for 2350.

And even the 2350 timeline was only 'lifted' from a media report

published almost a decade back. That's not just irresponsible, but

callous too. However, the Dutch blunder was ironically owing to wrong

information from the Dutch government only. The Netherlands

Environmental Assessment Agency, which later published a correction

stating that the sentence should have read 55% of the Netherlands is

at risk of flooding; 26%of the country is below sea level, and 29% is

susceptible to river flooding. While in this case, the Dutch

government was equally gullible, it still doesn't absolve IPCC of

accepting any data at face value even from a government agency.

Even the statements that 40% of Amazon forests could die due to drought
or attributing the rise in disaster costs to href="">climate

change are fraught with inaccuracies and are really poorly

warranted claims. The 'Amazongate' information was apparently not an

IPCC or any peer journal study, but taken from some old WWF report,

whose scientific veracity is not 100% established. The bone of

contention with the trends in disaster losses seems to be another

debatable graph provided in the report. While IPCC votaries may quibble

that all information might not be glaringly wrong like the Himalayan

glaciers, the fact of the matter is the 'less than 100% reliable'

provenance of most of these data has now cast a doubt over whatever

IPCC says.

Now suddenly there are skeptics who have started minutely scrutinizing
whatever IPCC says; the Himalayan blunder or Amazongate or Africagate

has assumed much sinister significance now. While Pachauri's apparent

defiance on the face of some of these allegations should have been

dismissed merely as churlish, some critics seem to hang on them to run

more a personal vilification campaign. Instead, it should be more

relevant now to put the IPCC's peer-review process under the scanner.

The review process definitely needs an overhaul now. Until now, anyone
has been allowed to review any part of the IPCC drafts they liked, but

there was no coordination in the sense that say, a glacier expert was

specifically assigned to double-check parts of the Working Group2

chapter on Asia. Such a practice would likely have caught the Himalayan

glacier mistake. Another problem has been that reports of all three

working groups had to be completed nearly at the same time, making it

hard for Working Group2 to properly base their discussions on the

conclusions and projections from Working Group1. This has already been

improved on for the next Assessment Report, for which the Working

Group2 report can be completed six months after the Working Group1


Maybe this needs a little elucidation on these working groups. The IPCC
is not a large organization. It has only 10 full-time staff in its

secretariat at the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, plus a

few staff in four technical support units that help the chairs of the

three IPCC working groups and the national greenhouse gas inventories

group. The actual work of the IPCC is done by unpaid volunteers

thousands of scientists at universities and research institutes around

the world who contribute as authors or reviewers to the completion of

the IPCC reports.

The three working groups are Working Group 1 (WG1), which deals with
the physical climate science basis, as assessed by the climatologists,

including several of the Realclimate authors.Working Group 2 (WG2)

deals with impacts of climate change on society and ecosystems, as

assessed by social scientists, ecologists, etc. Working Group 3 (WG3),

deals with mitigation options for limiting href="">

global warming, as assessed by energy experts and economists.

Assessment reports are published every six or seven years and writing

them takes about three years. Each working group publishes one of the

three volumes of each assessment. The focus of the recent allegations

is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.

However, amidst all these wrangling the public perception that seems to
be emerging is that all conclusions or warnings about human impacts on

the climate system are flawed and concerns about the risks of future

climate change are misplaced. The danger is definitely lurking around

the corneronly the magnitudes of some of the prognoses are overhyped.

We need a more balanced and judicious viewpointneither should we treat

'global warming' and other dangers as imaginary fiction, nor should we

overreact to the extent that the end of the world is in '2012'. And

that puts an extra onus on the IPCC that in its next assessment it must

be more scrupulous in adhering to its basic ground rules. It also

probably means that the rules must be revised, especially regarding the

use of non-peer-reviewed sources and the ways that reviewers' comments

are handled.

Apparently it's a classic Catch 22 situation as IPCC is a high-profile
single-focus organization whose existence depends on its own reports.

In other words it has a vested interest in promoting claims that would

guarantee its funding and justify its continued existence. This alone

should be reason enough to closely examine its procedures and claims

but the situation is made worse by the involvement of governments.

These governments not only fund the IPCC but apparently accept its

claims without question and allocate funding for href="">climate

research on the basis of those findings, then repeat the process

when the next IPCC Assessment Report draws on the findings of that

government-sponsored research to support its hypothesis. The need of

the hour is to scrutinize and assess the IPCC, not digress on putting

Pachauri under the scanner. You don't like the message, then try

improving it, but please don't shoot the messenger.