25 Feb 2010: Opinion/Climate Science Under Fire

Major Change Is Needed
If the IPCC Hopes to Survive

Well before the recent controversies, the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was marred by an unwillingness to listen to dissenting points of view, an inadequate system for dealing with errors, conflicts of interest, and political advocacy. The latest allegations of inaccuracies should be an impetus for sweeping reform.

by roger a. pielke jr.

It has been a rough couple of months for the climate science community. Last November someone stole or released over 1,000 e-mails from the University of East Anglia. The e-mails revealed that some scientists were so


Robert T. Watson, the former IPCC chairman, says the organization he once headed needs to acknowledge its errors and improve its work, but notes that the evidence of climate change is irrefutable.
entrenched in battle with their scientific and political opponents that they lost their perspective, going so far as to suggest improperly influencing the scientific process of peer review and evading legal requirements to disclose their data upon request. Climate science took another hit soon thereafter when it became apparent that the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contained a number of embarrassing errors and an unacceptable amount of sloppy work, such as its erroneous prediction that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035, rather than in several centuries or more.

The IPCC’s handling of the allegations of errors have compounded its problems. Its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, responded to the first public questions about the Himalayan glacier error by dismissing the allegations as “voodoo science” and the work of climate skeptics. Later, when the sheer weight of the evidence forced the IPCC to correct the erroneous claim in public, it was further revealed that IPCC authors had been aware of the error but were unable to get it changed prior to the report’s publication and had remained strangely silent about it in the years since.

As if this was not bad enough, Pachauri has faced a range of criticism for directing more than a quarter of a million dollars in consulting and appearance fees over the past several years to the non-profit organization that he directs in India. These payments came from companies and investors with a direct stake in the outcome of climate policy negotiations, including Deutsche Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Pegasus investment fund. Pachauri has not helped the image of the IPCC by responding forcefully but unpersuasively, explaining that his many business connections — such as enhanced oil recovery and carbon trading operations — are in the common interest, rendering any sort of conflict of interest policies unnecessary.

Photo by Saeed Khan/Getty Images
Rajendra Pachauri, left, chairman of the IPCC, along with Orgunlade Davidson, center, and Bert Metz, the co-chairmen of the IPCC Working Group III, at a 2007 press conference in Bangkok.
With all of these troubles facing climate science and the IPCC, some have called for the organization to be reformed or terminated, or at least for its chairman to resign. I have been a strong critic of the IPCC, not least because of its improper treatment of work that I have contributed to on weather-related disasters and climate change. However, I think the IPCC is worth sustaining, but only if it addresses the institutional factors that have led to its recent troubles and a corresponding loss of public trust in the climate science community.

There are some advocates and climate scientists who ask that we ignore the recent failings of the IPCC, because admitting that there is a problem might give succor to skeptics opposed to action. I have a different view. Standing up for climate science means addressing problems, not ignoring them or politicizing them.

I have first-hand experience with the panel’s errors and wrongheaded behavior. In its 2007 report, the IPCC included a graph that showed a smoothed line representing increasing global temperatures since 1970 on top of a smoothed line showing the increasing costs of weather-related disasters. The implication of the graph is not difficult to discern — the increasing costs of catastrophes are related to rising temperatures.

Unfortunately, not only is this implication contrary to all peer-reviewed science on this subject, but the IPCC created this misleading graph from whole cloth, intentionally mis-cited it, and when questioned by an expert reviewer of a draft of the report, falsified information in its much-touted peer review process. When challenged in recent weeks, the IPCC quickly issued a press release calling the claims “baseless” but completely ignoring the substantive issues. In recent days, a leading German scientist went so far as to suggest that the IPCC’s actions on disasters and climate change were tantamount to “fraud.”

As with the glacier issue, IPCC stonewalling has proven not to be a sustainable response. In recent weeks, the IPCC author who created the disaster cost graph has explained that it was merely “informal” and that it
The IPCC desperately needs a mechanism for resolving allegations of error in its work.
should not have been included because of its potential to mislead. And mislead it has. Just last week Australia’s climate change minister, Penny Wong, fell prey to the IPCC’s misdirection when she invoked the IPCC press release to explain in error that “the science on the link between these catastrophes and climate change has not been credibly challenged.”

There is however no such link. The book chapter that included the data that served as the basis for the misleading IPCC graph reached a starkly different conclusion than that suggested by Minster Wong: “We find insufficient evidence to claim a statistical relationship between global temperature increase and normalized catastrophe losses.”

A peer reviewer of the IPCC questioned the unsupported allegations in the report, and asked what I, as someone whose work was being questioned, thought about the report’s claim. The IPCC responded to the reviewer that I had changed my mind about my own research conclusions, a bald lie. I have complained to the IPCC about these various issues, only to receive a polite but substance-free response followed by extended silence.

My frustrating experience with the IPCC suggests that it desperately needs a mechanism for resolving allegations of error in its work. Its current ad hoc manner of response encourages the panel to politick by press release rather than undertake a careful evaluation of claims. Imagine how different things might be if the IPCC recognized in a positive manner anyone who found a legitimate mistake in its report, with errata and corrigenda continuously updated. Such acceptance of fallibility would show that the panel is open to close scrutiny and values the accuracy of its reports above all else. This would be a welcome improvement to the defensive and sometimes arrogant attitude demonstrated in recent months.

The IPCC is also in desperate need of putting into place conflict-of-interest policies. It staggers belief to learn that the panel operates with absolutely no mechanism for handling actual or perceived conflicts of interest. Because the IPCC has no requirement for disclosure of potential conflicts, it is likely that the organization itself is unaware of what other potential conflicts may exist beyond those of its chairman, which were raised by several of his critics in the British media.

To protect institutional integrity, the establishment of such procedures is deemed essential in virtually all expert advisory bodies. For instance, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) explains that “no individual can be appointed to serve (or continue to serve) on a committee of the
The IPCC has fallen well short of performing as a credible, trusted, and legitimate advisory body.
institution used in the development of reports if the individual has a conflict of interest that is relevant to the functions to be performed.” The NAS makes clear that issues of conflict of interest are not about the morality of individuals or the worth of causes that they serve, but are about maintaining trust and legitimacy in the integrity of advice. The parent bodies of the IPCC — the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization — do have conflict of interest policies, but remarkably they do not apply to the IPCC.

The calls for Pachauri to resign miss the larger institutional context. Were he to resign and the institution simply continue as it has, in the absence of implementing rigorous and transparent conflict of interest policies, absolutely nothing would be gained. The IPCC needs to put into place conflict of interest guidelines and then let the chips fall where they may. To suggest that climate science should be free of such guidelines sends a message of hubris that can only serve to undermine trust in its work. If institutional mechanisms to manage conflicts of interest make sense for doctors, journalists, lawyers, and scientific advisors outside the field of climate, then they surely make sense for the IPCC as it informs high-stakes decisions around the world on climate policy.

The IPCC also needs improved mechanisms of accountability to its own admirable objectives. For instance, while the IPCC has a mandate to be “policy neutral,” its reports and its leadership frequently engage in implicit and explicit policy advocacy. For instance, IPCC leaders often take public
Efforts to minimize the IPCC’s troubles are likely to further erode public opinion of climate science.
stands in support of, or opposition to, certain policies on climate change, such as when its chairman weighs in on U.S. domestic legislation. The IPCC reports, particularly Working Group III, reflect a particular policy orientation, which is decidedly not “policy neutral.” To cite one example, the IPCC has concluded that the world has all the technology that it needs to achieve low stabilization levels. However, this conclusion ignores a significant body of academic work (such as by New York University professor emeritus Martin Hoffert and colleagues) suggesting that the world does not in fact have all the technology that it needs.

The IPCC also emphasized emissions trading over other policy options, largely endorsing the approach of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. With the Climate Convention in tatters after the Copenhagen meeting last December, we are now experiencing the consequences of the IPCC’s policy myopia and deviation from neutrality, as there are essentially no alternative approaches to climate policy suggested by the IPCC report. It had placed all of its eggs in one basket.

The IPCC is an important institution, but it has fallen well short of performing as a credible, trusted, and legitimate advisory body. Rebuilding what it has lost will take considerable effort and a marked change of course. Some defenders of the IPCC explain that the problems found in the report are only a few of many conclusions, or not particularly important as compared to the headline conclusions. Such efforts to minimize the IPCC’s troubles are likely to backfire and further erode public opinion of climate science, which recent polls suggest has taken a serious hit.

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Similarly, efforts of some to demonize those who criticize the IPCC as “skeptics” or opponents to action on climate change only serve to intensify the politicization of climate science. Dealing with climate change is indeed important, but so, too, are issues associated with the integrity of scientific advisory bodies. We should be fully capable of addressing the challenge of climate change while at the same time focusing on sustaining the integrity of climate science.

Standing up for climate science means openly supporting reform of the IPCC while underscoring its institutional importance. The climate science community has failed to meet its own high standards. If the IPCC continues to pretend that things will soon get back to normal or that it need only castigate its critics as deniers and skeptics, it will find that its credibility will continue to sink to new lows. It is time to reform the IPCC.

Click here to read a contrasting view from former IPCC Chairman Robert T. Watson.

POSTED ON 25 Feb 2010 IN Climate Energy Policy & Politics Policy & Politics Science & Technology North America 


I have never seen anyone quote Pielke in a meaningful way - it is always the "global
warming isn't happening"/"global warming isn't our fault"/"global warming will actually be great for everyone" crowd that uses his statements and every time Pielke writes another line they get more fodder.

One error in a 1,000-page report does not change any of the following basic facts:

* CO2 is a greenhouse gas
* More CO2 in the atmosphere will heat the
* We are emitting lots of CO2
* CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere
* The planet is getting hotter

By feeding the denial-machine Pielke does the world a great disservice.

Posted by DT on 25 Feb 2010

"The e-mails revealed that some scientists were so entrenched in battle with their scientific and political opponents that they lost their perspective, going so far as to suggest improperly influencing the scientific process of peer review and evading legal requirements to disclose their data upon request."

This is a sweeping and grossly unfair judgment on the scientists concerned. It appears to have become common currency in some journalistic circles, as has the notion that the IPPCC report "contained a number of embarrassing errors and an unacceptable amount of sloppy work". (It contained one acknowledged and regretted error - so far the rest alleged by journalists and others have been without substance.)

If Roger Pielke has a genuine complaint about the IPCC procedures he would do better to disentangle it from the careless media recycling that his opening statements represent. It's somewhat ironic that he urges the need for IPCC reform while himself resting on the loose assertions of some very doubtful journalism.

Posted by Bryan Walker on 25 Feb 2010

The IPCC reports are going to be slowly dissected and the excessive claims attributed to global warming will look foolish. They are already undermining their credibility.

The whole episode reflects exactly how the science was corrupted to produce a consensus opinion for the policy makers. Somewhere in this sad story which will tarnish the publics perception of science.

There is a small group of scientists who actively produced and published (while suppressing other voices) research a la carte to promote the politics and they are not all in CRU.

Posted by PKthinks on 25 Feb 2010

I don't find Pielke Jr.'s opinion piece very convincing. His stance to begin with is increasing
temperatures, (if they are increasing in his view?) do not increase the frequency and intensity natural disasters, and this is verified by recent cost estimates. It's the same old Katrina argument he loves to keep having. That was cheap eh? Social science has different levels of proof than the physical sciences. This is a different perspective on predictions and their implications. However he frequently goes beyond his level of expertise to refute climate science and aligns with sceptic cranks. He defends them here. Not good sign of objective thought.

One could look at the previous warming world and find the finances were different but the disastrous results confirm sizable mitigation expenditures should a population of current size have been around at the time. It doesn't take Ph.D in anything to know that. We need to rid ourselves of up-is-downism and its purveyors, whoever they may be. Two minor mistakes by IPCC compilers isn't the disaster proponents make out. Not even close.

Posted by Mark York on 26 Feb 2010

I'm sorry to see Yale Environment 360 giving a platform to a consumate prevaricator like Professor Pielke Jr.

As for setting Pielke up as a counter to the very eminent Professor Watson, with his unique track record in constructive contribution to the application of science within international politics, this smacks of the historic denialist ploy known as "Teach the Controversy."

Which is not to accuse the editor of selling out by pitting these two against each other, but IMHO of evidently poor judgment in allowing a false impression of equivalence between them to be displayed on this prestigious blog.

As for the presumptuous title "Can damage to the IPPC be repaired ?" the editor has cast doubt on the IPCC's very survival - which is irresponsible to the point of directly serving up a tailor-made quote for the denialists' goal of destabilizing that body.

In short, I think that readers of this blog are due an explanation of the perverse indulgence of denialism in arranging this particular debate, or, alternatively, an account of just why editorial policy has actually shifted away from a principled stand on behalf of preventing climate destabilization.

Posted by Lewis Cleverdon on 27 Feb 2010

It seems to me that those who promote the AGW agenda do not like to meet someone of Prof. Pielke Jr.'s standing doing anything other than minimizing the whole scandal, which is unraveling the IPCC's structure and role as an advisory body, not an advocacy agent.

The fact is that the IPCC's credibility is undermined in its attempt to minimise all this by putting it down to "two minor mistakes by IPCC compilers".

It will take much more than a "quickie review, and then on to the next Report" approach to rebuild its credibility with the rest of the world. Right now the Emperor Has No Clothes.

Finnish Professor Atte Korhola said:

“When later generations learn about climate science, they will classify the beginning of 21st century as an embarrassing chapter in history of science. They will wonder our time, and use it as a warning of how the core values and criteria of science were allowed little by little to be forgotten as the actual research topic — climate change — turned into a political and social playground.”

Posted by David Home on 28 Feb 2010

Pielke has a weak "argument," that follows the "take my word for it" school.

It's below the dignity of this publication. Or should be.

Let's have intelligent and mature debates that rely on intelligent and mature analyses, where
the facts are presented clearly and then opined upon. This was just a lame diatribe.

Very disappointed to see it here. There are enough dumb blogs around; that's where this
type of stuff deserves to be relegated.

Posted by Carl Safina on 28 Feb 2010

IF as IPCC says, more GHGs means more warming (AR4, Ch1, WG1 p116) then when the humidity, or GHG Water Vapor, triples from say 33% to 100% when it rains, why doesn't the 32C GHE induced temperature also triple?

Could it be that there is a major flaw in the IPCC etc application of the GHE? Could it be that there is no AGW due to adding excess CO2, just like there is no warming when it rains?
Could it be that when the world is at a temperature equilibrium that ALL the energy coming in is ALREADY being carried out (with 11% by the GHE), AND adding more GHGs just adds more excess unused GHGs?

Could it be that all the available energy photons are already being carried out to space and none are available for the excess GHGs to cause more of a Greenhouse Warming Effect? For an explanation see http://www.scribd.com/doc/27343303/Gravity-Causes-Climate-Change.

Posted by John Dodds on 01 Mar 2010

It is amazing how alarmists react to the simple truth being told to them. I wonder if God himself came and said man-made global warming was huey, if these alarmist people would still swear by the false warming gods.

Posted by Frank Griffin on 01 Mar 2010

John Dodds,
if god himself came then I would ask him how all this climate data exists from thousands to millions of years ago when the year was supposedly created 6000 years ago? I would ask him why he allows people to continually murder and maim each other in the name of religion, I would ask him how self-righteous individuals can preach the word of the "lord" and then support free-market capitalism which does not seek to help those less fortunate. Lets not bring god into this please.

Posted by Robert on 03 Mar 2010

Pay no attention to the two icebergs floating in the Southern Ocean that are almost the size of Rhode Island, each. Pay no attention to the melting permafrost (under the oil pipeline) and carbon releases. Pay no attention to the melting undersea clathrates of methane. Pay no attention to the vanishing mountain glaciers of drinking and irrigation waters. Pay no attention to storms and floods, your insurance is cancelled.

Pay no attention to the professor. The science is sound and "only" 99% error free.

Thank you IPCC, although I believe you have underestimated impacts. Therefore, we should transition to clean economics much faster.

Posted by James Newberry on 04 Mar 2010

Bjorn Lomborg's 2009 study indicates that compliance with of the proposed 50 percent reduction in CO2 carries a total cost of $17.8 Trillion. It would also require major lifestyle changes by most of the earth's population.

Prudent people would approach an undertaking of that magnitude by starting with a pristine, fully transparent, scientifically rigorous proof of hypothesis. That proposal would be communicated to the people by a respected, world class scientist. The remotest appearance of conflict of interest would be avoided.

The last person in the world you'd select to present your case would be a rejected, worn out opportunist like Al Gore. The last thing you'd permit in the science is have a small group of specialists black box the technology, frustrate all questioners, and openly politicize the entire subject.

At this juncture, the only credible thing that real scientists can do is to start over, review what is left of Hanson's, Briffa's, and Mann's original raw data, rigorously homogenize the historical global temperature series, and tell us whether the MWP and LIA really did disappear. Empirical evidence linking CO2 concentrations and temperature would be nice to have, especially over the past 15 years.

While they do this it would be a refreshing change to have the entire process conducted openly, so that even dummies like me can have ready access to the data, alogrithms and proceedings. An accurate projection of the total cost would usually accompany such a proposal, not a sales pitch that it's all "free."

Then I'll vote for an $18T remediation program. And I'll revisit my scouting survival manual...well, maybe not, since most of that taught how to start fires using fossil fuels.

Posted by Populus on 07 Mar 2010

Comments have been closed on this feature.
roger a. pielke jr.ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roger A. Pielke Jr. is a professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). From 2001 to 2007, he served as director of CIRES’ Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. He is also a senior fellow of the Breakthrough Institute, a Oakland, Calif.-based think tank, and author of The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics. In an earlier article for Yale Environment 360, he wrote that setting carbon emissions targets is an unrealistic policy.



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MORE IN Opinion/Climate Science Under Fire

The IPCC Needs to Change,
But the Science Remains Sound

by robert t. watson
The former chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the organization he once headed needs to improve its work and openly acknowledge its mistakes. But, he writes, a handful of errors does not mean that human-induced climate change is an illusion or that CO2 emissions do not need to be cut.

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