Then I didn’t see it … now I do

A funny thing happened on the way to this blogpost …

I had intended to discuss the rather conspicuous absence of any mention in the May 13 Press Release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of whether or not the IPCC had accepted the “draft” recommendation of the Task Group on Procedures to the effect that the IPCC should “disappear” one of their (at least then) current “rules”.

This particular “rule” pertained to the “flagging” of any non-peer-reviewed literature cited in the IPCC’s Assessment Reports (p. 14 of Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work):

ANNEX 2
PROCEDURE FOR USING NON-PUBLISHED/NON-PEER-REVIEWED SOURCES IN IPCC REPORTS

[...]

5. Treatment in IPCC Reports

Non-peer-reviewed sources will be listed in the reference sections of IPCC Reports. These will be integrated with references for the peer-reviewed sources. These will be integrated with references to the peer reviewed sources stating how the material can be accessed, but will be followed by a statement that they are not published. [emphasis added -hro]

The May 13 Press Release section on “Procedures” reads (pp. 4-5):

Scientific Uncertainties, Correction of Errors and ‘Grey’ Literature

The IAC recommended that the IPCC strengthen procedures on how all literature is reviewed and considered; [...]

The 33rd Session adopted decisions relating to these including:-

[...]

• Lead authors will consider the range of scientific, technical and socio-economic views and documents, even if there is no consensus on view on the findings, as long as they are scientifically and technically valid

• However, magazines and newspapers are in principle not valid sources and that blogs, social networking sites and broadcast media are not acceptable sources of information for IPCC reports [emphasis added -hro]

The Press Release is “silent” regarding the appropriate flagging of ‘Grey’ Literature, so I’ve now written to the two media contacts: “Nick NUTTALL, Spokesperson United Nations Environment Programme on secondment to
the IPCC 33rd Plenary Session” and “Rockaya AIDARA, Press Officer IPCC Secretariat” seeking clarification on this. Considering the IPCC’s new-found dedication to “transparency” and “rapid response” vis a vis “communications”, it will be interesting to see if/when I receive a reply. I’ll keep you posted :-)

And now back to the funny thing that happened on the way to this blogpost … As I was perusing this May 13 Press Release, I noticed the following paragraph (immediately prior to the “Notes to Editors”, p. 2):

Earlier in the week, the Panel also approved a Summary for Policymakers on a Special Report on Renewable Energy and Climate Mitigation which assesses that, with the right enabling public policies, renewables could take a significant slice of the global, total energy supply by 2050. [emphasis added -hro]

In a post on May 9, I had written:

Well, the “full” [1,000 page] version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Working Group III’s “Special Report” urging the expenditure of trillions, won’t be available until May 31. And the IPCC 33rd Session isn’t due to start until tomorrow, May 10 – at least according to their Provisional Agenda. Strangely, unless the “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation (SRREN)” has a secret code name, this “Special Report” does not appear on this Agenda, nor on the “Annotated Provisional Agenda” … ooops …make that the “Provisional Annotated Agenda“.

I also took a look at the “Provisional Agenda” for the 11th Session of Working Group III – submitted by the IPCC Secretariat. (Sorry, no “Annotated” version available for this May 5-8 Session.) And there’s no indication I could detect of any item which would suggest “approval by the IPCC”.

But, one way or another, the busy beavers of WG III have somehow succeeded in gaining the IPCC’s approval of the Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) of this report. [...] [emphases now added -hro]

In light of the presence of the above paragraph in the May 13 Press Release – and notwithstanding the May 9 Press Release claim that the SPM for the SRREN had been “approved by by member countries of the IPCC” prior to the commencement of its May 10-13 33rd session – I concluded that sometime between May 9 and May 10, the “Provisional” Agendas of Working Group III and the IPCC – both of which bore a date of Feb. 23 – must have been replaced by more currently dated “final” Agendas.

Yet this was not what I found when following the links today. I could have been mistaken when I failed to see any mention of the Approval of the SPM in either the “Provisional Agenda” or the “Provisional Annotated Agenda” for the IPCC, had it been included in either or both of these; but, I really can’t imagine how I could have missed:

4. ACCEPTANCE OF THE ACTIONS TAKEN AT THE 11th SESSION OF WORKING GROUP III ON THE SPECIAL REPORT ON RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES AND CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION (SRREN)

which now appears in the “Provisional Agenda” – and which just happens to coincide with the exact wording of the May 9 IPCC-XXXIII/Doc. 20 and with the exact wording of the “Provisional Annotated Agenda” (bearing a date of April 29) along with the following “annotation”:

Under this agenda item, the Panel will formally accept** the Summary for Policymakers of the SRREN. Section 4.3 of the IPCC procedures stipulates that “for a Summary for Policymakers approved by a Working Group to be endorsed as an IPCC Report, it must be accepted at a Session of the Panel. Because the Working Group approval process is open to all governments, Working Group approval of a Summary for Policymakers means that the Panel cannot change it. However, it is necessary for the Panel to review the Report at a Session, note any substantial disagreements, (in accordance with Principle 10 of the Principles Governing IPCC Work) and formally accept it.” [emphases added -hro]

** The IPCC’s “Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work” indicates that there is a difference between “acceptance”, “adoption” and “approval” (p. 2):

PROCEDURES FOR THE PREPARATION, REVIEW, ACCEPTANCE, ADOPTION, APPROVAL AND PUBLICATION OF IPCC REPORTS
[...]
2. DEFINITIONS

The definitions of terms used in this document are as follows:

acceptance” of IPCC Reports at a Session of the Working Group or Panel signifies that the material has not been subject to line by line discussion and agreement, but nevertheless presents a comprehensive, objective and balanced view of the subject matter.

adoption” of IPCC Reports is a process of endorsement section by section (and not line by line) used for the longer report of the Synthesis Report as described in section 4.3 and for Overview Chapters of Methodology Reports.

approval” of IPCC Summaries for Policymakers signifies that the material has been subjected to detailed, line by line discussion and agreement.

Does this explain the mystery of how the IPCC could have “approved” the SRREN Summary for Policymakers before it had actually had a chance to review it? Not in my books! I also wonder if we’ll ever learn how many of the governments were actually present at the Working Group III meeting during which this particular SPM was “approved”. But I digress …

As I noted, it is within the realm of possibility that I was mistaken in not seeing any or all of the above in either the vanilla or annotated version of the “Provisional Agenda”. But I definitely do know how to count – particularly when there are very few numbered items on a page. When I viewed the “Provisional Agenda” for Working Group III’s May 5-8 meeting there were only four items. When I viewed the same document today, I saw that it still bears a date of Feb. 23 … but it contains (wait for it) seven items, including one rather oddly worded item 4:

CONSIDERATION OF THE APPROVAL OF THE SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS IN THE SPECIAL REPORT

followed by the equally oddly worded item 5:

CONSIDERATION OF THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE UNDERLYING SCIENTIFIC/TECHNICAL ASSESSMENT IN THE SPECIAL REPORT

Thanks to my WordPress stats, I also know that at least one reader on the 11th followed the link from my May 9 post to the IPCC’s “Provisional Agenda”. And at least one reader followed the link from the same post to WG III’s “Provisional Agenda” on May 12. Oddly enough, in neither instance did anyone find cause to let me know that the statements I had made in my post regarding the content of these agendas were incorrect.

In any event, contra the interactive diagram (see my previous post for screen capture of May 9 … just in case the original changes by the time you read this) of the “process” by which an IPCC report is developed, there is certainly no indication that any “Final IPCC Plenary” has accepted the “Rest of [the] Report” – or that any “Final IPCC Plenary” has “Approve[d] SPM Line-by-Line” prior to publication (which is expected on May 31).

I do hope that this is not an example of the IPCC’s new, improved commitment to “transparency” in action. But then again, the IPCC is a “child” of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) which was recently found to have “disappeared” a map on “climate refugees”. So, who knows, eh?!

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