In defence of the IPCC, “journalist” ignores the real scandal

The U.K. Guardian is probably best known these days for being at the investigative forefront of the new-revelations-by-the-hour News of the World/Murdoch media frenzy. One tiny aspect of which I discussed about 10 days ago: the role of former deputy executive editor, and recently arrested, Neil Wallis – and his involvement (at the same time as he was on contract doing PR work for the London Metropolitan Police) as the “lead” PR person who came to the rescue of the University of East Anglia (UEA) whose Climate Research Unit (CRU) was mired in a bad press mess of their own making in the immediate aftermath of Climategate.

This newspaper is also quite well-known for its far-from-investigative advocacy efforts in support of any and all environmental causes – not the least of which was its sponsorship of last October’s PR disaster known as the 10:10 “No Pressure” video.

Damian Carrington, who appears to keep his credentials (or perhaps lack thereof – cf Guardian profile on David Adam) well-hidden from interested researchers, is the Guardian‘s “head of environment”. Carrington’s current crusade seems to be the rehabilitation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A not so well-hidden green-heart-on-sleeve blog entry of July 28, has the rather curious “ipcc-climate-change-science-pachauri” in the URL, yet (IPCC chair, Rajendra K.) Pachauri is not mentioned even once by name in his article. This blog entry is entitled: In defence of the IPCC: critics ignore the real scandal.

Carrington begins with a dramatic recitation of the IPCC’s laurels:

The world truly woke up to the threat of climate change on Friday 2 February 2007 when a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that humanity’s activities were – beyond all reasonable doubt – driving dangerous global warming. It remains the seminal moment, and the IPCC’s work was recognised with the award of the Nobel peace prize, shared with Al Gore.

How things change. Given much of the recent reporting of the IPCC’s work, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a tinpot group of green zealots, rather than the greatest feat of global scientific cooperation ever seen. Its reports are approved and endorsed by every nation on the planet, making it utterly unique and authoritative. [emphasis added -hro]

Wow! That is just so impressive, not to mention scary … OMG, I’m driving dangerous global warming!

For his next act, Carrington dutifully recites the Pachauri party-line regarding the latest IPCC faux-pas:

The most recent “controversy” was over the IPCC’s special report on renewable energy. “Its launch was hijacked by Greenpeace, with the actual report buried until weeks later,” screamed critics. Here’s what they failed, for some reason, to tell you.

1. The summary for policy makers (SPM) was released before the full report for the very same reason that gives the IPCC its unique clout. The SPM is discussed and then approved by all 194 countries, which means some changes are made to the draft. Those changes need to then be woven back into the full report, 1000 pages in this case. That takes time, but the SPM is already widely available. Suppressing the SPM until the revisions to the full report are made is simply impossible. [emphasis added -hro]

“Suppressing the SPM”?! Good grief … they worked on the report for a few years, what difference would a few more weeks have made? But more importantly …

Here’s what Carrington failed, for some reason, to tell his readers:

Unless all 194 countries were accounted for and present (in the days prior to commencement of the actual meeting of the IPCC), so that they could participate in the final session of Working Group III at which the SPM was “discussed and approved”, they could not have all “approved” it. In fact, had Carrington done the slightest bit of fact-checking – as I did circa May 14 – he would have learned that the IPCC does not “approve” the SPM of any Working Group’s report, as was made clear in the annotated agenda:

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)

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.”

[reformatted and emphasis added -hro]

He then proceeds to excoriate Nature for an editorial in which the IPCC is criticized because he believes the only matter worth “screaming about” is the IPCC’s mere 12 person secretariat and inadequate budget. Perhaps Carrington is unaware of the additional paid (by hosting country/institution) resources available to each Working Group’s Technical Support Unit.

Funny, at the end of his piece Carrington has a note indicating that he had been corrected by some chap by the name of Richard Klein. Evidently in his initial post, Carrington had failed to use the:

IPPC’s exact terminology for the different author role, i.e. lead and coordinating lead. That’s now corrected

Too bad Klein didn’t know more about the IPCC process. Then he could also have pointed out the rather more serious errors in Carrington’s narrative. Klein could have mentioned the additional paid resources available via the Technical Support Units, and he could have directed Carrington to The IPCC’s “Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work” which 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.

Then again, perhaps Carrington is too blinded by the dazzling performance of Pachauri and the IPCC to even care about such details – or about investigating the potentially scandalous relationship between Neil Wallis and the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in the aftermath of Climategate.

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18 thoughts on “In defence of the IPCC, “journalist” ignores the real scandal

    • Oh, so you must be this Richard Klein. Anyway, the answer to your question, as should be obvious from my post, is neither. In case you hadn’t noticed, my post was not about you, but rather that there is much that Damian Carrington needs to know about the IPCC.

      That being said, I would have thought that someone knowledgeable about such IPCC technicalities terminology as author role names would also know about the very clear distinctions between “approve” ,”accept” etc. (as I noted in my post) and would have corrected him on that point, too. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether or not you did provide this information to Carrington. But regardless of what you may or may not have told him, it is quite obvious that Carrington was either remiss in his fact-checking or, for some strange reason, was failing to tell his readers And that was my point..

      But thanks for dropping by :-)

  1. I am indeed that Richard Klein. Thanks for following me so closely!

    As for the issue you raise above, the terminology and technicalities are actually not quite as you describe them, and Damian Carrington was in fact correct. The issue is as follows. A summary for policymakers of an IPCC report is subjected to line-by-line approval by governments during a plenary session of the respective working group (in the case of the renewables report this was Working Group III). This line-by-line approval takes about a week, during which governments propose and negotiate alternative formulations of the draft text prepared by the authors, to ensure their views are represented in the best possible way. For example, country A might want to emphasise a particular conclusion more strongly than country B, which in turn may suggest changing the order of two paragraphs.

    It’s hard to describe this process to someone who hasn’t actually witnessed it, but it is this line-by-line approval process that results in the actual consensus that the IPCC is famous for, and which is sometimes misunderstood. The consensus is not a consensus among all authors about every issue assessed in the report; it is a consensus among governments about the summary for policymakers.

    Once the summary has been approved in this fashion, it is final. However, officially it is not yet an IPCC document. For this to happen the entire report (including the summary) has to be accepted by governments representing the full IPCC (i.e. not just the working group) in a plenary session. This acceptance process is typically a formality and no more changes are introduced at this stage.

    I agree that the terminology is confusing, and you may wish to have a look at Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work: the procedures for the preparation, review, acceptance, adoption, approval and publication of IPCC reports. Section 4.3 of Appendix A describes the approval and acceptance process of summaries for policymakers. You can find all relevant information at http://www.ipcc.ch/organization/organization_procedures.shtml.

    • the terminology and technicalities are actually not quite as you describe them, and Damian Carrington was in fact correct. The issue is as follows. A summary for policymakers of an IPCC report is subjected to line-by-line approval by governments during a plenary session of the respective working group (in the case of the renewables report this was Working Group III). This line-by-line approval takes about a week, during which governments propose and negotiate alternative formulations of the draft text prepared by the authors, to ensure their views are represented in the best possible way[emphasis added -hro]

      Hmmm … takes about a week, you say. So, in the case of the SRREN how does this tally with 5-8 May 2011 – which were the dates of the WG III session? I’ve heard of “short work-weeks” but …! And this, of course, does not answer the issue I had raised. Carrington claimed that “all 194 countries” had “approved” the SPM. So, as far as I’m concerned, the only important issue is: where might one find the “attendance” record of the session at which this item was discussed [edit: and "approved"]?

      The consensus is not a consensus among all authors about every issue assessed in the report; it is a consensus among governments about the summary for policymakers

      Oh, this is an interesting new twist. You seem to be suggesting that the so-called “overwhelming scientific consensus” never was! Mike Hulme, whose views I have reported on here has a somewhat different take – although I suspect he would agree that it is not an “overwhelming scientific consensus”.

      “you may wish to have a look at Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work”.

      Actually I have looked at this Appendix. That’s where I found the IPCC’s distinctions between “acceptance”, “adoption” and “approval”. And that’s why I provided the link in my post. Perhaps you missed it.

      And speaking of these principles, it’s also where I had found [page 14 of Appendix A], 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]

      As anyone who has taken a close look at the references in AR4 will know, this “principle” (which in its infinite wisdom the IPCC has recently decided to “disappear“) has rarely been followed.

      So the bottom line, Richard, is … what you see (in the IPCC “principles”) is not (necessarily) what you get.

      Consequently, until such time as you – or anyone else – can point me to the attendance record of the WGIII’s session(s) at which the SPM for the SRREN was approved … well … colour me very skeptical regarding the “correctness” you claim for Carrington’s assertion that “The SPM is discussed and then approved by all 194 countries”.

  2. Might be a duplicate comment? (Plus links)

    The Guardian has imho blurred the lines between writing about the environment and becoming activists for the environment..

    Ie, the 10:10 video scoop that Damian Carrington was proud to promote?

    The Guardian’s Duncan Clark is and was at the time The 10:10 campaigns Strategy Director

    A few climate connections

    http://www.realclimategate.org/2010/11/climate-connections-an-alarmist-in-the-houses-of-parliament/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/06/07/green-economic-thinking-revenge-not-economics/

    [Reply:] Thanks, Barry … yes, it is a duplicate, so I’ve deleted the one without links :-) -Hilary

  3. Hi Hilary,

    You raise several issues, I’ll try to respond to all of them here. Let me know if I forget something or if new twists arise.

    - 5-8 May are four working days. Add to that the evenings and nights that were spent negotiating, and the number of hours exceed that of a typical working week.

    - As is common practice, the list of participants will be included in the report of the session, a draft of which will be available before the next session. See here for reports of previous sessions: http://www.ipcc.ch/meeting_documentation/meeting_documentation_ipcc_sessions_and_ipcc_wgs_sessions.shtml.

    - As for consensus, I can’t speak for Mike Hulme but I gave you my take. The consensus that matters in the end is the one among governments, because this then provides a shared knowledge base, for example for international climate policy negotiations outside the IPCC. This was the very reason the IPCC was founded in 1988. My emphasis on political consensus should not be interpreted as me suggesting there is no shared appreciation among the authors of the science of climate change, its impacts and possible response strategies. But as an academic, consensus is not a word I would use to describe such shared appreciation. And as an IPCC author it is my role also to reflect on any conflicting parts of the relevant academic literature, and to find a way of assessing the literature that does justice to the diversity of valid views. Some might call that striving for consensus.

    - The use of non-peer-reviewed sources is indeed subject to the provisions in the IPCC procedures. This means that, contrary to what is sometimes asserted, IPCC chapter can cite so-called ‘grey’ literature if authors consider it of sufficiently high quality and there is no alternative source for that information in the peer-reviewed literature. The review of the Inter-Academy Council recommended the IPCC to strengthen and enforce the existing procedures. This has been done (although not quite in the way the IAC suggested, because governments considered their suggestion to be impractical), and the result is the text you refer to. In preparing the Fifth Assessment Report authors will need to follow these procedures. So hopefully what you see is what you’ll get in the next full report.

    You provide a link to Donna Laframboise’s quantitative analysis of grey literature, and I was interested to see that the chapter I led in the Fourth Assessment Report received an F, with 44% of the references not peer-reviewed. However, that includes books published by academic publishers, reports by the World Bank, OECD and other reputable international organisations, as well as previous IPCC reports. I see no reason not to cite this kind of ‘grey’ literature again in the Fifth Assessment Report; indeed not doing so would mean we’d overlook an important part of the available knowledge.

  4. Well, Mr/Dr Klein,

    Your understanding of the IPCC process, I hope, does not preclude you from recognizing the circularity of the underlying reasoning.

    By involving governments and inviting their ‘participation’, the objective sought to be reached, is one where governments are prevented from refusing to accept what are putatively, ‘scientific’ conclusions. ‘Governments’, are in now way qualified however, to ‘accept’, ‘refuse’, ‘consider’, or in anyway meaningfully assess any scientific conclusion. And therefore the process then becomes that of a bargaining about terminologies and definitions, by which governments, try to anticipate and stem off future problems that may arise to harm their self-interests, from the very process they participate in.

    This process, in no way, creates anything resembling a ‘knowledge base’, or a anything resembling ‘knowledge’.

    Isn’t it curious to see that governments agree to a set of conclusions in a summary, which are then presented back to the same governments via policymakers who read the same ‘summary for policymakers?

    If ‘Government’ is so omniscient enough to create reports about which it can comfortably reach agreement with its fellow nations, why does it need policymakers to explain back its own conclusions to itself, after they are finalized?

    If we deign see past these preliminary problems, further surprises await us. ‘Government participation and ‘line-by-line agreement’ in scientific conclusions’ – there can be no greater ocymoron. For instance, if the changes suggested by governments are entirely superfluous, then they are perhaps unnecessary, and if they are even in the least bit impacting on the conclusions, they automatically invalidate the scientific foundation and nature, of said conclusions. What meaningful changes can ‘governement’ suggest, to a conclusion of ‘science’? The honest answer is none.

    A more parsimonious conclusion – one that is rather stripped of the self-delusional idealistic trappings of ”participation’, ‘knowledge bases’ and ‘agreements between nations’. would be to admit that – ‘consensus’ – is merely the process by the transnational body called the IPCC serves as a platform for the short-circuiting and bypassing of democratically elected authority vested in sovereign nations, in their duties of evaluating blanket claims, brought before them.

    Why, I can quote our learned friends at realclimate.org to illustrate this point:

    The SPM process also serves a very useful political purpose. Specifically, it allows the governments involved to feel as though they ‘own’ part of the report. This makes it very difficult to later turn around and dismiss it on the basis that it was all written by someone else. This gives the governments a vested interest in making this report as good as it can be

    In other words, it serves for a ‘Nah, nah, nah! No going back now! You agreed to this’, and nothing more. Is it any wonder, that that the vast majority of the ‘scientific’ conclusions reached by the IPCC in its SPM and just vapid and meaningless non-sequitors which say nothing and lead to nowhere?

    More to the topic at hand however I would add that, while the links you provide are certainly very useful, many participants here are intimately familiar with the IPCC documents and links of the preliminary kind you provide. More substantial answers to the pointed question hr001 raises – that how it would be possible to ‘discuss and review’ the report summary, when the IPCC itself only provides for an ‘acceptance’ – would be welcome.

    -S

  5. Dear Shub,

    Thank you for your response, but I’m not quite sure I understand your concern about circular reasoning. You refer to ‘involving governments and inviting their participation’, but who is involving and inviting whom? The members of the IPCC are the national governments; the IPCC was set up in 1988 by and for governments, and it is governments who take the initiative for any of the reports that are produced. That’s why the ‘I’ in ‘IPCC’ stands for ‘Intergovernmental’.

    The people negotiating and approving a summary for policymakers are government representatives and act on behalf of their governments. The approval process, in which every IPCC member government can be present, takes place in a session of the respective IPCC working group (or sometimes working groups when a report has been prepared under the auspices of more than one working group). This is where governments reach consensus on a report’s outcomes. The acceptance of that report by a full plenary session is then a formality.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say that governments are prevented from refusing to accept scientific conclusions. Those approval sessions give them exactly that opportunity, and I have witnessed various discussions between governments to that effect. Also, governments have the opportunity to comment on earlier drafts of the summary and express their written views prior to the approval session.

    This process, and the IPCC documents in which it is outlined, have been developed by governments. It is not my role as an IPCC author to question governments’ intentions, but I would agree with the quote from RealClimate. The process ensures government ownership of the scientific findings.

    You also mention ‘short-circuiting and bypassing of democratically elected authority vested in sovereign nations’; I don’t know what this refers to, but every government can decide for itself how and by whom it is represented at IPCC sessions. Every government has an IPCC focal point, who would be accountable to their government and thereby to its citizens.

    You use a series of adjectives to illustrate your views of the IPCC process: parsimonious, self-delusional, idealistic, vapid, meaningless. I won’t argue with your views, as long as they are not based on a misreading of the IPCC mandate and process. The IPCC carries out the job governments asked it to do. It may not always do a good job, and it makes mistakes, but any procedural design issues you have with the IPCC are probably best directed at your government.

    PS: I don’t have a wordpress account so it seems it won’t let me provide any direct in-line responses and also, I don’t know how to use in-line quotes. Apologies for any inconvenience.

  6. To Klein,
    Your view of a IPCC – as a benign, salubrious organization, and of IPCC processes as elaborate mechanisms of rigor and transparency at the academia-policymaking interface – are perhaps not atypical amongst those who participate in the process. But they are not critical in nature.

    By virtue of the distance afforded, and a host of other reasons, ‘climate skeptics’ however can be critical. This does not simply equal to hostility. For good or bad, we are stuck with the IPCC (I am aware you may not think in those terms, but please bear with me), and one look around is enough to realize that there absolutely no sources of IPCC criticism. Outside it lie the media, which is largely lobotomized when it comes to the IPCC, and inside it are enthusiastic, willing and grateful new participants, or hardened, veteran agenda-pushing activist-scientists.

    Before I proceed, and to get things out of the way, the IPCC was not set up by governments, nor does it do any job governments asked it to do. More literally yes, it was – a handful of governments did ‘set it up’ – but the fundamental character of the IPCC is that of an functionally autonomous body, unaccountable to any goverment. If anything, the IPCC owes its alleigances to the pre-determined mandate of the UNFCCC. It is a species of authority that fits nowhere in traditional classifications of poiwer, accountability and, in the origin of that power. In other words, with respect to the ‘I’ part – ‘that’s what it looks like, but that’s not what it is’.

    As a participant in the IPCC, we can only hope that you take note of the core concerns of those who are critical of the IPCC, and represent them inside.

    Moreover, the question about approval, coming before any recorded acceptance still remains. I hope Hilary can provide a more user-friendly summary from her May 9th and 14th post. Unlike the AR4, Working Group III’s documentation is rather sparse and not openly available for review. For instance, in order to examine the detailed timeline of the SRREN, one needs an IPCC login and password. The FOD and the SODs for the full report are not available as well.

  7. Dear Shub,

    Well, what can I say? First you seem to argue that I don’t understand properly how the IPCC works, now you suggest that even though what I say might be true it’s irrelevant because that’s the theory and not how it works in practice. Do I understand that correctly?

    You then proceed to express your own views of how and why the IPCC has come about and that it’s not accountable, but where is your evidence?

    I don’t represent the IPCC, but having been involved as an author since 1994 I have a fairly good grasp of how it works and how it has evolved. I also understand the different roles and responsibilities of governments, authors, secretariat and the bureau, as well as much of the criticism concerning transparency and the enforcement of procedures.

    But to somebody who prefers to see the IPCC as a monolithic non-accountable conspiratorial agenda-pushing threat to democracy there is probably very little information that could make a difference. This disappoints me, but I’m aware I can’t force you to assume good faith.

    Re ‘absolutely no sources of IPCC criticism’, there are in fact several studies that have looked at the functioning of the IPCC. The ones by Shardul Agrawala and Bernd Siebenhüner are already a few years old; more recent studies are by Silke Beck and by Mike Hulme & Martin Mahoney. See also their lists of references for additional analysis of the IPCC.

  8. Oh I am not arguing that you don’t understand how the IPCC works – not at all. But what you represent, in your comments above, is hardly a complete picture, and there is more going on, than what is put forth by formal and stately descriptions such as is to be found in the IPCC documents, and descriptions such as yours.

    In other words, the idealized, step-wise picture you laid – vis a vis, you understanding, is certainly correct, but it leaves out certain aspects.

    Secondly, I would certainly agree with your summarization – that such an idealized description is rendered somewhat irrelevant as well – because that is not what happens in reality. Hilary certainly made the same observation above too.

    Please understand, that as outsiders who interestedly look on into the workings of the IPCC, this is certainly what is perceptible.

    The evidence for ‘lack of accountability’ in the IPCC domain, is very much in its public actions in the past two years. It has been summarized in numerous posts at this blog, at Donna’s blog, at my blog and several other venues. Off the top of my head, our three blogs are those that strike me as being anywhere near sympathetic in some way to the IPCC’s own cause and betterment (as opposed to many others who simply outright dismiss the IPCC and its credibility). You may read posts like these as an “attack”, but that is perhaps a necessary, unavoidable evil in the climate debate. More to the point, I, or anyone for that matter, obviously cannot be forced to assume its good faith – I infer the sincerity and the seriousness of the IPCC from its own actions.

    A good example would be this post: http://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2011/05/18/ipcc-peer-review-what-peer-review/

    I list five different instances where the IPCC could have demonstrated ‘accountability’ or some form of self examination:
    1) the issue of the present chairman – RK Pachauri
    2) the issue of a conflict-of-interest policy
    3) the nature of normative/prescriptive/predictive statements
    4) the issue of evaluation of expert opinion
    5) the issue of grey literature and environmental pressure group material usage

    Apart from issue (4), which will only be obvious only when the next reports are released, the IPCC has taken no action on any of the above points – 1, 2, 3, 5. In some instances it has acted in the opposite direction, against the grain of a wealth of advice from learned experts (the IAC) and the lay public (submissions to the IAC). More specifically, when it came to grey literature, the IAC had indeed conceded – go ahead, and use it, but please make sure you flag it. The IPCC has thrown this out of the window.

    Yet the IPCC feels completely untroubled. This points to a bubble mentality and a degree of insularity. To it, the criticism of those outside the bubble seem motivated, and to the outsiders, the corrective steps taken by those inside seem cosmetic and superficial.

    The IPCC self-appointed the IAC to pursue accountability. It has, to date, implemented only the institutional aggrandizement steps the IAC recommended, and *none*, of the reform steps. Yet, you represent, that I called the IPCC non-accountable.

    With respect to ‘IPCC criticism’, I was not clear. I agree that there are certainly criticisms and evaluations of the IPCC in the social sciences literature and the technical literature. What I refering to was the presence of an ongoing effort – which subjects the IPCCs claims to critical cross-examination, as and when they appear.

  9. Shub, thanks again!

    You seem to be quite certain that your view of things is what happens in reality. What makes you so certain?

    As for points 1, 2, 3 and 5:

    1) Present chair: The IAC did not explicitly call for Pachauri to be removed, although one could indeed interpret their recommendations as such. In the end the IPCC members (i.e. the governments) decided not to remove him, although they certainly could have. Pachauri also could have left himself, but he didn’t. I could imagine his decision not to leave might have had something to do with the insinuations of self-enrichment and other conflicts of interest that had appeared in parts of the British media, and of which he has since been cleared.

    2) Conflict-of-interest policy: Contrary to what you assert there is a conflict-of-interest policy, developed by a task group set up by governments after the IAC report came out. It is available on the IPCC website, so I assume you knew this. The real challenge in my view is how and when the policy is implemented. Even though I’m an author of the Fifth Assessment Report this isn’t clear to me, and I can understand that people outside the IPCC have questions as well. At our first authors meeting in January we had a session in which the policy was introduced, and authors were asked to self-declare any possible conflicts of interest in a conversation with a bureau member. It appeared very ad hoc, and there was (and still is) no shared understanding of what constitutes a conflict of interest, and what should happen with an author who is perceived to have a conflict of interest.

    3) Normative/predictive/prescriptive statements: I am unsure what you consider to be the issue here. In my experience governments, during the government review, are very sensitive to the inclusion of any normative or prescriptive statements in the chapters. As for predictive statements, when they are informed by the literature there should be no problem. Any uncertainty estimates would of course need to be included.

    5) Grey literature: The issue here was not the absence of procedures but the absence of proper enforcement. IPCC procedures never allowed for policy-prescriptive lobby materials to be assessed as grey literature. That is not to say, however, that everything produced by non-academic organisations is by definition out of bounds. I am aware of various publications by, say, IUCN, WWF or even Greenpeace that include proper research, conducted by researchers, let alone publications by organisations such as the one I work for (the Stockholm Environment Institute). I think some bloggers have gone a bit overboard her, for example by describing the IISD as left-wing radical environmentalists. That’s nonsense. I agree though that authors have to be very careful in using grey literature from non-academic organisations and always look for peer-reviewed alternatives.

    In any case, I disagree with your statement that the IPCC feels completely untroubled. It may look like that from the outside, but believe me (or not) that there is much discussion going on at the inside. Not just about the validity of the criticism, but also about how to follow up and improve to meet expectations. Unfortunately the IPCC is not a very flexible organisation and many changes can only be implemented once there is a governmental mandate. Things take time, but that doesn’t mean the need for change isn’t appreciated. Also, improving the management of the IPCC, including its responsiveness, would require additional money, which governments are not providing.

    I do appreciate your concern and criticism, and when worded in a constructive manner I don’t perceive them as attacks. I don’t think I’ve used that word in any of the above. But I also think it’s helpful to check facts and err on the side of caution. The certainty with which you present your views (some of which seem to be based on not knowing the facts), the emotive labels you use, and the (in my perception) condescending tone of your first two posts create a barrier to constructive dialogue. Instead, they polarise a discussion that we all agree needs to be had and in which we have a common interest: to improve the functioning of the IPCC and thereby its reports.

  10. Richard, I don’t think you fully realize what you are dealing with here. Hilary Ostrov, Shub Niggurath —these are two of dozens if not hundreds of online zealots who imagine they are fighting a vast conspiracy by climate scientists and politicians to foist unneeded ‘CAGW’ policies on the public — that’s ‘Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming’, an acronym they made up. There is no grey to them, it’s all black and white. And they believe they’re the ones wearing white.

    It’s good that your replies are public, so sane people can read them, but don’t expect to change the minds of your interrogators here one iota.

    • Steven, unless you would care to provide some evidence in support of your assertion that either Shub or I are “zealots” or that either of us has ever claimed that there is any kind of “conspiracy”, or used the term “‘CAGW’ policies”, I would invite you to apologize and retract your claim.

      Thank you.

      P.S. How would you describe one who has declared “humanity’s activities [are] – beyond all reasonable doubt – driving dangerous global warming”?

  11. I would describe them as *correct*. As would the overwhelming majority of scientists who are experts on the matter.

    You aren’t strangers to me. I encounter the likes of Shub and yourself on multiple forums and comment threads related to climate change issues — both reality-based and ‘skeptical’, where the same names tend to appear over and over — where you’re always touting the same pseudo-’skeptical’/conspiracist/anti-IPCC lines. Need I mention that Shub him/herself runs a website called ‘Shub Niggurath Climate: A complete distortion of the facts”*, where a main focus is climate change ‘propaganda’?

    It’s you two who should be apologizing…to your grandchildren, who’ll be able to say that you two did your small parts to prevent action on AGW when it might have had a slim chance of mattering.

    (*which if nothing else is accurate in a sense not intended)

  12. Steven,
    We both encounter the ‘likes’ of each other all the time, don’t we? Even I encounter the same names over and over again. Of course, I wouldn’t go to someone’s blog and chastise them for their name appearing on their own blog. :) You might, see my name pop up here and there in some discussions – it cannot be helped. One’s name appears when one participates in blog comments sections.

    If you are so irked, I would encourage you to start your own blog. I’ll post there, and you can prevent my name from appearing, by deleting my comments. Satisfaction guaranteed! :)

    Richard,
    Thank you for your reply too!

    I’ll reiterate my stance again – I do not claim that I ‘know’ what ‘happens at the IPCC’. But I do say, that I know what happens at the IPCC is not what it turns out to be. Just like I provided the ‘evidence’ for the lack of accountability at the IPCC as soon as you asked for it (whether you walked away in any way convinced is a different matter), I can provide substantiation for my claim.

    The IPCC has a series of elaborate procedures and steps, of shall we say, quality control. If I suspend my cynicism awhile and wonder aloud: do these quality control steps achieve their stated objective? Or are they just namesake, and just for show, and do not really matter? How would I be able to decide?

    I am sure you would agree that one major criterion for assessing whether IPCC checks and balances do work, is to look at the end-product. Is to look for the imprint of the quality control process, and see if it is actually improving quality.

    You, as an insider, see the putative checks and balances in play. Governments ought not to play mischeif with scientific conclusions, imply that they are politically motivated etc. So they are brought on board and made to read a summary and say ‘yes’ – line-by-line. It is rigorous, involves many meetings, arguments and discussion. I don’t deny any of these. People work hard and work sincerely – I don’t deny that either. You see all of this in action, directly. It is little wonder that your views of the IPCC are different from mine!

    I, as an outsider, on the other hand just see the end-product. I see the SRREN and the press release. I read the SRREN and observe the patently defective analyses performed. More importantly, I see the ridiculous, and activist conclusions the IPCC organization decides to announce to the world via its press release. I judge its quality. From there, I infer that the checks and balances, though they exist, have not worked.

    Since the SRREN is the focus of this post, and my claims about “what happens in reality” in the IPCC, I offer the following as references:

    The analytic conclusions drawn by the SRREN are defective: I provide a preliminary examination here: http://nigguraths.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/the-ipccs-assessment-of-the-greenpeace-renewable-energy-scenario/

    The IPCC quality-control process completely failed at all levels in responding to the issue of the use of material from pressure groups. It is relatively easy to distinguish literature from organizations like the World Bank or the IISD from material from WWF and Greenpeace. If the question bothered IPCC insiders so much, as you say it did, surely, amongst the hundreds of authors who participated in the SRREN, amongst the hundreds of nations that signed off on the summary in May, at least one entity would have raised questions or applied the brakes.

    The mere fact that nothing like this happened, speaks a great deal about the nature of the IPCC process at play.

    You cannot, of course, make the claim that it was merely a wrongly framed press release and the problem extends no deeper. Evidence from the very SRREN however proves matters to be otherwise.

    Greenpeace is there in almost every chapter in the book.

    Could you please explain how, this sensitive matter, which was the cause for such an enormous reputation-damaging ruckus in 2009, pass right under everyone’s noses at the IPCC with no alarm whatsoever? Fine, someone wrote the press-release, forget about that. So many scientists and academicians wrote so much material quoting the Greenpeace papers over and over again, and nothing troubled them?

    From my perspective, the answers are easy to guess:
    1) IPCC insiders view criticism as motivated, and therefore have no true drive to do anything about the issues raised. (Oh! F*** the ‘deniers’! they’ll object to anything)
    2) IPCC insiders are completely oblivious to how their actions may be viewed from the outside. Greenpeace is just another stakeholder in the climate debate.
    3) IPCC insiders know that those who criticize it are isolated, scattered individuals with no political pull. They know that these individuals can be ignored safely as long as they have the governments’ ears
    4) The IPCC process is easily taken over by powerful and influential inside groups, during any report drafting, which then decides largely the contours of that report. Germany had a significant hand in this time’s SRREN and all that the other players could do was just play along, as best as they could.
    5) And to compound problems, the IPCC is a bumbling, slow-moving organization with no nervous system or a passionate leader who hates people saying bad-but-true things about his/her organization. Change comes slow, and nothing has changed, even after two years and tons of criticism.

    Of course, I may be completely wrong in the above conjectures. But I am not wrong as far as a quality-failure at the IPCC – the evidence for that, is out in the open, for everyone to see.

    Dr Edenhofer wouldn’t be writing articles in Nature Climate Change and responding to emails from Andy Revkin and Mark Lynas, if there was no problem whatsoever would he?

    If I sounded too categorical, it was only in the bounds of the issues which I have examined. But the IPCC provides material, repeatedly, for venturing into holding categorical negative opinions about it. The evidence for bias exists. Criticizing those who recognize it and discuss it openly, isn’t going to help sir.

  13. Dr Damian Carrington,
    Guardian and Observer

    Damian Carrington is the Head of Environment at the Guardian and the Observer. Previously he has worked at New Scientist, BBC News Online and the Financial Times. He has a PhD in geology from the University of Edinburgh, where he also did post-doctoral research, and a degree in Earth science from the University of Cambridge.

    http://www.exeter.ac.uk/few/2010/speakers.shtml

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