Duelling scenarios from the IPCC on the birth of its conflict of interest policy

Not too long ago, I had highlighted some evidence of the potential for bias and conflict of interest in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Steve McIntyre commented today on (inter alia):

a self-serving editorial by WG3 chairman Ottmar Edenhofer in an IPCC trade journal (Nature), […] defending their report on renewables, but, if anything, further demonstrating IPCC’s failure to address criticism.

This July 16 editorial [pdf file] includes the following exercise in “revisionist scholarship” from Edenhofer:

The IPCC has throughout its existence taken care to avoid conflict of interest in the selection of its authors. Nonetheless, following the publication of its fourth assessment report in 2007, the IPCC recognized the value of formalizing a conflict-of-interest policy for its fifth assessment cycle. Until the conflict-of-interest policy is implemented, the IPCC Working Groups I and II have established interim guidelines, and Working Group III is in the process of doing so. This is a proactive response to the panel’s decision to implement the recommendation from the InterAcademy Council’s review of the IPCC policies and procedures that “the IPCC should develop and adopt a rigorous conflict-ofinterest policy.” In May, the IPCC plenary approved a formal conflict-of-interest policy and extended the mandate of the Task Group on Conflict of Interest Policy to develop an implementation and disclosure form.

Setting aside my curiosity as to what “an implementation and disclosure form” might look like (sorry for the snark, in all likelihood Edenhofer neglected to proof-read his opus but had intended to type “implementation plan”), there are a number of … hmmm … questions and discrepancies in the above excerpt from Edenhofer’s apologia for the recently released SRREN report under the auspices of the IPCC’s Working Group (WG) 3.

Consider the following excerpt from the transcript of The Economist‘s Feb. 1, 2010 (i.e. pre-IAC report) interview with IPCC Chair, Rajendra K. Pachauri:

The Economist: […] I was asking what are the procedures for dealing with conflict of interests within the IPCC, rather than whether you perceive yourself to have a conflict of interest …

Dr Pachauri: Well I don’t think there are any procedures of this nature but the fact is this is a group where decisions are taken by consensus. I’m responsible to all the governments of the world, if there was a conflict of interest, I’m sure some government or other would bring it up in a meeting of the panel.

The Economist: That seems odd compared to the standards of scientific publication, or the standards of the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation, which both have conflict of interest rules. Isn’t it rather remarkable that you should have this organisation that does not have any procedure for dealing with conflict of interest, regardless of whether there is conflict of interest.

Dr Pachauri: Well, those are UN organisations and they are bound by UN rules, and you know that the IPCC is not a UN organisation, it is an intergovernmental organisation and in that sense we are distinctly different from UNEP and WMO or any of those organisations.

The Economist: And it’s your position that distinct difference means that there is no need for any official procedure within the IPCC for dealing with conflict of interest?

Dr Pachauri: I think if the governments who govern the IPCC determine that there should be something of this nature I’m sure that will be put in place.

The Economist: And would you welcome that?

Dr Pachauri: Of course, absolutely. I would have no hesitation. In fact, I would suggest it myself if I got the opportunity.

The Economist: Well you’ve had the opportunity, surely, sir?

Dr Pachauri: Why would I raise something, unless there is a reason for me to raise it? [emphases added -hro]

So, in Feb. 2010, no one at the IPCC had even dreamed of the need for a conflict of interest policy, according to Pachauri. Yet according to Edenhofer (in July 2011):

The IPCC has throughout its existence taken care to avoid conflict of interest in the selection of its authors.

Well, this was certainly far from evident wrt WG1 Chapter 6 of AR4. Not to mention – considering that the IPCC’s work is supposedly governed by the “strict” application of principles, rules, guidelines etc – how could they have “taken care” in the absence of any written conflict of interest policy, principles, rules or guidelines? But I digress …

Not only that but (again according to Edenhofer in July 2011):

following the publication of its fourth assessment report in 2007, the IPCC recognized the value of formalizing a conflict-of-interest policy for its fifth assessment cycle

Let’s see … the IPCC’s fourth assessment report (AR4) was published circa February 2007. And more than 4 years down the road (and well into the “fifth assessment cycle”) they have not implemented an organization-wide conflict of interest policy. Not that the actual policy is anything to write home about (as I had noted, any teeth it might have had have been negated by the clever invocation of the “team-work side-step“).

But that aside, who really speaks for the IPCC – and whose version of history prior to the birth of an IPCC conflict-of-interest policy should we believe: Pachauri’s or Edenhofer’s? Curious minds would like to know ;-)

[Update 08/14/2011 01:09 AM – I have made some minor edits of the punctuation and parenthetical kind -hro]

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