Reforming the “non-policy-prescriptive” IPCC

There’s been a very interesting discussion (well, several, actually!) over at Dr. Judith Curry’s blog: “Public engagement on climate change“. Dr. Richard Tol, an environmental economist, is an IPCC “insider” who had expressed the view that ‘experts should only speak about the areas in which they are specialists’.

He is also one of many academics who have praised Donna Laframboise’s The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert:

Donna Laframboise does what good journalists do. She does not parrot authority, but asks “is that so?” In this book, she shines a hard light on the rotten heart of the IPCC.

However, in one of the sub-threads, a commenter had posed some questions:

If the IPCC is as you have stated, what is to be done?
How does one reasonably differentiate between the IPCC- which is promoted as *the* word on climate change, and the climate science?

To which Tol had responded:

The IPCC will not go away. It will not be reformed from the outside. Reform from the inside is the only option.

See also [emphasis added -hro]

So, I followed the link, and found the September 2010 paper, which is entitled “Regulating Knowledge Monopolies: The Case of the IPCC”. The abstract reads:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a monopoly on the provision of climate policy advice at the international level and a strong market position in national policy advice. This may have been the intention of the founders of the IPCC. I argue that the IPCC has a natural monopoly, as a new entrant would have to invest time and effort over a longer period to perhaps match the reputation, trust, goodwill, and network of the IPCC. The IPCC is a not-for-profit organization, and it is run by nominal volunteers; it therefore cannot engage in the price-gouging that is typical of monopolies. However, the IPCC has certainly taken up tasks outside its mandate; the IPCC has been accused of haughtiness; innovation is slow; quality may have declined; and the IPCC may have used its power to hinder competitors. There are all things that monopolies tend to do, against the public interest. The IPCC would perform better if it were regulated by an independent body which audits the IPCC procedures and assesses its performance; if outside organizations would be allowed to bid for the production of reports and the provision of services under the IPCC brand; and if policy makers would encourage potential competitors to the IPCC.

My response is as follows:

Richard, I read the paper you had linked to, and while I would be the last person to ever dispute that the IPCC is a “monopoly“, I am far from convinced that “reform from the inside” is a viable option.

If the IPCC had any institutional awareness of its shortcomings (or even any genuine concern where concern might count!), we would have seen indications that the IAC’s criticisms have been understood – and its recommendations being implemented.. Instead we have seen a parade of papers paying lip service to “change” – and Pachauri peddling a somewhat softer version of the “party-line” (while insisting – in his oh-so-non-policy-prescriptive-way** – that we all need a carbon tax).

Yes, he’s walked back (via a rather circuitous route) from “all peer-reviewed” (and more recently, in no small measure, I suspect, thanks to Thomas Stocker‘s ingenuity, from an inconvenient rule pertaining thereto).

Amusingly and (I’m sure entirely) coincidentally – a mere week after the launch of Laframboise’s exposé of the IPCC – in an Oct. 20/11 interview, during which he was (inter alia) singing the praises of the IPCC’s personnel and accomplishments, the previously omnipresent phrase “world’s leading experts” was conspicuously absent! They’ve evidently been downgraded in IPCC-speak to “objective, transparent, inclusive talent“. [If you decide to follow the link to the video, be sure to note the rather distinct pause … almost as though he’s grasping for the right word … before “talent” rolls off his tongue ;-)]

The new, improved Pachauri insists that the IPCC has been doing a “poor job” at communication. Notwithstanding his insistence, not too long ago, that “no one would even be concerned about climate change” if it wasn’t for the wonderful work of the IPCC, preceded by his July 2009:

AR5 is being taken in hand at a time when awareness on climate change issues has reached a level unanticipated in the past. Much of this change can be attributed to the findings of the AR4 which have been disseminated actively through a conscious effort by the IPCC, its partners and most importantly the media. [emphasis added -hro]

IOW, all we’re getting from this organization – in response to the identification of some very serious problems – is rampant “revisionism” and a transparently thin paint job, which some are evidently hoping will disguise the cracks in the foundation and surrounding walls!

“Reform from the inside”?! I don’t think so – certainly, at this rate, not in my lifetime!

** Question: The IPCC maintains that its assessment reports are “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive”. But your paper indicates that the IPCC provides “climate policy advice”. Is this “policy advice” neutral and non-prescriptive, from your perspective … or is the IPCC still leading us astray?!

8 thoughts on “Reforming the “non-policy-prescriptive” IPCC

  1. I figger the “inclusive talent” phrasing was concocted to cover the promotion of grad students to lead authors, and eco-PR-hacks to authoritative data sources.

    That’s probably “excess inclusiveness”, doncha think?

    The continuing leadership of Choo-Choo the Clown is almost beyond parody.

  2. Much as there is to dislike about the IPCC — and Donna Laframboise has missed some of the scandals — it will not go away and it will not be reformed from the outside.

    Reform from the inside will be slow and painful. In 2014, AR5 will repeat many of the mistakes that were made in AR4 in 2007. And manoeuvres have started to lock in some bad habits for AR6 in 2021.

    If you want to put real pressure on the IPCC, then you should work through the head of the Canadian delegation to the IPCC plenary. The plenary is the ultimate decision making body, and they let the IPCC run riot.

    • [the IPCC] will not go away and it will not be reformed from the outside.

      So you’ve said (twice now!); however, unless you have articulated them elsewhere, I have seen no reasoning behind your assertions; nor is it clear to me, from your comment above, whether you actually read my reply to your first iteration :-)

      Work through the head of the Canadian delegation?! Surely, you jest! Even if I were able to convince him that change is needed (a highly dubious prospect at best, considering that he is the ADM of Canada’s Ministry of the Environment – whose ear is far more likely to be bent by the words of those within his bureaucracy and/or who benefit from the largesse bestowed upon them by Environment Canada … not to mention the power of Suzuki and all the other green lobbies) …

      How likely do you think it is that he would succeed in convincing all the other ‘heads of delegations’ (or at least a sufficient number thereof) that action is required? Judging from the “responses” from governments to the various task force reports last May, very few gave any indication that they even care.

      I have spent several years of my life working both inside and outside bureaucracies; I’ve also held both general membership and leadership positions within a number of organizations of various sizes. And I have yet to see any instance of significant change being effected unless the initiative came from the top.

      As I intimated in my post above – and as I have mentioned elsewhere – the IAC handed the IPCC a lifeline on a platter. It was far from ideal or as comprehensive as was needed. But, thanks to the “leadership” of the IPCC, this organization has clearly failed to grasp it. Your view of the plenary as “the ultimate decision making body” fails to note that the only decisions made by this “body” have been to rubber-stamp that which was put before it (by the leadership). I don’t see this behaviour changing any time soon, do you?

  3. The IPCC will not go away, because it serves the needs of the climate lobbies within the national civil services. As long as the IPCC has that support, its need for reform is cosmetic.

    The national delegations are the starting point of the long and arduous road of IPCC reform. The IPCC could brush aside the IAC because only a few countries, not including Canada, thought that the IAC was important. As Canada is one of the few of the traditional IPCC supporters with a healthy government budget,its voice counts.

    There are many within the IPCC who would like to see the chair go. The main reason he is still there is that no one wants to start the discussion on his succession.

    • Richard, here’s a quick quiz! Can you guess the author of the following:

      MAR 31 2009
      For policy-makers, one of the challenges in developing policy on science-based issues is to base this policy on “sound science.” Thousands of scientists around the world are undertaking research relevant to climate change, and innumerable new scientific papers are published in the scientific literature each year. The generally accepted method for evaluating this evolving body of knowledge is through a process of formal scientific assessment. The prerequisite for inclusion in such an assessment is that the science has been peer reviewed and is publicly available.

      Through the assessment process, the results of any single scientist or paper are put in context within the broader information base. I believe that the best process for evaluating the scientific literature on climate change is that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The rigorous scientific assessment process used by the Panel is widely acknowledged by the scientific community, and has been endorsed by National Academies of Science from many countries around the world, […] [emphasis added -hro]


      The writer could have been Pachauri, don’t you think?! But it wasn’t! This was a “response” to an E-mail sent to the (then) Minister of the Environment, six weeks earlier (Feb. 18/09). The letter was signed by Brian T. Gray (although he probably didn’t write it … letters to Ministers tend to get passed down the line for responses which are then passed up the line for signature**). But I don’t doubt for a moment that he believes every word of that to which he attached his signature, because he’s the Head of the Canadian delegation to the IPCC!

      [** In one of my previous incarnations, I was a gov’t employee assigned as a resource person to a fairly high profile gov’t advisory group. I worked quite closely with the (volunteer) Chair, and would often draft letters for (and/or with) the Chair which she would sign and send to the appropriate gov’t official. On more than one occasion, such letters came back down the line for me to draft the response for the recipient! But I digress …]

      This would certainly explain why Canada was not among the countries who thought that the IAC was important. He’s part of “the climate lobby within the national civil service”! Do you honestly think he’d be open to reading The Delinquent Teenager … if I sent him a copy – let alone leading the charge to begin “reform from within”?!

      There are signs, btw, that in some quarters the jargon and mantras one hears from the IPCC’s younger sibling, the IPBES, is catching on with some of the previously all-climate-change-all-the-time dedicated. Most recently, from William Chameides in his closing remarks during the Waxman-Markey “briefing” at which Muller also appeared the other day. It seems to me that IPBES is made-to-order for those who are addicted to tipping points and other scary stories … and it could quite readily subsume the activities of the IPCC – and our “carbon footprint” can easily fall under the aegis of our “environmental footprint”, as the push to get “nature on the balance sheet” comes to the fore.

      IPBES is the perfect solution to the Pachauri succession discussion that no one wanted to begin! The climate lobbies have had their day, methinks; so they’ll just have to become “biodiversity” lobbies :-)

    • Hmmm … looks like we’ve come full circle! However, I’m just a voice in the cyber-wilderness, so it really doesn’t matter what I say (or where I aim my criticisms).

      You say that “as long as there are civil servants and politicians … to protect it, the IPCC will continue unreformed”. Is it not also the case that as long as there are “experts” (or to use the latest in Pachauri-speak, a willing pool of “objective, transparent, inclusive talent”) to do the work, the IPCC will continue unreformed?

      So here’s a thought …You’re certainly closer to the inside than I am – and I’m sure you’re not the only IPCC insider who recognizes “the rotten heart of the IPCC”. How about forming a Union of Concerned IPCC-niks – and “going on strike” with lots of publicity and open letters, etc. etc. – until such time as the powers that be heed your demands for reform.

      A good first step might be to encourage your fellow Lead Authors to read and publicly endorse The Delinquent Teenager … , don’t you think?

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