A major report handed to the United Nations in New York overnight recommends a big shake-up of the way the international body’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is run.
The UN’s climate panel has been under enormous scrutiny in recent times. In 2007, it asserted that climate change was already hurting the planet, helping to increase pressure for global action to limit carbon emissions.
In the run-up to last year’s highly anticipated climate summit in Copenhagen, the IPCC was rocked by a scandal involving leaked emails which critics say showed panel members had skewed data.
The UN ordered a review and now that five-month study, by the InterAcademy Council, an organisation of the world’s science academies, has been completed.
It recommends changes to the way the IPCC is run and the way its science is presented.
Changes recommended include setting up an executive committee to replace the panel’s largely part-time structure, checks on conflicts of interest by board members, and stricter guidelines on source material.
One of the climate panel’s most glaring errors came when it claimed that the Himalayan glaciers could be lost by 2035, an assessment later traced to a magazine article.
Professor Harold Shapiro from Princeton University says that is just one example that has dented the panel’s credibility.
“It came from just not paying close attention to what reviewers said about that example,” he said.
“It just didn’t follow through carefully enough on what review editors commented. There were a number of review editors or reviewers that pointed out that this didn’t seem quite right to them, and that was just not followed through.”
The review has also called for changes to the climate panel’s leadership, including shorter limits on the terms of the panel’s chairman.
Current IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri will not speculate about how that affects his future.
“This will be debated by all the governments of the world and they will then decide what’s to be implemented, when it is to be implemented. So in a sense I’m in no position to speculate on what that decision would be,” he said.
Professor Shapiro says the changes may help restore confidence in the climate change panel.
“The trust in what they had to say was somewhat dented by all these controversies, we think,” he said.
“What we are recommending will help restore some of this.”
This review focused mostly on the structure of the UN’s climate change panel, and not the science it has been carrying out.
Dr Pachauri insists that the core assertion that the world is heating up has not been challenged, and he has condemned what he calls “ideologically driven posturing” in the attacks on the climate panel.
“I think the science of climate change is robust, it is reliable and I think this is something that has been clearly established by the reviews that have been carried out,” he said.
The UN’s climate panel will meet again in South Korea in October and Dr Pachauri says member nations will decide then whether to implement these recommendations.