Apr 19, 2010

A Seasoned Veteran's View of the IPCC

Economist Richard Tol has prepared a statement for a committee of the Dutch parliament examining climate-related controversies this week. I discovered it on the Dutch website Climategate.nl and Tol has kindly provided an English translation.

AR2 = the IPCC's Second Assessment Report, published in 1995
AR3 = the Third Assessment Report, published in 2001
AR4 = the Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007
AR5 = the upcoming IPCC report, expected in 2013 or so
each IPCC report is comprised of 3 smaller reports, produced by
Working Groups 1, 2, and 3

Having participated in the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since the early 1990s, Tol is more informed than most of us with respect to the IPCC's strengths, shortcomings, and history. The following is a slightly edited version of his statement. (bold added by me)

  1. As far as I know, the climate is really changing and for the last 150 years this has been primarily caused by humans. My own research shows that climate change is a problem that needs to be solved. There is convincing evidence that climate change is not the biggest problem of humankind. It is probably not the main environmental problem either. There are strong indications that politically feasible climate policy is expensive.
  2. I was a lead author of two chapters in AR2's Working Group 3 report (1995), convening lead author in the Special Report on Regional Impacts published in 2001 (Working Group 2), contributing author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 1 report (2001), lead author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 2 report (2001), and contributing author of one chapter in AR4's Working Group 2 report (2007).
  3. Over the years, the IPCC has changed from a scientific institution that tries to be policy relevant to a political institution that pretends to be scientific. I regret that. There are already more than enough climate activists, while there are too few solid and neutral bodies that make down-to-earth and well-founded statements about climate change and climate policy.
  4. The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection of authors and bureau members. This is not based on academic quality (as it should be) but rather on political colour. The IPCC member states are represented by their environment departments. This responsibility should be transferred to their research departments or their academies.
  5. The nominations for AR5 have been made already. The selection process should be suspended until transparency is guaranteed. If needed, the IPCC should request additional nominations.
  6. Working Groups 2 and 3 of the AR4 violated all IPCC procedures. The conclusions are partly scientifically unfounded, and even partly copied from the environmental movement. The AR4 was substantially changed after the final review, also in parts that had already been accepted by the referees. Valid comments were ignored.
  7. As a result, AR4 contains crude errors, only some of which are public knowledge. These errors can be found in the chapters, the technical summaries, the summaries for policy makers, and the synthesis report. The errors are not random. Working Group 2 systematically portrays climate change as a bigger problem than is scientifically acceptable. Working Group 3 systematically portrays climate policy as easier and cheaper than can be responsibly concluded based on academic research.
  8. Another problem is that the executive and supervisory powers are not separated in the IPCC. The Chair of the IPCC and its Working Groups should leave the IPCC Bureau, and the Bureau should adopt a supervisory role under a strong and independent chairperson.
  9. The reputation of climate research has been severely damaged by the IPCC. The IPCC should therefore be drastically and publicly reformed.
  10. Climate change is a complex problem. The solution requires global cooperation over a long time. This is hard enough if all parties have access to the same, independent, scientifically sound information. The IPCC has played that role in the past. It has abused the trust placed in it. A reformed IPCC should resume that role.

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