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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Probe Seeks Climate-Panel Changes

A group investigating the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will recommend in a report Monday that the scientific organization beef up its capacity to ferret out errors in its scientific assessments, a member of the investigating body said.
But the group, appointed by the InterAcademy Council, a consortium of national scientific academies, won't pass judgment in its report on the state of knowledge about global warming and its causes. It also won't address whether IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri should resign—a step that some critics have called for and that the chairman has said he doesn't intend to take.
The IPCC and the U.N. requested the probe in March, under mounting public pressure following the disclosure of a handful of errors in a roughly 3,000-page scientific report the IPCC published in 2007.
IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri, speaking at a meeting in Mexico in March.
The IPCC is a sprawling organization in which thousands of scientists and other experts around the world volunteer their time to help write massive reports about every six years assessing climate science.
The reports influence government policies on energy and the environment across the globe.
The groups of scientists who produce each IPCC report disband once the report is published. And the IPCC, which was founded two decades ago, has only a few dozen paid staff members. That makes it difficult to look into alleged errors that later arise and to fix them, Mario Molina, a member of the InterAcademy Council panel, said in a recent interview.
The IPCC has "no permanent structure that could take care of the sort of questions that came up," he said, referring to the errors in the 2007 IPCC report. "That's the sort of thing we are recommending."
Mr. Molina and others involved in producing the investigative panel's report declined to provide The Wall Street Journal a copy of the document and the Journal couldn't independently confirm its content.
Among the mistakes in the IPCC's 2007 report was an erroneous projection that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. Early this year, the IPCC expressed "regret" for that claim, which IPCC officials say lacked scientific basis.
But IPCC officials have said those mistakes don't impugn the main conclusion of the 2007 report: that climate change is "unequivocal" and "very likely" caused by human activity.
A spokesman for Mr. Pachauri said the IPCC chairman wouldn't comment on the InterAcademy Council report until it is issued Monday.
In May, when Mr. Pachauri met with members of the Inter-Academy Council to answer questions, he endorsed beefing up the IPCC, particularly to respond more quickly to criticism.
"This is a body that is answerable to human society and is going to be called into question on a much more frequent basis in the future," he told them at the time. "But we're not prepared for it," he said, saying the IPCC needs more staff trained in explaining the group's work to the public.
The IPCC and the U.N. didn't choose the members of the investigative panel, say officials of the Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council.
The council's board picked the 12-member panel from nominations submitted by scientific and engineering academies around the world. The panel is headed by economist and former Princeton University President Harold Shapiro.
Mr. Molina, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, helped to write the 2007 IPCC report—experience that the InterAcademy Council wanted reflected on the investigative panel.
Another panel member worked on an earlier IPCC report and a third member gave a presentation at a planning meeting for the IPCC's next climate-science report, due out in phases in 2013 and 2014, an InterAcademy Council spokesman said.
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