26 January 2010

Tol, Pielke and von Storch in Der Spiegel

Richard Tol, Hans von Storch and I have an op-ed in Der Spiegel on the troubled IPCC. Here is an excerpt:

It will take many electoral cycles and all major countries to address the problems associated with climate change. Partisan advice will be unpicked, sloppy research will be exposed. New observations and theory will change aspects of the current understanding. Sustaining a climate policy that is effective, acceptable and durable can only be based on sound and impartial advice from institutions that do their science sustainably over many decades. The IPCC was supposed to provide that advice, but its standards have slipped, its procedures have turned out to be insufficient and its credibility has been questioned.

Climate policy matters, and so too does the IPCC. Its importance means that reform is needed before the reputation of all of climate science is irreparably damaged.

Please have a look and feel free to come back and discuss.


  1. -Why use the word "sustainably" instead of credibly?

    -Why does climate policy matter? How is humankind able to arrest climate direction and return it to a consensus determined ideal state? This is far different than specific environmental goals.

    -Why does the IPCC matter when it has been caught red handed outsourcing the basic science to policy advocates such as the WWF, who BTW is part of Together which is an association part of The Climate Group which includes major hitters in the financial sector such as Munich Re?

  2. The most important thing to be done is an audit of all the IPCC findings. The audit should be done by not only academics, but should include other stakeholders industry, skeptical scientists, etc

  3. Good article; but it's hard to see the logic of sustaining the IPCC when even clear evidence of malfeasance and outright fraud doesn't result in prompt changes. Deny funding until there is a complete audit.

    That Pachauri flies all over the world on whims while telling others not to eat meat is only the icing on the cake. I'd call it Marie Antoinette redux but that would be unjust to the late queen of France.

  4. #1 Sustainability instead of credibility.

    If one is attempting to communicate with a group then one needs to communicate in the language they understand.

    Sustainability is a major focus of the climate/environmental movement.

    By using sloppy science they may win some political battles today, but their movement will soon be discredited, which will cost their movement tomorrow.

    IMHO it was a good choice of words given the target audience.

  5. I would argue that the problem lies in the concept of the IPCC itself. Why do we need an intergovernmental body to interpret the science for us, if it is not to act as an advocate for a certain policy? The purpose of the Vatican is to assure that the scripture is interpreted and followed in a uniform manner. Catholics accept on faith that this is the true interpretation. The IPCC serves the function of Climate Vatican, yet science isn't supposed to be a matter of faith. EPA accepted the IPCC interpretation on faith and did not perform its own required due diligence.
    The UN is not UNified. It is an aglomeration of advocacy groups, and the balance within the organization shifts based on the perceived special interests of the moment. For such an organization to have birthed a pure, unbiased scientific advisory body would have been truly miraculous.

  6. Your excellent piece concludes:

    "Climate policy matters, and so too does the IPCC. "

    Honest questions where I would appreciate your insight:
    Why does the IPCC matter?
    What value does it deliver?
    Was the current situation avoidable or was it inevitable given the mandate and organization of the IPCC, the UN, and the startling lack of attention to conflicts of interest?

    thank you

  7. "Why use the word 'sustainably' instead of credibly?"

    I think this is von Storch speaking.

    His point is that if science uses up its credibility now, future generations of scientists won't have any credibility left to draw upon.

    This specific word choice draws attention to the _consequences_ of short term actions that compromise the long term credibility of scientific institutions.

    Even those unfortunate scientists who believe that credibility may, in certain circumstances, be appropriately exchanged for political action are likely to find the sustainability argument compelling.

  8. Roger, why *do* we need THE IPCC? Why not one-shot committees to produce reports on specific subjects? Doesn't the very set-up of IPCC presume that the response to climate change should be single and international, not multiple and local?

    It's always going to be hard for those involved in the process to resist using the authority the IPCC is designed to collect and concentrate. Plus I'm awed by the amount of time invested in the IPCC process by really smart people. Better processes will help lead to better results--but what about letting the smart people get on with their work, and not spend any time on process at all?

  9. Further considerations:

    When will we know that the IPCC has completed its work? If the IPCC isn't a "fifth (or more) branch" of government, expected to endure indefinitely, shouldn't we have some criterion for measuring whether or not it's been successful? What is that criterion?

    Doesn't the singular, report-focused IPCC process force the invention of a "scientific consensus," tending to distort the science?--and similarly, the invention of "THE minority" of people ("deniers")? Wouldn't the controversies around climate change policy be healthier if we had more and more diverse foci for disagreements?

    Wouldn't it be easier to hold smaller organizations of scientists accountable for their reports? A comprehensive report has a teflon quality. Right now (as you've experienced) critique of any single part elicits a reply that the problem was managed in some other part of the report or process, or that the report or process as a whole is fine, this problem is just a small detail. Plus critique of any part can attract the ire of the authors of the whole--that's not a level playing field for the debate.

    And what about the carbon savings from having no more international jaunts for hundreds of lead authors? ;)