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Financial Times: To restore confidence, it should commission an independent audit of IPCC 2007 Assesment
February 1, 2010

Posted by: David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov

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Financial Times  

Editorial: A Himalayan gaffe

February 01, 2010

Link to Editorial

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change depends for its influence upon the confidence of the public. It can only assist policymakers if its work is seen to be based upon rigorous inquiry.

Recent events have shown the IPCC falling short of this ideal. It has been seriously shamed by the revelation that it included an unsubstantiated claim about the future disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers in its 2007 report. The claim came from a paper produced by a lobby group, which was itself repeating a quote once given to some journalists. This is the scientific equivalent of dodgy dossier land. To compound the error, the IPCC's head, Rajendra Pachauri, then obfuscated when challenged.

This Himalayan gaffe comes on the heels of "climategate" - a British scandal in which scientists at the University of East Anglia were accused of deflecting requests for information and data from known climate sceptics. It has also stirred up a series of further allegations about other claims contained in the IPPC's report. This drumbeat of criticism threatens to undermine trust in the good faith of the climate science community.

Climate science is a highly emotive area. There is so much at stake. If the more doom-laden observers are correct, the outcome for the world is almost too frightful to contemplate. Of course, scientists are always going to have a view about the politics. What is vital is that there should never be the suggestion that enthusiasm for the cause has led to the "reverse engineering" of findings.

The amateurishness of the Himalayan claim makes it look more like a blunder than something sinister. But given the IPCC's central role in climate science, it needs to be whiter than white. To restore confidence, it should commission an independent audit. This would look at all the claims in the 2007 report and remove any that were not soundly based. The auditor might also look at the IPCC's decision to report only those findings that fall within a certain consensus. Is it really right to exclude scientifically rigorous but outlying opinions, especially when this hands ammunition to its critics, who accuse it of suppressing dissenting views? Lastly, the IPPC must be smarter in the way it engages with the wider world. Mr Pachauri's handling of the allegations has been lamentable. Considerably more humility in the face of criticism is required.

The IPCC must learn from this gaffe. Not only is its own credibility at stake, but possibly the cause of climate science also.

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