Thursday, February 11, 2010

Future of IPCC

Nature has five short opinion pieces up on the future of the IPCC. Contributions by Thomas Stocker, John Christy, Mike Hulme,  Jeff Price, and myself. I think all op-eds contain interesting food for thought  worth discussing. As usual, constructive and critical comments are welcome. The link to the full article is hier, and the full reference is:
Nature 463, 730-732 (11 February 2010). Nature has kindly allowed to post my contribution in the Klimazwiebel

Like the financial sector last year, the IPCC is currently experiencing a failure of trust that reveals flaws in its structure. This presents the climate-change community with the opportunity to address these faults. The IPCC currently performs as a diffuse community of government-nominated academic volunteers occupying a blurred space between science and politics, issuing self-reviewed reports under great stresses and unmanageable deadlines. Its undefined structure puts it at the mercy of pressure from advocates.

The IPCC should be made stronger and independent. We do not need to reinvent the wheel; there are excellent examples of agencies that society has set up when credibility is of the utmost importance. The European Central Bank, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the International Energy Agency and the US Congressional Budget Office all independently navigate their way through strong political pressures, delivering valuable assessments, advice, reports and forecasts, tapping academic research when necessary. These agencies are accountable and respected.

An international climate agency (ICA) along such lines would have a staff of around 200 full-time scientists who would be independent of government, industry and academia. Such an agency should be resourced and empowered to do the following: issue streamlined biennial state-of-the-climate reports; be a repository and quality-controller of observational climate data; advise governments on regional assessments of climate impacts; and coordinate the suite of future-climate simulations by research institutes.

An ICA could be built, for instance, on the IAEA template, encompassing many more countries than the IAEA but with a smaller staff. ICA reports should be independently reviewed in a transparent process, draw only on established, peer-reviewed literature, and highlight research gaps. External reviews would then be incorporated into the reports to form white papers to include possible opposing views in a transparent way.

The process of moving towards such an ICA could start now, alongside the preparation of the next IPCC assessment report, and culminate after its completion. Those climate researchers in the IPCC Bureau who have widely recognized credibility could initiate this transformation, supported by lead authors and review editors more numerous and with a bigger say than presently. These review editors should be elected not by governments but directly by scientific unions, for instance the American Geophysical Union, the European Geosciences Union and similar associations from Asia.

As with finance, climate assessment is too important to be left in the hands of advocates.


Björn said...

Dear eduardo,

your ICA idea is brillant. As a frequent user of IEA reports one comment and one question.

It is a very typical role of independent agencies to "highlight research gaps". However, it might be a step too far to grant the ICA the role to "coordinate the suite of future-climate simulations by research institutes". The only empowerment of the ICA should be its respect and reputation in the scientific community and in the political space. I am sure that national research monies will flow more easily where the ICA has previously identified scientific gaps. Any intermingling into national research programs will harm the neutrality of the ICA.

The question: Where would you draw the line content-wise? Climate science or climate research? WG1 or soft research -- as we have learnt here... ;-)

Georg said...

Hola Eduardo
I would give such an organism exactly the same chances in the public discussion as the IPCC now.
For a good part of the public opinion this administration will be exactly the same type of communist, prae-faschist, corrupt, religious organisation as the IPCC now. The fact that the IAEA was not treated like this is a) nobody knows how the transmutation of Plutonium works, however every seems to know how climate is doing (well!, of course) and b) actually it's not true. The IAEA was treated like the IPCC and they diddnt resist at all. Once the US decided to go into war against the Iran, the IAEA became an obstacle and was propagandistically treated as the IPCC is now.

By the way, if ever the ICA sees the light, avoid Indian scientist heading the agency. It seems they provoking racial reflexes at white amercican men:

eduardo said...

@ 1
Dear Björn,

in such a very short piece it is difficult to include all details of how such an agency would look like, and I would not be qualified for this anyway.

The role of coordinator of the climate simulations is perhaps not clear for someone that is not directly involved in climate research. There are about 23 models frm different institutions that perform simulations of future climate. To be comparable, and therefore more useful for research purposes, these simulations have to be carried out following some common protocol that specifies the concentrations of greenhouse gases and the variables that have to be stored and uploaded to a central data bank, among other things. This is an important data set for climate research. If the IPCC did not exist, nobody would coordinate these simulations and the data would be scattered in different repositories.

Also, importantly such an ICA would also act as a data bank and quality controller of the observational data sets, that have been the center of controversy. So the data requests could be directed to that agency and not to CRU or GISS

Concerning WG1 and WG2m my view is that the ICA would just have the role of current WG1 with those additional tasks that I mentioned before. All research about regional impacts would be done by the institutions in their respective countries. So India itself would study how the Indian glaciers could recede. They have the greatest interest to get it right. If they the need help, they could ask the ICA for it.

WG3 belongs in my opinion into the UNFCCC, which is a purely political body, and not in the IPCC or ICA. They would have to sort out the possible paths and strategies to implement their own targets.

eduardo said...

@ 2
Hola Georg,

Perhaps you are right, who knows. But I think that something has to happen, so the ICA would be a way forward. It doesnt need to be set up next week, but perhaps by the next IPCC Report.

The IAEA was subject to strong pressures at the time of the Irak war, but do you think that, in general, its credibility was diminished? Anyway the IAEA is just an example. We could think of other international agencies.

Surely there is a sector of people that would not accept anything. But a large majority of the people dangles in the middle of spectrum and are confused. They can in the future swing back again if they see there is nothing to hide; if they are shown what it is clearly known and what it is not known

Carl C said...

interesting idea, but I'm sorry, spending about 40 million euros per year doesn't seem feasible right now (200 scientists at 200K per year i.e. salary & overheads). especially in today's economy not to mention Europe & "failure" of Greece etc. It seems like it would immediately lead to cries of fiscal irresponsibility, out of touch with humanity/reality, etc.

One nice thing about the IPCC is it's basically "free" work. I'm beginning to think scrap the "political/philosophical" SPM and just leave disseminating the science/policy to the national boards (UK MO, US NSF, etc). this would all be basically "free" as the WG1 work.

eduardo said...

@ 5


the final size of 200 scientist is just a rough estimate. It would depend on the exact mandate for the agency.
Perhaps more important is your comment 'One nice thing about the IPCC is it's basically "free" work'. I think this is where we disagree. I agree rather with Pielke Jr and Muir-Wood , who in their recent debate in the Royal Institution suggested that ' good assessments cost money' as most other valuable services.

However,the IPCC work even now is not for free. Working time is just paid by the research institutions where the authors are working. So it is not paid by the customers.When errors occur it is difficult to pin down who is or was responsible. I think this is one of the basic questions that should be addressed.

Your last point seem to be worth a thought. Let the IPCC or the ICA just assess the physical basis of climate (so WG1) and let the impacts and adaptation to the national governments . mitigation can be negotiated in the Framework Convection for Climate Change , if the governments find that mitigation is neccesary.

Nils Simon said...

Eduardo, a (lengthy) comment from me I posted yesterday evening seems to have vanished. Would you care to check? Thanks.

eduardo said...

sorry, I cannot see anything here, and as far as I know none of the admins deleted anything (the deletion would be recorded anyway)
I hope you kept a draft of your comment..could you try to post again? sorry