U.N. Climate Panel In Crisis

  • Date: 05/05/10

A German climate researcher says that people are beginning to lose faith in climate research, pointing to the IPPC as one of the main causes. Norwegian IPCC veterans disagree about what the organization should do about it.

After a winter of setbacks and disclosure of mistakes, many different ideas have been put forward about what can be done about the IPPC and these ideas abound in newspapers and in journals such as Nature and Science. One of the most vociferous critics has been Hans von Storch. He is a professor of meteorology at the University of Hamburg, director of the Institute for Coastal Research at GKSS in Geestacht and was the main author of the chapter on regional climate in Working Group 1 (WG1) of the Third IPCC Assessment Report (AR3), which was published in 2001.

On 22 April 2010 he was in Oslo, where he addressed the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters in a lecture containing a number of objections to the IPCCs current way of working. The presentation of the lecture, you can see here.[link]

Not skeptic but a critic

Von Storch has long been critical of the way the IPCC has dealt with scientific uncertainty, and was himself described in less than flattering terms in some of the disputed emails released from the CRU at the University of East Anglia last November.

The man behind the hockey stick curve, Professor Michael Mann wrote, among other things, in an email to Phil Jones, the head of the University of East Anglia Climate Centre, that “Von Storch is a strange guy”, and that it would not surprise him if he was really a climate skeptic. Von Storch says he has nothing against being a strange guy, but he is not in any doubt that anthropogenic emissions are leading to climate change. He is however very critical of the internal processes of the IPCC and the role of chairman, Rajendra Pachauri.

Von Storch also says that the current low confidence in the IPCC and climate research field is not because people do not believe that greenhouse gases affect climate, but that the main problems are the politicisation[printing error?] of the field of climate research and poor handling of criticism and objections.

A need for stronger guidelines

The IPCC was established to give advice to politicians about climate science and policy, and one of the panel’s main goals is to be “policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy prescriptive”. This means that the panel should not put pressure on authorities to implement specific measures nor prescribe how nations should choose to do them.

Von Storch and colleagues wrote in an article in the German newspaper Der Spiegel that the IPCC had failed its mission in this area, and that this can be illustrated by some of Pachauri’s initiatives over the past year. Pachauri has urged people to eat less meat; said that 350 ppm is an appropriate measure for the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, despite the fact that the IPCC itself has not agreed to such a goal, and he has also encouraged the U.S. to strengthen their policy positions in relation to action against climate change.

Von Storch believes it is urgent that the IPCC have better guidelines about possible conflicts of interest and that the distinction between politics and science must be made clearer.

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