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Climate Panel To Get Independent Review

Climate Change: UN to commission audit of IPCC procedures

by Cheryl Hogue
March 8, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 10

Credit: Mikhail Evstafiev
Credit: Mikhail Evstafiev

The United Nations will commission an independent group to review the procedures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri announced on Feb. 27.

"We recognize the criticism that has been leveled at us and the need to respond," Pachauri said in a statement.

Details about the new IPCC review commission are not yet ironed out. This information is expected to be announced shortly, according to Pachauri.

IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former vice president Al Gore, has come under serious criticism in the past several months.

In January, IPCC owned up to a scientific error in its 2007 report—a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would melt so fast that they would disappear by 2035. This flawed conclusion about the rate of melting was eventually traced back to a news story published in 1999. In acknowledging this error, senior IPCC officials said they regretted "the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance."

This problem came on the heels of leaked e-mails between prominent climate scientists, which were stolen from the University of East Anglia and posted on the Internet in late 2009 (C&EN, Dec. 21, 2009, page 11). Some of the messages suggest that scientists have been taking measures in recent years to exert tighter control over the peer review process of some climate journals. Critics allege that the e-mails demonstrate that researchers pressured colleagues to manipulate or suppress findings. The scientists who authored the e-mails have said their words have been taken out of context.

Skeptics of human-induced climate change say the e-mails raise critical doubts about IPCC's scientific integrity. For instance, a report released last month by Republicans on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee said the contents of the e-mails "seriously compromise the IPCC-based'‘consensus' and its central conclusion that anthropogenic emissions are inexorably leading to environmental catastrophes."

In a related development, the U.K. House of Commons Science & Technology Committee on March 1 held a public inquiry into the hacked e-mails. Those facing questioning included Phil Jones, director of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and author of some of the most controversial stolen e-mails. Jones acknowledged that he had "written some very awful e-mails" but stood by the veracity of his science.

A U.K. independent review team is investigating the hacking of the e-mails and assessing whether the Climate Research Unit manipulated or suppressed scientific data.



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