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.