Criticisms of the International Panel on Climate Change have been growing louder in the past few weeks, with many climate scientists themselves beginning to jump in.
Nature has canvassed five prominent climate scientists’ views on how the IPCC should be reformed, and come up with as many answers.
A commonly-held belief is that the process needs to be faster – the last report was in 2007 and the next one is in 2014. But how to achieve this – and whether it should be through a more top-down or bottom-up approach – is very much up for discussion.
John Christy of the US has the most eye-catching idea; a sort of Wikipedia approach to publishing and reviewing data. But even he admits that “defining and following rules for this idea would be agonising”.
Mike Hulme of the UK suggests three groups: including one with regional panels on climate change. Hulme, in our interview with him last year, made the very good point that determining the effects of climate change around the world is a tricky business, and something that confuses the ‘story’ of the issue. More prosaically, another recent story in Nature stated that regional climate effects are one of the biggest unknowns in climate science.
Germany’s Eduardo Zorita however suggested that rather than ‘re-inventing the wheel’, the agency should be strengthened – along with its adherence to its own guidelines. Thomas Stocker of Switzerland defended the IPCC, but said it must resist pressure to come up with findings timed to coincide with big meetings.
A more moderate proposal is to set up a permanent international agency, like the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IPCC today mostly consists of a panel of unpaid scientists – but IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri has suggested hiring some permanent support staff.
What would it mean if the scientists on the IPCC themselves were paid? Currently, they only receive travel and expenses for their work. It might make the death threats and the stream of criticism and abuse that accompanies membership more palatable.
An Australian climate scientist who served on the IPCC panel in the past told Crikey that one of the problems with the constant attacks was differentiating between genuine sceptics and outright denialists:
Pitman compares the activities of the former to “Denial of Service” attacks. “There’s a saying about how it takes a second to lie convincingly but it can take days and weeks to show that it’s a lie. Responding to attacks and questions takes time, and I think many scientists don’t engage because it takes up so much time that they should be devoting to research,” says Pitman. “But even if you’ve responded to the same question 20 times before, if you fail to respond once you’re attacked as ‘having no answers.’”
Back to the original question of IPCC reform.
The issue is not only complex, but hugely controversial.
How long will it take, exactly?
(The Guardian has some more pundits’ ideas for the IPCC, if you want more).