Thursday, December 9, 2010

New assessment of the IPCC

Access IPCC is using fancy tools to assess the Fourth Assessment Report. You can quibble with their criteria, but the idea is sound and the implementation impressive.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

IPCC authors

Donna is having a go at the so-called "top scientists" who write the IPCC report. She found 1, 2, 3, 4 authors who where fresh out of grad school (if that) when elevated to the IPCC. There are more examples, of course: Sam Fankhauser, Richard Klein and myself.
I think it is good for an author team to have a mix of talent and experience. I think the fault lies with the leadership, who claim -- incorrectly as they well know -- that only top people write for the IPCC.
The infamous social cost chapter of AR2 had seven authors: one senior academic who guided the chapter, one senior consultant, two figureheads, and three juniors who did most of the work. It worked well. The team was fine, the chapter good. But of the seven, only David Pearce could be called top.
Thanks to Donna for exposing yet more lies. May the IPCC leaders start telling the truth.
UPDATE: #5 was added. Donna highlights another lie. Here's the truth: I'm younger than Richard Klein, and I was a CLA before him. See Donna #6.

Friday, October 15, 2010

IPCC reform (okay, a little bit)

More details have emerged on the "reform" of the IPCC.
1. The guidelines for non-peer-reviewed material have been updated. The old guidelines were fine. They were just not implemented.
2. Review editors will be reminded of their role (sic).
3. The guidelines for uncertainty will be updated. I found this a minor irritant in the past -- replacing judgement with ill-defined rules -- and I expect that the new guidelines will not improve things. No shortcut can do justice to the complexities of conveying degrees of confidence.
4. There will be a policy on conflicts of interest.

Point 4 is the only real progress, and it only matters if it is implemented -- unlike previous IPCC policies on basically everything.

The Plenary deferred all other reforms to a committee.

Pachauri still chairs the IPCC. He is incompetent, but that used to be irrelevant as the IPCC chair is a figurehead anyway. However, he has clearly and repeatedly demonstrated his incompetence to the world. Pachauri is a liability to the IPCC, and he should go.

The new conflict of interests policy will be tested immediately. Either the policy is not serious, or the IPCC chair will violate the policy.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

IPCC reform (not)

The IPCC meeting in Busan is over.
The first message was from Chris Field, co-chair of WG2, reassuring all authors that the decisions made were in the best interest of the IPCC -- without even explaining what those decisions were. Although one could interpret this as a classic example of paternalism, let's give Chris the benefit of doubt and assume that he was tired after an intense meeting and in a rush to the airport.

BBC and Reuters offer some detail into the decisions made: a committee was formed to look into the matter.

Another day, another farce in climate land.

Cheers in all the wrong places (four blogs who are no friend of the IPCC, and one blog on par with Pachauri). More sober stuff here, and bitter stuff here and here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Outline

We are now working on an annotated outline of Chapter 10, to be agreed at a later stage in coordination with the other 29 chapters.
Reaching agreement will be hard, partly because there are so many people around the table, and partly because the starting point is a fine example of writing by committee.
Ten chapters have a regional focus, and two are introductory so that the substance of "impacts, adaptation and vulnerability" are spread over 18 chapters only.
Chapter 10 covers networked infrastructure, industry and manufacturing, tourist, social and other services, market impacts and perhaps food production. That is, the secondary, tertiary, and quartery sectors and their interactions, and perhaps the primary sectors too -- the whole economy so.
The problem is that there are two chapters on water resources. Changes in the water avaiable for drinking, sewage, irrigation, cooling, and navigation is important to the economy. Where do these chapters end and Chapter 10 start? How to ensure consistency? Ditto for the chapter of food and agriculture, and the chapter on health (the largest sector of the economy). And then there is a chapter on sea level rise and coastal zones, where a lot of economic activity is concentrated. And of course the chapters on rural and urban areas, and the one on poverty.
There are four (!) chapters on adaptation. However, the economic impacts of climate change are mostly about people and companies responding to changed circumstances -- that is, adaptation.
To top it all up, there are two chapters that synthesize the impacts, look at different metrics of aggregation, study interactions between sectors and estimate higher-order effects -- just like you would expect in an economic paper on the impacts of climate change.
I expect the discussions on which chapter does what and why to drag on and on, right up till be final draft. There'll be a lot of heat and little light.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Regulating Knowledge Monopolies: The Case of the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has a monopoly on the provision of climate policy advice at the international level and a strong market position in national policy advice. This may have been the intention of the founders of the IPCC. I argue that the IPCC has a natural monopoly, as a new entrant would have to invest time and effort over a longer period to perhaps match the reputation, trust, goodwill, and network of the IPCC. The IPCC is a not-for-profit organization, and it is run by nominal volunteers; it therefore cannot engage in the price-gouging that is typical of monopolies. However, the IPCC has certainly taken up tasks outside its mandate; the IPCC has been accused of haughtiness; innovation is slow; quality may have declined; and the IPCC may have used its power to hinder competitors. There are all things that monopolies tend to do, against the public interest. The IPCC would perform better if it were regulated by an independent body which audits the IPCC procedures and assesses its performance; if outside organizations would be allowed to bid for the production of reports and the provision of services under the IPCC brand; and if policy makers would encourage potential competitors to the IPCC.

Full paper

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Letter from Pachauri

Edward Carr blogged on the recent letter from Rajendra Pachauri to the authors and editors of AR5. This created something of a buzz (see, e.g., Dot Earth) which may have lead to a clarification (see, again, Dot Earth). The reason: In the first letter, Pachauri issued a fatwa: Thou Shalt Not Speak To Journalists. This came on top of an earlier letter by Pachauri which had: Thou Shalt Not Blog. Fortunately, what Pachauri really meant to say was that we are not supposed to pretend that we speak on behalf of the IPCC, as indeed we do not.

Carr lamented the apparent "bunker mentality" of the IPCC with regard to communications with the outside world. I share that regret.

I would add two things, though. Firstly, Pachauri apparently does not trust IPCC authors and editors to be mature enough to say sensible things to journalists. Most of us have PhDs, after all, and many are full professors. We might just slip into juvenile language and compare people to Hitler, accuse them of practicing voodoo, or recommend they rub asbestos in their faces. Better to leave communication to the IPCC leadership, who would never say such things.

Secondly, Pachauri describes the IPCC as a "family". I had always thought that the IPCC was a professional organization. The word "family" evokes a sense of loyalty that is too strong (bunker mentality again). It implies that the composition of the team is determined, somewhat randomly, by a higher power. A family does not invite outside experts to fill gaps in knowledge, and it does not release weaker members from their duties.

Ed Carr was right so: We have learned nothing.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

IPCC Scholars

The IPCC is meant to assess the academic literature on climate change and policy so as to inform decision makers. This is important. It has also proven to be difficult to keep policy advocacy out of the IPCC.

There are two further issues. Some of the authors seem to have built a career on their involvement in the IPCC rather than on the strength of their research. This is just wrong. The IPCC should use the best people available, rather than the best IPCC people.

In some areas, the IPCC has deemed the available research to be insufficient and stepped in to develop the field. Scenario development is the prime example. Filling research gaps is always good, but in this case it led to the IPCC assessing its own work. The unsurprising result is that the IPCC declared that its own research is wonderful. I disagree, as documented here and here.

Now, there is a new development: The IPCC has started a scholarschip programme, seed-funded with the Nobel Peace Prize money. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, although one should wonder whether it is appropriate to lure bright young things in developing countries into climate research as that implies that they will not investigate other problems that may be more urgent. For the IPCC, there is the danger that the IPCC scholars of today will be preferred IPCC authors of tomorrow; and that their publications will be given preferential treatment in future IPCC assessments.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Selection of authors

The authors of IPCC WG2 AR5 have now been announced.

The selection process is something as follows.

As a first step, the IPCC member states nominate people, and indicate their role (convening lead author, lead author, review editor). Every member state does this differently. I know of one case in which somebody was nominated by his government, without him knowing. I know of one case in which someone was nominated by a junior civil servant, against the will of more senior civil servants. I know of one case in which someone agreed to be be nominated, but declined the invitation by the IPCC.

As a second step, the IPCC Technical Support Unit (TSU) and WG Bureau select the Convening Lead Authors (CLA). For some chapters, there is a choice, but for other chapters there is one candidate only -- or none.

As a third step, the CLAs select a team of Lead Authors from the nominations (having access to summary and full CVs), and submit the list to the TSU.

As a fourth step, the TSU and WG Bureau reconcile the conflicts between the lists of authors. Strange things happen in this phase. Apparently, a number of people were nominated for multiple roles -- and the good ones were selected for multiple roles. This makes a mockery of the notions that the IPCC has a clear outline and that IPCC authors are experts in their fields. Other candidates were excluded because there were too many people from country X -- even if country X has a long tradition in climate research and therefore a large pool of experts, and even if there is no expert from another country as a substitute. Finally, some people were selected as a lead author without being nominated for that chapter.

As a fifth step, TSU and CLA agree on the list, adding some people and removing others.

Because the nomination and selection process is about people, it cannot be fully open and transparent. I think that the current process can be improved, however. Particularly, it strikes me that there should be a strict limit on the number of chapters for which someone can be nominated. The structure of the reports should be much more crisp, so that people would clearly recognize where they can best contribute. While there should be a soft limit on the number of participants from a particular country, it cannot be that there are gaps of expertise because of such constraints.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Submission to the IAC (second draft)

I was a lead author of two chapters in the AR2 WG3 report (1995), a convening lead author in the WG2 Special Report on Regional Impacts (1998), a contributing author of one chapter in the AR3 WG1 report (2001), a lead author of one chapter in the AR3 WG2 report (2001), and a contributing author of one chapter in the AR4 WG2 report (2007). I am designated to be a convening lead author for AR5 WG2 (2014).

The IPCC is a victim of its own success. Policy makers trust the IPCC reports as neutral and authoritative assessments of climate research. Therefore, people with a political agenda have tried to influence the IPCC. Such attempts were largely in vain in AR2 and AR3, but this is not true for AR4. Working Group 2 systematically portrays climate change as a bigger problem than is scientifically acceptable. (Examples include the date of disappearance for glaciers in the Himalayas, the mix-up on weather and climate for agriculture in Africa, and the projected number of people at risk from water stress.) Working Group 3 systematically portrays climate policy as easier and cheaper than can be responsibly concluded from academic research. (Examples include the attribution of market-driven and welfare-improving improvements in energy efficiency to climate policy, the omission of the opportunity costs of energy research and development, and the use of gross (rather than net) estimates of job creation.) These biases can be found in the chapters, the technical summaries, the summaries for policy makers, and the synthesis report.

The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection of authors and Bureau Members. Some experts are included or excluded because of their political allegiance rather than their academic quality. Sometimes, the “right” authors are put in key positions with generous government grants to support their IPCC work, while the “wrong” authors are sidelined to draft irrelevant chapters and sections without any support.

AR5 should be put on hold until the IPCC can prove that its author teams indeed have the relevant expertise, and its authors are at least as qualified as their peers. If needed, the IPCC should request additional nominations.

The IPCC member states are represented by their environment departments. For AR6, this responsibility should be transferred to their research departments or their academies. The selection process for authors and Bureau Members should be made transparent. The IPCC should commission a scientometric assessment of its Bureau Members, authors, and chapters.

IPCC assessment reports do not cover the entire literature. For instance, the IPCC does not fully assess the literature on trade-offs between the various greenhouse gases and the literature on international environmental treaties. Both areas are actively researched and conclusions are typically critical of current policy, but were largely omitted from previous IPCC reports. The literature on comparing the impacts of climate change to the costs of emission reduction falls outside WG2 and WG3, and thus outside the Synthesis Report as well. There is a risk that the nascent literature on ex-post evaluations of climate policy (in Europe and Japan) will be ignored in AR5, and particularly those papers that show that climate policy is ineffective and needlessly expensive.

The IPCC should submit the proposed outline for AR5 for peer review, and ensure that it covers all aspects of climate change and climate policy, including those parts of the academic literature that are potentially embarrassing to policy makers.

The IPCC Plenary has delegated its supervisory powers to the IPCC Bureau, which is also its executive. This implies that there is no mechanism to correct the IPCC Chair (if, for example, he oversteps his mandate and gives policy advice on behalf of the IPCC, if he says embarrassing things to journalists, or if he uses the IPCC to raise funds for his home institution). There is no mechanism to reconcile differences between IPCC Working Groups on the treatment of interdisciplinary topics. (The main example is the IPCC treatment of global warming potentials as a pure physical issue.) Therefore, the Chairs of the IPCC and its Working Groups should leave the IPCC Bureau, and the Bureau should adopt a supervisory role under a strong and independent chairperson.

In contrast to the procedures for governing the IPCC and selecting its authors and officials, the procedures for drafting IPCC reports are acceptable on paper but not in practice. Particularly, these procedures were not enforced in AR4 WG2 and WG3. (Some chapters rely heavily on gray literature while ignoring peer-reviewed literature on the same matter (e.g., Ch 7 WG2). Other chapters cite papers published after the deadline (e.g., Ch 15 WG2). Incomplete drafts were sent for peer-review (e.g., Ch 11 WG3). Substantial material was added after the final review (e.g., Ch 20 WG2).) In order to avoid repetition, Review Editors should be more independent, and return chapters for further revision if needed. The Review Editors rather than the Convening Lead Authors should have the final say about chapters. Review Editors should actively seek the input of referees. Review Editors should have the right to reject sections of the report that do not meet basic quality standards at the deadline. In short, Review Editors should have the same powers as journal editors. Review Editors should be selected from the ranks of (former) journal editors.

The IPCC should engage the wider public in the review process. After the publication of AR4, the “blogosphere” uncovered a large number of procedural and substantial errors. It would be preferable to discover this before publication. Engaging with “the public” is difficult. Therefore, the IPCC should do this in an experimental fashion in AR5 so as to prepare guidelines for AR6. Experiments could include posting draft chapters on blogs for public comment (A draft of the current statement was discussed at, and posting draft chapters on wikis for public amendment.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Aims and scope

At this blog, I discuss the developments around Chapter 10 on Key Economic Sectors and Services of the Fifth Assessment Report of Working Group 2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.