UN launches review of criticised climate panel

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday (10 March) that a group of national science academies would review UN climate science to restore trust after a 2007 global warming report was found to have errors.

Earlier this year, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged its report had exaggerated the pace of Himalayan glacier melt, and last month said the document also had overstated how much of the Netherlands is below sea level.

"Let me be clear – the threat posed by climate change is real," Ban told reporters alongside IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri. "Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change."

Ban acknowledged there was "a very small number of errors" in what is known as the Fourth Assessment Report published in 2007, a document of more than 3,000 pages which cited over 10,000 scientific papers. The next such report on climate change will be published in 2013 and 2014.

Despite the errors, Pachauri told reporters he stood by the 2007 report's principle message that global warming is real and is accelerating due to so-called greenhouse gas emissions.

"We believe the conclusions of that report are really beyond any reasonable doubt," he said, adding that they were "solid and credible".

Ban said the InterAcademy Council, a grouping of the world's science academies, would lead the review, which he promised would be "conducted completely independently of the United Nations".

Independent of, but funded by, the UN

The IAC is hosted by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in Amsterdam and includes Britain's Royal Society, and more than a dozen other national science academies.

Council co-chairman Robbert Dijkgraaf, a professor of mathematical physics at the University of Amsterdam, told reporters that the review would be entirely independent of the United Nations but would be funded by it. He added that the review panel would present its report by the end of August.

Ban hinted that some changes in the way the IPCC reports are compiled might be necessary to avoid future mistakes.

"We need to ensure full transparency, accuracy and objectivity, and minimise the potential for any errors going forward," he said.

Pachauri, who has been resisting pressure from critics to resign, said he expected the review "will help us in strengthening the entire process by which we carry out preparation of our reports".

Neither Pachauri nor Ban took questions from reporters.

Surveys suggest public conviction of global warming's risks may have been undermined by the errors and by the disclosure last year of hacked e-mails revealing scientists sniping at sceptics.

The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US Vice-President Al Gore, and produces the main scientific document driving global efforts to agree a new, more ambitious climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and switch from fossil fuels to cleaner, low-carbon supplies of energy.

But its 2007 report wrongly said Himalayan glaciers could vanish by 2035, a prediction derived from articles which had not been reviewed by scientists before publication. An original source had spoken of the world's glaciers melting by 2350.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading climate change research body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The organisation publishes reports assessing the latest scientific information on climate change, which are widely used by governments as a basis for policymaking.

The IPCC has recently come under the spotlight for claiming in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report that Himalayan glaciers are in danger of disappearing by 2035. The Indian government questioned this assumption in a report published last year (EURACTIV 16/12/09), the findings of which IPPC chairman Rajendra Pachauri dismissed as "voodoo science".

Nevertheless, on 20 January 2010, the IPCC was forced to issue a statement admitting to having made a mistake regarding the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are disappearing (EURACTIV 26/01/10).

Last month, the panel acknowledged another mistake in the 2007 report, stating that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level (EURACTIV 15/02/10).

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):Homepage

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