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Report recommends fundamental reform of UN climate change panel

WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 — The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) needs to fundamentally reform its management structure and strengthen its procedures to handle ever larger and increasingly complex climate assessments, the InterAcademy Council (IAC), an Amsterdam-based organization of the world's science academies, said on Monday in a report.

"Operating under the public microscope the way IPCC does requires strong leadership, the continued and enthusiastic participation of distinguished scientists, an ability to adapt, and a commitment to openness if the value of these assessments to society is to be maintained," said Harold T. Shapiro, former president of Princeton University and chair of the committee that wrote the report.

Last year, a batch of errors embarrassed the IPCC. Among the most prominent were misleading statements about glaciers in the Himalayas. The IPCC incorrectly said they were melting faster than others and that they would disappear by 2035, hundreds of years earlier than other information suggests.

The IPCC was also widely criticized after admitting that it had overstated how much of the Netherlands is below sea level.

"Those errors did dent the credibility of the process, no question about it," said Shapiro.

This prompted UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and IPCC chair Rajendra K. Pachauri to issue a letter on March 10 this year requesting that the IAC review the IPCC and recommend ways to strengthen the processes and procedures by which future assessments are prepared.

The IAC report makes several recommendations to fortify the IPCC's management structure, including establishing an executive committee to act on the Panel's behalf and ensure that an ongoing decision-making capability is maintained. To enhance its credibility and independence, the executive committee should include individuals from outside the IPCC or even outside the climate science community. The IPCC also should appoint an executive director — with the status of a senior scientist equal to that of the Working Group co-chairs — to lead the Secretariat, handle day-to-day operations, and speak on behalf of the organization.

The current position of the IPCC secretary does not carry a level of autonomy or responsibility equivalent to that of executive directors at other organizations, the IAC committee found.

The part-time nature and fixed term of the IPCC chair's position has many advantages, the committee said, but the current limit of two six-year terms is too long. The IPCC chair and the proposed executive director, as well as the Working Group co- chairs, should be limited to the term of one assessment in order to maintain a variety of perspectives and fresh approach to each assessment.

Given that the IAC report was prompted in part by the revelation of errors in the last assessment, the committee examined the IPCC's review process as well. It concluded that the process is thorough, but stronger enforcement of existing IPCC review procedures could minimize the number of errors.

To that end, the IPCC should encourage review editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that all review comments are adequately considered. Review editors should also ensure that genuine controversies are reflected in the report and be satisfied that due consideration was given to properly documented alternative views. Lead authors should explicitly document that the full range of thoughtful scientific views has been considered.

The committee also called for more consistency in how the Working Groups characterize uncertainty.

"Importantly, this review found no evidence that alters the fundamental conclusions of the IPCC that climate change is occurring and it is 'very likely' caused by human activity. These conclusions have been recently reaffirmed by several leading scientific authorities, including the National Academy of Sciences, " said Jennifer Morgan, the Washington D.C.-based World Resource Institute's program director for climate and energy, in response to the report.

"The recommendations of the IAC will help bolster confidence in the IPCC — which is comprised of thousands of the world's leading climate scientists — and will ensure that the IPCC continues to be a leading source of scientific information on climate change," said Morgan.

"Around the world, we are witnessing the types of events consistent with climate models — from wildfires in Russia to massive flooding in Pakistan — that will become even more frequent if we do not take action to reduce climate change. The world must now focus on the serious business of finding practical solutions to the climate crisis," she added. (PNA/Xinhua)

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