August 31: UN climate change group told to stick to science | Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics

August 31: UN climate change group told to stick to science

Posted on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

OTTAWA - An international academy of scientists is telling the UN’s global climate change research group to stick to science and stay out of advocacy. The InterAcademy Council, an international group representing scientific bodies from around the world, began a review of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change back in March after a series of controversies over accuracy.

The IPCC’s 2007 report on climate change has been found to have a series of errors, some claims were found to have been based on literature from advocacy groups and data had been sexed-up to make the situation sound more desperate.

There were also concerns about a raft of leaked e-mails known as climategate that appeared to show scientists manipulating data.

“IPCC’s mandate is to be policy relevant, not policy prescriptive,” the report reads. “However, as noted above, IPCC spokespersons have not always adhered to this mandate. Straying into advocacy can only hurt IPCC’s credibility.”

In addition to advising the IPCC to stick to science and leave advocacy and policy to the political world, the report also calls for tighter standards.

The InterAcademy Council says authors of the IPCC report did not always follow procedures for using claims and data that came from unpublished scientific reports, newspaper articles or lobby groups.

The review was headed up by Princeton University Prof. Harold Shapiro, who told reporters one report by an IPCC working group “contains many statements that were assigned high confidence but for which there is little evidence.” The errors, he said, “did dent the credibility of the process.”

One of those errors was a claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt away completely by 2035, a claim not founded on science. “At least in our judgment, it came from just not paying close enough attention to what (peer) reviewers said about that example,” Shapiro said. In addition, Shapiro is recommending the IPCC implement a “rigorous conflict of interest policy” for researchers and officials.

The damning report is not worrying to green groups. Ian Bruce, a climate change specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, said the scientific evidence of global warming is sound.

“They’ve made some good recommendations on the importance of transparency and sound science,” said Bruce, when asked about the InterAcademy report.

Bruce said there is no problem with scientists highlighting the problem of climate change and offering solutions, saying that politicians need to decide what the best course of action is.

But deciding what policy is best requires politicians having accurate information said Prof. Ross McKitrick of the University of Guelph.  McKitrick said the fact that the report highlights errors or false claims passed off as fact is worrying. “That's a pretty shocking judgment and policymakers should demand heads roll over that. It's totally inexcusable,” said McKitrick. The report also chides editors at the IPCC for not giving adequate consideration of viewpoints that differ from their own.

By BRIAN LILLEY, Parliamentary Bureau
- With files from Reuters.

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