Big changes proposed to UN climate panel

Scientists reviewing the international climate change panel recommends major changes in the way it is run, but stopped short of calling for the ouster of the current leader.

Scientists reviewing the acclaimed but beleaguered international climate change panel recommended major changes in the way it is run on Monday, but stopped short of calling for the ouster of the current leader.

Report adds to pressure on Rajendra Pachauri, shown in this May 2010 photo, to step down as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. ((Mustafa Quraishi/Associated Press))
The independent review of the UN climate change panel puts new pressure on panel chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who has been criticized for possible conflicts of interest but shows no sign of preparing to step down.

"It's hard to see how the United Nations can both follow the advice of this committee and keep Rajendra Pachauri on board as head," said Roger Pielke Jr., a frequent critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The University of Colorado professor praised the review findings as a way of saving the climate panel with "tough love."

Representatives of the world's science academies outlined a series of "significant reforms" in management structure needed by the IPCC, which was awarded a Nobel Prize with former U.S. vice-president Al Gore in 2007.

Last year, a batch of errors embarrassed the authors of the climate report. 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.

"Those errors did dent the credibility of the process, no question about it," said former Princeton University president Harold Shapiro, who led the review of the IPCC.

Pachauri, an academic from India who also is a professor at Yale University, said many of the specific recommendations outlined are ones that he already has started. Critics, including some in the U.S. Senate, have urged him to resign, but on Monday he gave no indication he would.

"This has nothing to do with personalities," Pachauri said. "I think we're jumping the gun if we're talking about taking any action before the IPCC takes a look at the report."

Shapiro said if fundamental changes are made, the IPCC, created in 1989 by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization, can regain its credibility. The IPCC involves scientists mostly volunteering work with only 10 staff members, and even Pachauri is a part-time volunteer.

The 113-page review was requested by the IPCC and the UN after the errors were found. It did not look at the quality of the science itself, only how it was produced. Shapiro said the science behind the climate report was still credible, adding: "All the key recommendations that are really important are well supported by the scientific evidence."

Other outside reports — including ones by the British, Dutch and U.S. governments — have upheld the chief scientific finding of the IPCC: global warming is man-made and incontrovertible.

Still, Shapiro said the way the report expressed confidence in scientific findings was incomplete and at times even misleading. In the panel's first report, which is about the physical causes of global warming, scientists may have underestimated how confident they were in their conclusions, Shapiro said. But the second report, about the effects on daily life, in at least one instance claimed high confidence when there was no backing for that, he said.

The InterAcademy Council, a collection of the world's science academies, said the climate change group overall does a good job. But the council said it needs a full-time executive director, more openness and regular changes in leadership.

It also suggested stronger enforcement of how it reviews its research and adoption of conflict of interest rules. The conflict of interest issue was raised because of criticism last year of chairman Pachauri's work as adviser and board member of green energy companies.

Pachauri said he has been cleared on conflict claims, especially since he gave away all money he was paid to sit on companies' boards.