24 July 2009

The IPCC Wants to be an Honest Broker

The excerpt below comes from a report of an IPCC scoping meeting for AR5 held in Italy a few weeks ago (PDF at p. 18).
In the future, the IPCC should assess and communicate risks in such a way that civil society, policymakers, and business can discuss practicable and consistent alternatives and include them in the collective decision-making process. Hence, the IPCC needs to strengthen its position of an "honest broker" that presents policy-relevant alternatives without prescribing decisions for politics, civil society, and business. The exploration of available alternatives should be supported by expert workshops that would allow the business community and civil society to share their knowledge with the scientific community. However, the honest broker role is only possible if WGIII explores multiple scenarios for managing the climate problem. Instead of emphasizing one pathway to a low-carbon economy, it should emphasize to policy-makers that there are many ways. Therefore, WGIII should also internally explore self-consistent extreme scenarios (e.g. scenarios with an extreme expansion of nuclear or renewable energies) and assess their social, economic and technical implications. This seems to be a much more effective way to communicate risks to policy-makers as it encourages adequate thought surrounding distinct alternatives and variable representations of the problem. Forming a consensus about policy options is a task for policy-makers - scientists should try to explore the implications of scenarios in a consistent way.
Such a role would be a very useful step forward for the IPCC, and a marked change from the role taken by its leadership in recent years, which has been to advocate for particular policies that are not evaluated or even discussed by the IPCC.