05 May 2010

Richard Tol's Draft Submission to IAC IPCC Review

Richard Tol has asked for your comments on his draft submission to the InterAcademy Council Review of the IPCC. His draft is below, and your comments on it are encouraged.
Richard Tol's Draft Submission

I was a lead author of two chapters in AR2's Working Group 3 report (1995), convening lead author in the Special Report on Regional Impacts published in 2001 (Working Group 2), contributing author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 1 report (2001), lead author of one chapter in AR3's Working Group 2 report (2001), and contributing author of one chapter in AR4's Working Group 2 report (2007).

The IPCC is a victim of its own success. Policy makers trust the IPCC reports as neutral and authoritative assessments of climate research. Therefore, people with a political agenda have tried to influence the IPCC. Such attempts were largely in vain in AR2 and AR3, but this is not true for AR4. Working Group 2 systematically portrays climate change as a bigger problem than is scientifically acceptable. Working Group 3 systematically portrays climate policy as easier and cheaper than can be responsibly concluded based on academic research. These biases can be found in the chapters, the technical summaries, the summaries for policy makers, and the synthesis report.

The most important problem of the IPCC is the nomination and selection of authors and Bureau Members. Experts are included or excluded because of their political allegiance rather than their academic quality. The “right” authors are put in key positions with generous grants to support their IPCC work, while the “wrong” authors are sidelined to draft irrelevant chapters and sections without any support.

IPCC assessment reports do not cover the entire literature. For instance, the IPCC does not fully assess the literature on trade-offs between greenhouse gases and international environmental treaties. Both areas are actively researched and conclusions are typically critical of current policy, but were largely omitted from the IPCC reports. The literature on comparing the impacts of climate change to the costs of emission reduction falls outside WG2 and WG3, and thus outside the Synthesis Report as well. There is a risk that the nascent literature on post-hoc evaluations of climate policy will be ignored in AR5.

AR5 should be put on hold until the IPCC can prove that its author teams indeed have the relevant expertise, and its authors are at least as qualified as their peers. If needed, the IPCC should request additional nominations. The IPCC should submit the proposed outline for AR5 for peer review, and ensure that it covers all aspects of climate change and climate policy, including those parts of the academic literature that are potentially embarrassing to policy makers.

The IPCC member states are represented by their environment departments. For AR6, this responsibility should be transferred to their research departments or their academies. The selection process for authors and Bureau Members should be made transparent. The IPCC should commission a scientometric assessment of its Bureau Members, authors, and chapters.

The IPCC Plenary has delegated its supervisory powers to the IPCC Bureau, which is also its executive. This implies that there is no mechanism to correct the IPCC Chair if he oversteps his mandate and gives policy advice on behalf of the IPCC, if he says embarrassing things to journalists, or if he uses the IPCC to raise funds for his home institution. There is no mechanism to reconcile differences between IPCC Working Groups on the treatment of interdisciplinary topics (e.g., global warming potentials). Therefore, the Chairs of the IPCC and its Working Groups should leave the IPCC Bureau, and the Bureau should adopt a supervisory role under a strong and independent chairperson.

The procedures for drafting IPCC reports are fine, but their enforcement is not. Review Editors should be more independent. The Review Editors rather than the Convening Lead Authors should have the final say about chapters. Review Editors should actively seek the input of referees. Review Editors should have the right to reject sections of the report that do not meet basic quality standards at the deadline.