01 October 2010

Sage Advice from the Grantham Institute

Writing in the FT today, Simon Buckle of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College offers some sage advice for climate science in response to Lord Turnbull's op-ed earlier this week:
Sir, Andrew Turnbull (“A climate overhaul is needed to win back public trust”, Comment, September 27) argues for a meta-inquiry into the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia. Yet if his aim really is the restoration of public confidence in science, this seems an odd way to go about it. Better to focus limited political resource on reforming the critical science policy interface – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

I therefore support Lord Turnbull’s call for the immediate implementation of the InterAcademy Council’s recommendations for the IPCC’s management structures, governance and procedures. Future IPCC assessments must be able to withstand the intense scrutiny appropriate to potentially momentous changes in our economic and social systems.

Indeed I would go further. As soon as practicable, the IPCC should separate its climate science assessment from that on policy options.

Instead of the current three working groups (on physical science, impacts/vulnerability and mitigation), there should just be two. The first on our understanding of the changing climate system and the observed and projected impacts. The second on the range of available policy options (mitigation, adaptation and geo-engineering) in the context of this scientific evidence. The timing of their two reports should be substantially decoupled so that the conclusions from each can be fully assimilated and reflected in the other on an ongoing and cyclical basis.

This would spread the load on senior IPCC officials and reduce the risk of errors. The separation of the science assessment and response options would also help reinforce this crucial distinction in the minds of IPCC authors, the media and public. Together with the management and governance reforms urged by the IAC, these changes would provide a solid basis for restoring public confidence in climate science and the IPCC – a prerequisite for translating concern into effective and proportionate action.
In the jargon of The Honest Broker, Buckle's recommendation can be rephrased as calling for the separation of the function of science arbitration from honest brokering.  Right now the panel is muddled in its relation to policy, meaning that it is far too easy to slip into stealth issue advocacy.