The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently adopted a major new policy for overseeing conflicts of interest among its leaders and authors. I was very supportive of the proposed policy when it was first announced. But according to several, independent colleagues inside and outside of the IPCC, the organization still has a major decision to make on the proposed policy -- when does it come into effect?
The question that the IPCC apparently has yet to resolve is whether the new policy is to apply to participants in its fifth (current) assessment report or whether to defer application of the new policy until subsequent reports. This looming decision has -- as far as I can tell -- not been reported or openly discussed. (If the details on this decision that have been reported to me are incorrect, IPCC officials invited to set the record straight.)
The challenge faced by the IPCC is significant. Under the adopted policy it is inconceivable that its current chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, could continue to serve. Presumably, other participants would also fail to meet the high standards of the new policy. This would mean major change in the organization.
But if the IPCC decides to defer application of the new policy to future assessment reports it will risk being labelled unaccountable and even a farce by making a mockery of conflict of interest. A third option of implementing the policy but not enforcing it is possible, but seems unlikely, given the complete loss of credibility that would result.
What will the IPCC do? There is no easy choice. But at this point, does anyone really care?