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IPCC and Accountability

January 27, 2010

It may seem like all the controversy surrounding the IPCC these days is just more of the same battle between the “two sides” of the climate debate: the evil skeptics and the good people who believe in climate change. But that is not the case.

This is about the structure, role, and accountability of an extremely important and high profile institution: the IPCC. This piece in Der Speigel summarizes the problem quite well:

there is no code of conduct governing conflicts of interest for IPCC participants and leaders.

The lack of accountability in an organization of this importance is just astounding. The authors go on to make some broad recommendations:

It may be advisable to pause for wholesale institutional reform. The IPCC needs guidelines for the behavior of its officials, and those guidelines must be enforced. With a policy on conflict of interest similar to those in place in leading scientific advisory institutions, it seems obvious that the IPCC would need a new chairperson. The IPCC needs to adhere to its own standards for appointing experts and reviewing material that it reports. It needs to make its procedures for appointments more transparent. The IPCC peer-review should be made more robust, with quality assurance overriding deadlines. A formal mechanism should be put in place to correct errors after publication. Such reform will be a large and difficult task. But the credibility of climate science depends upon it.

I hope that we continue to see this kind of coverage of the IPCC. They need to recognize that it’s not enough to get the science right. They need to get the science advice right as well, and that means avoiding conflict of interest and demonstrating accountability and transparency.

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