News has been making the rounds that respected Canadian climatologist Andrew Weaver has throw his hat behind those that criticize the IPCC. And in some respects he has done just that, but importantly he has not called into question the science included in the IPCC reports, nor the conclusion that our GHG emissions are responsible for the recent warming trend.
So what are his criticisms? First, it seems that Weaver doesn’t want to see the leadership of the IPCC use their position as a platform calling for specific policy actions.
Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, says the leadership of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has allowed it to advocate for action on global warming, rather than serve simply as a neutral science advisory body.
“There’s been some dangerous crossing of that line,” said Weaver on Tuesday, echoing the published sentiments of other top climate scientists in the U.S. and Europe this week.
“Some might argue we need a change in some of the upper leadership of the IPCC, who are perceived as becoming advocates,” he told Canwest News Service. “I think that is a very legitimate question.”
There is some merit to this position, the IPCC has no business weighing in on the carbon tax vs cap-and-trade debate, or evaluating other policy proposals. As a scientific body they should focus on the science; they are not tasked with policy analysis. Their extent into the policy arena should be limited to informing policymakers of what the science says.
That being said, even though the IPCC leadership should not use their position on the IPCC to advocate for policy changes, they should still be able to advocate personally for what they think is the best course of action. Obviously this is a fine line.
But Weaver is specifically not calling for anyone’s resignation:
The IPCC is charged with developing assessment reports that inform policy.
They are not tasked with prescribing policy outcomes. As such, any policy recommendations put forward by the chair of the IPCC or any of its working groups represent their individual views, rather than the view of the IPCC itself. Some have been questioning whether certain statements by the current chair are appropriate. I agree that these are legitimate questions to ask, but that does not mean that I am calling for the chair’s resignation.
His second criticism is more interesting:
Weaver also says the IPCC has become too large and unwieldy. He says its periodic reports, such as the 3,000 page, 2007 report that won the Nobel Prize, are eating up valuable academic resources and driving scientists to produce work on tight, artificial deadlines, at the expense of other, longer-term inquiries that are equally important to understanding climate change… He also says the IPCC must stop producing huge, all-encompassing reports on every aspect of climate science and instead re-organize itself into a series of small, highly-focused groups, each tasked with examining a single specific scientific question and none required to publish their conclusions on quick deadlines.
The IPCC is broken down into three working groups. These groups have become very large due to the enormity of evidence that has to be examined. As a consequence, there is not as much interaction among them as there should be.
The recent erroneous statement in the Impacts and Adaptation report regarding the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner” is a case in point. Were there more regular interactions among the various working groups, such a statement would likely have been caught by the broader science community.
There is an interesting discussion to have here, but I don’t know enough about the IPCC process, and its effect on the scientist writing the reports to make a useful contribution.
But certainly this doesn’t suggest the science in the IPCC is flawed, as Weaver makes abundantly clear:
Weaver says the vast majority of the science in the IPCC reports is valid, and that the glacier revelations —”one small thing,” in a 3,000 word document, as he calls it — shouldn’t be used to discredit other parts of the report.
“There is not a global conspiracy to drum up false evidence of global warming,” he says.
None of this changes the conclusions of the IPCC concerning the human contribution to past, present and future global warming. These conclusions are supported by the national science academies of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Canada, China, India, Japan and a host of other nations. The real question is whether or not we want to deal with this problem. And for this, the IPCC cannot provide the answer.
Small mistakes are inevitable in such a detailed document, and should come to a surprise to no one.
Science works fine in aggregate, but this idea that science must have only flawless people doing impeccable work is a strawman set up by the superstitious to discredit empiricism through nutpicking. –Tim F.
The bottom line, is that the IPCC has never been above criticism (though plenty of criticism of the IPCC is so absurd it is clearly bellow the IPCC), and Weaver’s comments are worth considering. But nothing he said is a criticism of the science in the IPCC, not should it be taken as evidence that the IPCC reports cannot be trusted. They can, Weaver made that abundantly clear.