The climate report published by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) every two years is supposed to be secret. But once again, another draft of the document, which summarizes the state of climate research, has been leaked to the media, and experts are beginning to question the organization's information strategy.
The content of the leaks is not the issue. Most of the data had already been published before from a previous draft, and authors have confirmed with SPIEGEL ONLINE details of the latest draft reported by major publications in recent days. But the leak is contributing to a sense that the IPCC is manipulating coverage.
The organization itself has reacted to the leak with customary brevity. It would take note of what was published, but not a position on the matter, said the office in Geneva. The document could still change, and thus drawing conclusions would be premature, they added.
But the IPCC -- which analyzes studies, but does not publish them itself -- also plans to release the results incrementally. The report's "Summary for Policy-Makers" is set to be released in Stockholm in late September, yet the report itself won't come out until the following Monday, which means the scientific basis of the summary can't be examined until then.
"There is an effort to prevent there being thousands of interpretations that create confusion," says Silke Beck, a social scientist and IPCC expert with the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research. It's an attempt by the IPCC to control public reception of the report, she says, and similar efforts in the past have accomplished just that.
But Beck adds that while the IPCC's "siege mentality" is intended to protect certain scientists from attacks by the industrial lobby, the it ultimately makes the organization itself more vulnerable. Renowned British climatologist Mike Hulme says this approach sows mistrust.
The generation of the IPCC report should be organized in a more transparent fashion, says the InterAcademic Council (IAC), which the UN commissioned to review the IPCC's work.
Now the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) is calling for the IPCC report to be published online so that it can be updated at any time. The current process disregards studies completed after a certain date, which means that UN climate data isn't up to date by the time its report is published, the institute says.
But IPCC chairman Rajenda Pachauri hasn't seem convinced in the past -- an e-mail he sent in 2010 to the authors of the report at that time recommended they avoid the media. He later said there had been a misunderstanding.
In the spirit of openness, however, the IPCC has invited independent international experts to review its next big report. But the report is still supposed to remain secret so that the final, peer-reviewed version can be released all at once. Still, among the 800 external reviewers, the thousands of contributing scientists, and politicians, there is always bound to be a leaker.