Siege Mentality: Experts Pan IPCC's Climate Report Strategy

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Lightning over an unnamed city. Climate change is a divisive issue, and experts are urging the IPCC to handle its information strategy differently. Zoom
Corbis

Lightning over an unnamed city. Climate change is a divisive issue, and experts are urging the IPCC to handle its information strategy differently.

A draft of the next UN review of scientific studies on climate change has been leaked, and it's not the first time. Now, a growing number of experts are criticizing the the organization's secretetive approach to the reports.

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.

Leaks Loom

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.

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1. optional
peskyvera 08/23/2013
Why must everything always be 'behind closed doors' or secret? And those so readily willing to attack the reports...they should reveal who is paying them to act in such a dishonest manner.
2.
agompel@yahoo.com 08/23/2013
This does not justify the "behind closed doors" secrecy, quite the opposite. Just call the document "Draft No xxxx", and "Final Document xxxx", to prevent confusion between a work in progress, and a final document, as well as dishonest manipulation by politician. But of course, dishonest politicians with an agenda, want to blank check to cheat, manipulate and control information. Nothing new there...
3. Political results
randydutton 08/23/2013
The secrecy is so politicians can change the results to meet their political goals. Since lightning is common and natural, why put an unrelated photo on the article? Is it meant to sensationalize the article?
4. Why behind closed doors?
High Hat 08/24/2013
Whenever a con deal is foisted on the public the planning has to be secret. If the public realized the false documentation on "global warming" (not happening) or "climate change" ( world climate has changed throughout history) they would disregard the information as being worthless. Until I see a legitimate report without rigged numbers and false information I'll just expect the weather to keep changing. No one has paid me for my opinion but I will gladly accept donations! :-)
5. Ipcc
rajpe 08/25/2013
Google: Verification and Validation, software. Now realize that the "climate models" that the IPCC depends upon have never been validated.-------You cannot trust the IPCC information.----And moderators, don't you like limericks?
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