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Time to shut down the IPCC?

By Joe Romm on December 12, 2007 at 2:09 pm

"Time to shut down the IPCC?"


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I have a long column at Salon.com, “Desperate times, desperate scientists,” which discusses how dire the climate situation is and how desperate climate scientists have become in the face of global inaction.

In general, I am a fan of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done — and they certainly deserve the Nobel Prize they shared with Al Gore. That said, at the end of the Salon piece I argue for disbanding it:

In fact, I think that with the release of the recent synthesis report, the IPCC has reached the end of its usefulness. Anyone who isn’t persuaded by that document and the general desperation of international climate scientists is unlikely to be moved by yet another such assessment and more begging. In particular, skeptical Americans are unlikely to be convinced by another international report that focuses on international climate impacts.

We could use a new definitive analysis by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on climate science, U.S. impacts, and solutions. That analysis should also do something the IPCC doesn’t — namely, look at plausible worst-case scenarios, given that such scenarios typically form the basis for most of our security and health policies.

It would be harder for Americans to ignore an Academy study than the IPCC reports. An Academy study would also be more likely to get thorough attention from the U.S. media and possibly even from conservatives….

I just don’t think that continuing the IPCC process will have any meaningful impact on American climate policy. And much of the rest of the industrialized world is ready to make the necessary commitments now.

Maybe the only reason for keeping the IPCC is if you think it will help persuade China and India to act (assuming we act), and I have my doubts that future IPCC reports will make much of a difference to them. The IPCC process is slow and unwieldy, and in the face of the rapid climate change we’re now seeing, the summaries are not merely understatements of the problem, they are out of date the moment they’re published.

We also need a more credible body to analyze climate solutions (i.e. mitigation strategies). I just don’t think the IPCC persuades anyone who isn’t already persuaded that mitigation is practical and affordable.

If you want to read the Salon article click here.

NASA: 2007 Second Warmest Year Ever, with Record Warmth Likely by 2010

Bali statement from Center for American Progress

8 Responses to Time to shut down the IPCC?

  1. Phil says:

    Time to shut down Climate Progress for suggesting such a heretical thing?

    Neither the U. S. National Academy of Sciences nor the IPCC will convince those who do not wish to be convinced.

    Dream on if you think it would make any difference.


  2. Earl Killian says:

    Isn’t this an argument for improving the IPCC, not disbanding it? While you could be right about the NAS being more influential in the U.S., remember that there are countries where the NAS would not be as influential as a international effort (the U.S. has pretty much blown its international credibility in recent years). For example, let’s say that in future years the IPCC decided the science on “dynamical processes” had improved to the point where they were willing to include these most important effects on their Greenland and WAIS ice sheet projections. The IPCC might be more effective than the NAS at getting such a point accepted around the globe.

    It does seem the IPCC process is slow and unwieldy, but wouldn’t that be best addressed by changes short of shutdown?

  3. John Fleck says:

    I agree with your assessment of the problem, but not with your suggested solution. The IPCC’s function is to inform in addition to persuading, and there is a great dealing of informing yet to be done. At this point there would be tremendous value for IPCC-style analysis of more narrowly focused questions, done more quickly. I can think of a long list of policy-relevant science of that type. Drought (you mentioned the Seager paper) is the most important to me, but I can think of a long and ongoing list – sea level rise, hurricanes, arctic ice, anticipated changes in agricultural productivity, etc. Almost every chapter of all three working group reports touch on ongoing issues where clear understanding of the evolving issues will remain critical.

  4. Gareth says:

    A very US-centric view, Joe. It’s understandable of course, but the rest of the world does get a little bit upset by suggestions that global policy should be determined by domestic US politics.

    The IPCC is here to stay, but it’s role could, perhaps should, be refined. As JF points out, it’s not as though there isn’t a lot of good science to do. Sound policy – global and domestic – is going to need to be informed by the best possible science.

  5. Dano says:

    Isn’t this an argument for improving the IPCC, not disbanding it?

    I agree with this statement. Improving communication to the public and to decision-makers is definitely needed.



  6. Joe says:

    I agree, but I don’t think these are the folks to do it. They’ve had a long, long time to learn how to do this already

  7. Dano says:

    Correct. Hard Science students are not taught how to communicate in this manner and get pummeled. Early on, Chris Mooney and I had long e-discussions about who should be doing the communicating, and you can see echoes of some of that conversation in his second book (not taking credit here, jus’ sayin’).

    My view is that there should be a science communication track where the communicators (Andy Revkin comes to mind, John Fleck, Quammen, Bass, etc) get some hard science education and write about what it all means to reg’lur folk.



  8. Dano says:

    BTW, the IPCC has done a horrible job at conveying the meaning and results of scenario analysis. It’s completely clear to me, as my grad concentration is in Env Planning with a year of urban ecology, and we did scenario analysis all the time. But it’s utterly unintelligible to Jane Sixpack, and a while back scare quotes were used around the phrase by the Industry Funded FUD Purveyors. Where is the report explaining how to use it? Where is the 1/2 hour show on NatGeo or Discover? Nowhere. Utter failure, but because they can’t communicate their ideas.