IPCC plays safe, turns to governments: A rebuttal | india | Hindustan Times
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IPCC plays safe, turns to governments: A rebuttal

india Updated: Feb 18, 2010 00:46 IST

Hindustan Times
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Suruchi Bhadwal, Lead Author, IPCC AR4 and Fellow, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)

Apropos your article in the Hindustan Times of February 15, 2010 of the above title, that results in a gross misrepresentation of facts.

As a lead author to the WGII Fourth Assessment Report, I can say that the procedures adopted by the IPCC have been very clear which begins with a transparent process of nomination of experts by country focal points in Ministries from each country to contribute to report writing. These have been in existence since 1990 and followed systematically from the time of the First Assessment Report.

The media needs to learn more about the IPCC and its processes before it refutes it openly in the manner it has done of late. A well established intergovernmental body with thousands of scientists worldwide contributing to its reports, the IPCC report assimilates within it a balanced, yet conservative, understanding of the state of knowledge on the science related to climate change and its consequent impacts. The report therefore is the most comprehensive compilation of the various dimensions of climate change and no single person, no matter of how impeccable a science background, can claim to have a full understanding of this output.

The criticisms reported in the media provided by leads from climate sceptics have been proven to be generally unfounded and also marginal to the assessment. Media criticism on the use of non-journal literature by authors does not investigate the reasons behind inclusion of that literature, done basically with the concern to avoid loss of valuable information in areas where there has been limited research and reporting in peer reviewed journals especially in case of vulnerability assessments, and adaptation and reported literature from developing countries. As an IPCC author, I would urge you to exercise caution when making sweeping pronouncements on either product or process.

Even the recently identified case on sea-level rise in the Netherlands has been since corrected by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency that has said that “In the 2007 IPCC report by the Working group 2 (Climate change 2007: Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability) a mistake has entered the text that was supplied by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, regarding the risks of flooding for the Netherlands…”

Mr Chauhan needs to remember that the IPCC is a network organisation wherein all the scientists associated from different parts of the world and from different disciplines are not employees of the organisation. Their allegiance is largely to the science and the process adopted ensures its own checks and balances. It also needs to be reiterated that these reports are reviewed extensively both internally as well as externally and the drafts of each chapter of all the reports are kept in the public domain for comments. Comments are received from several sources including scientists, academia and governments which then get duly addressed by the authors.

After this process, the Summary for Policy Makers of each Working Group Report also gets reviewed by country delegations word by word in a plenary to allow for final approval of the text.

It seems that the intensity of research and expert contributions have been grossly underestimated in the media reports. I hope you will correct your reportage and also publish my letter in full.

Chetan Chauhan replies

Nowhere does the story claim that IPCC’s review process is flawed, even though the UN body has admitted to mistakes on Himalayan glaciers and sea levels in the Netherlands, and for which Suruchi Bhadwal has provided an explanation. The claim on the Netherlands was based on an IPCC note to news agencies AFP and Reuters, where the UN body admitted to wrongly stating that 55 per cent of the Netherlands is below sea level. Bhadwal acknowledges it was a mistake, attributing it to the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency. This is an issue the IPCC’s peer-review process needs to address.

As for the claim that I challenged the IPCC’s review process, Bhadwal has only read the headline and not the story. Nowhere the report says that the IPCC’s scientific process is flawed. The news report was based on an IPCC letter to national governments.

On the point that IPCC is a multinational body with representation from institutes of individual nations, the story only refers to the letter and does not say that the IPCC is not a multinational body. Bhadwal has not refuted any specifics of the letter reported in the story, instead issuing a general criticism of media reportage of the IPCC process. I fail to see how the story has misrepresented facts.