WASHINGTON — Scientists reviewing the acclaimed but beleaguered international climate change panel called Monday for a major overhaul in the way it's run, but stopped short of calling for the ouster of the current leader.
The independent review of the U.N. climate panel puts new pressure on chairman Rajendra Pachauri, who has been criticized for possible conflicts of interest, but shows no sign of stepping down.
"It's hard to see how the United Nations can both follow the advice of this committee and keep Rajendra Pachauri on board as head," said Roger Pielke Jr., a frequent critic of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The University of Colorado professor praised the review findings as a way of saving the climate panel with "tough love."
The InterAcademy Council, a collection of the world's science academies, outlined a series of "significant reforms" in management structure needed by the IPCC, a body that won a Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore in 2007.
Last year, a batch of errors embarrassed the authors of the climate report. Among the most prominent were misleading statements about glaciers in the Himalayas. The IPCC incorrectly said they were melting faster than others and that they would disappear by 2035 – hundreds of years earlier than other information suggests.
"Those errors did dent the credibility of the process, no question about it," said former Princeton University president Harold Shapiro, who led the review of the IPCC.
Climate change science took a parade of public hits last winter, starting with the release of hacked e-mails from a British climate center. Then there was the failure of a summit in Copenhagen to come up with mandatory greenhouse gas pollution limits, followed by the mistakes discovered in the IPCC report. On top of that, the winter seemed unusually cold in many places, undercutting belief in global warming.
The mood seems different now. Several outside reports – including those by the British, Dutch and American governments – have upheld the chief scientific finding of the climate panel: that global warming is man-made and incontrovertible. This year, so far, is on target to be the hottest on record worldwide with a number of extreme weather events.
IPCC chief Pachauri, an academic from India who also is a professor at Yale, said many of the recommendations outlined are steps he already has started. Critics, including those in the U.S. Senate, have called on him to resign, but on Monday he gave no indication he would.
"This has nothing to do with personalities," Pachauri told The Associated Press. "I think we're jumping the gun if we're talking about taking any action before the IPCC takes a look at the report."
Shapiro said if fundamental changes are made, the IPCC – created in 1989 by the United Nations and World Meteorological Organization – can regain its credibility. The IPCC involves scientists mostly volunteering work with only 10 staffers, and even Pachauri is a part-time volunteer.
The 113-page review was requested by the IPCC and the U.N. after the errors were found. It didn't study the quality of the science itself, although Shapiro said the key recommendations in the climate report "are well supported by the scientific evidence."
Still, he said the way the report expressed confidence in scientific findings was incomplete and at times even misleading. In the panel's first report, which addresses the physical causes of global warming, scientists may have underestimated how confident they were in their conclusions, Shapiro said. In the second report, about the effects on daily life, in at least one instance they may have overestimated the scientific backing for their conclusions, he suggested.
The InterAcademy Council said the climate change group overall has done a good job. But the council said it needs a full-time executive director, more openness and regular changes in leadership. It also called for stronger enforcement of its reviews of research and adoption of a conflict of interest policy, which the IPCC does not have, even though its parent agencies do. The conflict of interest issue was raised because of Pachauri's work as adviser and board member of green energy companies.
Pachauri said he has been cleared of any conflict claims, especially since he gave away all the money he was paid to sit on companies' boards.
Scientists who have been among the IPCC authors praised the study. Andrew Weaver of the University of Victoria in Canada said the recommended changes include some that scientists have urged, but he doesn't see these changes as being major.
Weaver said the focus on IPCC structure misses the point when it comes to global warming: "The Titanic is sinking and we're arguing about the nature of the deck chairs."
Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said the review would help the IPCC recover some of the credibility it lost when it came under a "concerted effort" to attack its integrity.
Steiner said in a telephone interview said the new report restores "in the public mind a level of confidence which is critical for the IPCC's work to be used as a basis for international negotiations and policy making."
Associated Press writers Edith Lederer in New York and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report
The InterAcademy Council's review: http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: http://www.ipcc.ch/