UN Reviews Climate Report -- But Will It Appease Skeptics?

UNITED NATIONS - It took a while for the United Nations to acknowledge errors by its Nobel-prize winning climate panel and order an independent review.

But the study will not tackle past mistakes and probably will not change the minds of skeptics or Americans in a Luddite mode -- despite overwhelming evidence from an overwhelming number of scientists that global warming is largely man-made.

After ignoring negative disclosures, a spokesman for the U.N. Environment Program, Nick Nuttall, said at a meeting of environment ministers in Bali, Indonesia, two weeks ago that a body to be appointed by independent scientists would "review and strengthen" the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-backed research body made up of several thousand scientists analyzing the cause and impact of climate change.

And on Wednesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that the InterAcademy Council, one of the world's most prestigious groups of scientists, would conduct the review. The Council, based in Amsterdam, comprises national academies of science from 15 nations, including the United States.

But Robbert Dijkgraaf, a mathematical physicist who co-chairs the academy, told reporters the review by volunteer scientists would not attempt to analyze the mountain of data accumulated by the UN panel. Instead they would recommend that future reports used proper procedures to identify errors, to ensure that climate change issues would be scientifically presented and to recommend accountable management and administrative structures.

The object, he is said, is "forward looking" and "not go over the vast amount of data in climate science." The review is due at the end of August, before the UN panel begins to organize work for another report due in 2013.

Nevertheless, the errors in the UN panel's fourth 2007 report (3,000 pages citing 10,000 scientific papers) raised questions of trust. One was that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, a claim that has been widely discredited. Glaciers are melting, from Antarctica to the Himalayas, but won't vanish, according to some sources, until 2350. And the report said 55 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level when the real figure is about half.

Another was the disclosure of hacked emails from Britain's University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit that purportedly showed that some scientists manipulated data. There were also charges that the chairman of the UN panel, Rajendra Pachauri of India, did outside consulting work as an environmental adviser to companies that may conflict with his climate panel duties.

Pachauri stood next to Ban at the United Nations when the secretary-general said the IPCC panel's work was the most authoritative source for assessing climate risk.

"The earth's climate systems are warming above and beyond natural variability. Human activities are contributing significantly to that warming through the emission of greenhouse gases," Ban said.

The secretary-general said nothing had been revealed that alters that consensus but admitted there were "a very small number of errors" in the fourth report.

Meanwhile, the Copenhagen accord now has the support of China and India as well as the United States. But whether it will turn into a legally binding treaty is debatable. In Washington, even relatively tame climate legislation passed the House of Representatives last summer but has little chance of being approved in the Senate, stunning Europeans, especially Germany which is trying to organize meetings among naysayers.

Led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales at the negotiations in Copenhagen, the newly-named Alba or Bolivarian countries are challenging capitalism and promoting a redistribution of wealth as a solution to climate change. In addition to Venezuela, they include Cuba, Bolivia, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Antigua and Barbuda, and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The next world climate summit is in Mexico in November.

Still back at home, the skeptics are gaining with figures like Sarah Palin calling mistakes in the report "junk science and doomsday scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood." The confusion is evident among the American public where a number of polls show only about a third believe in the reality of climate change.

"That's what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in the case, no matter how small they may be," said author Bill McKibben, writing on TomDispatch.