Separating IPCC from Climate Science
This week, the National Journal Experts Blog asks: Can a U.N. probe calm the climate science storm?
In considering what should be done in light of recent revelations about aspects of the IPCC report, it is critical to distinguish between two different issues. One has to do with the IPCC itself. And yes, it is clear that here reforms are in order. The IPCC needs to clarify what sources can be cited in its reports, that all sources are properly verified, and that these guidelines are enforced. Because of the important role the IPCC report plays in international discussions, the standard for accuracy and reliability of everything it issues must be very high. The independent review announced by UNEP and a transparent discussion about these issues at the next IPCC plenary is a necessary and welcome step.
The second issue relates to our basic understanding of climate science. Here I think the answer is equally clear. None of what we have recently heard or read changes the basic scientific consensus that human activities have increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, that these greenhouse gases have raised temperatures (and the more we put into the atmosphere, the more temperatures will increase), that sea level has risen and ice cover declined as a result, and that unless we act now to slow future emissions, we should expect these changes to get worse over time.
The body of scientific evidence behind these concerns has developed and grown over decades of research. It is reflected in assessments by the National Academy of Sciences going as far back as the 1970s. And it is reflected in the IPCC’s physical science assessment, which remains above reproach three years after its release.