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More trust needed in climate change panel

A scientific panel requested by the UN delivers a blow to the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The advice: remove conflicts of interest and review the data on global warming better.

By Clayton Jones / August 30, 2010

Ice melts in the source region of China's Yellow River on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, known as the "Roof of the World," on April 19, 2010. Global warming on the plateau is cutting into water resources for Asia's mightiest rivers including the Yangtze, Yellow and Mekong, experts say, as melting glaciers and permafrost along the mountain ranges are leading to erosion of the plateau's grasslands and wetlands.

AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN/NEWSCOM

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One of my favorite cartoons shows a man writing a letter while snow falls outside his window. The letter states: “Dear weatherman, I just shoveled two feet of ‘partly cloudy’ off my driveway.”

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Let’s hope the United Nations scientific committee on global warming does not receive such letters in the future. Its forecasts of a toaster Earth this century so far seem on track with record temperatures in recent years. But the committee, known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does need to clean up the way it reviews climate data in order to avoid errors and to keep earning the trust of the world.

That was the conclusion of another scientific body, the InterAcademy Council (IAC), in a report Monday. This panel, requested by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the IPCC’s response to recent discoveries of errors in IPCC reports – such as a prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035 – was “slow and inadequate.”

The climate scientists on the IPCC must avoid conflicts of interest, be more open about scientific uncertainty, and address their critics better, the panel advised. The IAC did not address the use of “gray literature,” sources other than peer-reviewed articles.

The next IPCC reports are due out in 2013-14. That’s plenty of time to fix the committee’s minor credibility problems.

It is a lesson that every TV weatherman (and weatherwoman) has had to learn after a forecast goes bad.

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