With IPCC Chair now off the hot seat, UN Chief must be held responsible
“The authority of the United Nations is being undermined by the incompetence exposed within its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], and ultimately the buck has to stop with UN Secretary General,” asserted International Climate Science Coalition Chief Science Adviser Professor Bob Carter of James Cook University in Australia.
Observers may be tempted to forgive Secretary General Ban ki-Moon for his failure to properly oversee the IPCC, only one of dozens of UN agencies. However, it seems strange that Mr. Ban has received no criticism whatsoever for years of damaging bias within an influential UN panel for which he is ultimately responsible. Instead, the IPCC Chairman, Indian economist Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, has taken all the heat.
Going into the IPCC meeting in South Korea earlier this month, there was worldwide pressure to dismiss Pachauri since many people considered him to have biases and conflicts of interest inappropriate for the IPCC Chair. Citing a loss in credibility on Pachauri’s part, Tim Yeo, chairman of the UK House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, said point blank, “… I think Dr. Pachauri should resign.” The eminent British climatologist Professor Sir Brian Hoskins said that he too believed that the IPCC Chair had to step down. Even John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, joined in the calls for Pachauri to be replaced for the sake of the UN’s climate change body’s credibility.
All to no avail. The IPCC simply postponed a decision on the InterAcademy Council review recommendation that chairs be limited to one term, thereby letting Pachauri continue. Even though he has already been in the job for eight years, it is clear that any term-limit decision won’t apply to Pachauri anyways, leaving the controversial and discredited academic in charge of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report to be completed by 2014. Pachauri told delegates at the IPCC plenary in Korea, “I feel grateful and very fortunate to have received an unprecedented measure of support in this period from the Panel. Your support has been a great asset during all kinds of weather, both fair and foul.”
While Pachauri’s continuance atop the IPCC pyramid pleases India, it will further erode public confidence in the climate panel’s conclusions. Perhaps India is happy with the prospect of a toothless IPCC since there will then be less pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are, unjustifiably, blamed for most climate change. If so, it is a good thing Pachauri was not fired so that developing nations can increase their focus on poverty alleviation instead.
The IPCC is so fundamentally flawed - scientifically, economically and procedurally - that no political leader should have ever taken their recommendations seriously in the first place. But governments are usually slow to correct their mistakes, so, even after recent revelations of serious IPCC problems, the climate policies of developed nations may well continue to be based on IPCC proclamations for a few more years. In time, however, the panel will almost certainly be abandoned by national governments that, belatedly, will be forced to react to their citizenry’s growing skepticism. The IPCC will then become irrelevant.
The fact that Pachauri was not dismissed raises some important questions, however. If he is not held seriously responsible for the IPCC’s shortcomings, then who is? Did Pachauri’s superiors know what was going on and, if so, when did they know it?
During the 2007 UN Bali climate conference, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was sent an open letter signed by 100 leading experts in the field in which he was alerted to IPCC process problems. The experts also asserted “it is not established that it is possible to significantly alter global climate through cuts in human greenhouse gas emissions.” The Secretary General failed to acknowledge the letter and also failed to address the concerns raised.
During the UN’s 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, Mr. Ban was sent The Copenhagen Climate Challenge signed by 195 climate and related experts. The letter told the UN chief that “there is no sound reason to impose expensive and restrictive public policy decisions on the peoples of the Earth without first providing convincing evidence that human activities are causing dangerous climate change ...” The scientists challenged the UN “to produce convincing OBSERVATIONAL EVIDENCE for their claims of dangerous human-caused global warming ….” Among the IPCC problems brought to Mr. Ban’s attention were ‘the IPCC’s approach to forecasting climate violated 72 principles of forecasting” and “The claims of the IPCC … with respect to sea level changes is deeply biased and not based on actual observation.” The scientists’ submission was tracked and confirmed as being delivered to the Secretary General’s office. Once again, Mr. Ban failed to acknowledge the letter and failed to address the concerns.
So there can be absolutely no doubt that, for several years, the Secretary General has been aware of serious problems inside the IPCC. Yet Mr. Ban continued to promote its conclusions as if they were beyond dispute. It was not until unrelenting media coverage of the various ‘gates’ – Climategate, Glaciergate, Amazongate, Kiwigate
, etc. - that the UN Chief finally ordered an inquiry.
Members of the United Nations must launch their own investigation into why Mr. Ban and others at the top of the UN let these problems fester for so many years. If they don’t have some very good explanations to offer, then heads should roll.
Tom Harris is the Ottawa-based Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition. Bryan Leyland is ICSC’s Founding Secretary and Energy Issues Advisor; he is based in Auckland, New Zealand.