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Climate change panel taps experts in more fields

By Frank Jordans
Associated Press / June 24, 2010

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GENEVA — The UN science body on climate change, accused of ignoring its critics and allowing glaring errors to creep into its work, announced yesterday that a broader range of experts will write its next report on global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change includes more women and scientists from developing countries, as well as authors with a wider range of backgrounds than previously — partly in response to recent criticism that earlier groups refused to address dissenting views.

“We didn’t want old club members who repeat themselves from one assessment to the next,’’ Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the group’s vice chairman, said.

The group, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 together with Al Gore, issues reports that governments, businesses, and individuals use to determine how they will deal with climate change. It began in 1989, and has issued four reports so far — the most recent one in 2007.

“Climate change 20 years ago was very much a physical science question’’ but has since come to include social, economic, and even ethical issues, van Ypersele said. He noted that in addition to meteorologists, physicists, statisticians, and engineers, the latest group of authors now includes at least one philosopher.

Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies scientist at University of Colorado and past critic of the IPCC, said the list “looks like business as usual,’’ but insisted the authors should be given a chance to show they could improve on previous reports.

Pielke said his concerns with the reports have “far less to do with the individuals involved than a deeply flawed process.’’

An independent review of the IPCC’s methods for gathering, synthesizing, and reviewing data, due to be released Sept. 1, might improve the work on the fifth report, said Pielke, who declined an invitation to participate for professional and personal reasons.

Chris Field, who cochairs the group that will examine the impact of climate change, said the IPCC authors were open to making changes to their work if recommended to do so by the independent review.

Among the most blatant errors in the fourth report was the conclusion that Himalayan glaciers would disappear as early as 2035 — a date that turned out to be wrong by hundreds of years.

“I believe the column concerning the Himalayan glaciers was a genuine mistake made in good faith,’’ Field said. Still, the group will put in place better quality controls, particularly for the regional reports, he said.

Climate change skeptics say IPCC scientists have overestimated the effect of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and underplayed natural cycles of warming and cooling. Others have claimed the authors, who are not paid for their work, exaggerated the effects that climate change will have on the environment and human life.

Van Ypersele insisted that the panel welcomed critical views.

“We are quite open to people who have strong opinions against IPCC, as long as they play by the rules,’’ he said.

The fifth report will be released between 2013 and 2014.

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