Q&A: Debate Over Climate Panel Bias

A climate change writer is concerned over possible bias within an IPCC working group that assesses options for combating climate change.

By | July 18, 2011

image: Q&A: Debate Over Climate Panel Bias Wikimedia Commons, Salvatore Barbera

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, SALVATORE BARBERA

In June, a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report that reviewed options for mitigating climate change that limit greenhouse gas emissions—such as renewable energy technology—and enhance activities that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Over a month before the report’s publication, the IPCC highlighted an optimistic scenario for future renewable energy use—that it may comprise 77 percent of the total world energy supply by 2050—in press releases and summary reports issued to policy makers. But when the full report was released last month, it became clear that the scenario was based on data from a study by Greenpeace—a non-profit environmental campaign organization that supports renewable energy as a solution to energy shortages and dependence on foreign oil—and that the IPCC report chapter that included the data had been drafted in part by Greenpeace’s Renewable Energy Director Sven Teske.

This week, Nature Climate Change published two commentaries that argued whether this represents a conflict of interest and indicates bias by the IPCC. While Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC working group that drafted the report, argues that all perceptions of bias are unfounded, climate policy journalist Mark Lynas says that prominence given to an unlikely prediction from a campaign organization is cause for concern. The Scientist spoke with Lynas about how the panel’s actions could undermine the public’s confidence in the IPCC and whether he thinks the report can be trusted.

The Scientist: What is your concern about the inclusion of Greenpeace campaigner Sven Teske on the IPCC panel?

Mark Lynas: Sven Teske was a lead author within one of the report chapters which gave possibly undue prominence to his own [organization’s] work and his scenario of 80 percent renewables by 2050. The IPCC is in the process of formulating conflict of interest procedures, and they make it clear that it’s the appearance of conflict of interest which matters. It doesn’t have to be proven. I think there is a perceived conflict of interest with having a campaigner with a clear agenda, reviewing their own work, which then becomes highlighted as the lead figure for the entire report.

I’m not suggesting that Greenpeace submitted tainted data; I’m suggesting that the presence of Greenpeace as a campaigning organization within the IPCC, which is supposed to be disinterested and composed of scientists, is problematic.

TS: What do the Greenpeace data show?

ML: It’s a very optimistic scenario for a world where primary energy use decreases massively despite population growth and economic growth up until 2050, and which sees a roll-out of 77 percent renewable power supply by 2050, even in the context of a complete phase-out of nuclear. I would say it’s a highly unrealistic scenario, but that’s a separate concern from whether it was given undue prominence in the IPCC report.

TS: Do you think the outcome of the IPCC’s findings would have been changed if Teske hadn’t been on the panel? 

ML: I have no idea. I have no involvement with the IPCC, so it’s impossible to tell from outside. But that’s why it’s so important that there’s no appearance of bias or conflict of interest in these kinds of records.

TS: Are there other panel members who may have a conflict of interest?

ML: It’s been pointed out that there were panel members from industry who potentially also have conflicts of interest. For example, in the chapter on hydro-power, some of the co-authors are involved in companies which build dams. That’s an obvious financial incentive to promote hydro-power. This isn’t just a one-off. That’s why I’m insisting that it needs to be looked at much more seriously by the coordinating lead authors.

TS: Ottmar Edenhofer writes that the inclusion of data from panel members is not an unusual occurrence and shouldn’t be viewed as bias. “For all IPCC assessments, teams of leading experts consider large bodies of literature. These will often include some of their own work, as leading experts in an area will have contributed to the relevant literature.” Do you agree?

ML: That’s why you need a conflict of interest policy. Because there will be occasions where lead authors are such acknowledged experts in their field that they will be put in a position of reviewing some of their own work. So this isn’t just about campaigners or industry, conflict of interest exists for supposedly good-interested sciences as well. If you read Edenhofer’s statement, he does seem to suggest that [this working group] needs a different set of standards [than other IPCC working groups] because they have a broader spectrum of expertise that they need to draw from, which includes campaigners and industry. If [this working group] has a lower [conflict of interest] standard, that would potentially bring the IPCC into disrepute.

TS: What are the consequences of a public perception of bias within the panel?

ML: The challenges that have been made about the rigor and impartiality of climate science in general and other controversies which surrounded the IPCC recently have made it apparent that it’s doubly important for the IPCC to be beyond reproach in how it carries out its work. If we are to move urgently forward with climate change solutions, as I think we should, we need to have a scientific point of reference which is really beyond reasonable challenge.

Advertisement

Add a Comment

Avatar of: You

You

Processing...
Processing...

Sign In with your LabX Media Group Passport to leave a comment

Not a member? Register Now!

LabX Media Group Passport Logo

Comments

Avatar of: John Blackadder

Anonymous

July 18, 2011

It's time to disband IPCC. The group has demonstrated deliberate bias toward warming, rather than dispassionate science. It has been tagged with fraudulent reports, weak (and self-serving) choices in sources of data and reports, and the suspicion of financial motives for top officers.

This is not what was intended, especially as there is at least a strong undercurrent of dissent on the if, when and how of global warming. Through IPCC, we have governments making decisions with a bad factual base.

It is time to toss out the false prophets, and let some honest men guide us on this important matter.

Avatar of: cborgia

Anonymous

July 18, 2011

Disbanding the intergovernmental agency charged with making recommendations on climate change in favor of an unnamed alternative seems like a retreat into the happy 1950s, when nobody worried about such things. However, the leadership that allowed activist organizations to participate in drafting a report that was supposed to represent the best dispassionate information and conclusions of the scientific community should not be allowed to remain in place. Groups like Greenpeace have a role to play in the world, but the shouldn't be allowed to pretend that they don't have an agenda just because some of us agree with many of their conclusions. Edenhofer and his colleagues have corrupted the report just as badly as if he'd allowed sections of it to be written by Exxon. They should be excused from further participation, and Teske should be firmly told to restrict himself to writing things that represent his own organization and himself, not the scientific community. Lynas is correct in pointing out that although no overt falsification may have occurred, the biased viewpoint and conflicts of interest at the very least bring the committee and its work into disrepute. It appears to me that honest men are necessary but not sufficient; somebody who knows how to run a credible and unbiased committee has to be found.

Avatar of: John Blackadder

Anonymous

July 18, 2011

We don't need a Church of the Holy Warming. IPCC will see its power dwindle if warming is either not-happening or likely delayed. They have an inherent vested interest in selecting input in support of their core mantra.

Let the normal buffeting of scientific peer review handle this issue instead.

IPCC's problem is that they are set up to be biased, have been caught many times being biased, have consistently let the foxes run the hen-coop, and do not appear interested in cleaning up their act. If this were the News of the World, we'd be asking for heads by now, and the disbanding of the organisation.

We've given IPCC a number of chances to clean up. They have failed. It's time to call the question. Should IPCC be disbanded?

Avatar of: Gaylen Bradley

Anonymous

July 18, 2011

There are multiple routes to arriving at good decisions on public policy, and a commission of unbiased peers is only one avenue.  We in the scientific community are steeped in the tradition of peer-review, putatively free of conflicts-of-interest.  Commissions composed of balanced experts with self-interest, through debate and negotiation, often produce better guidance for public policy than scientific peer review commissions that may lack a sufficiently broad perspective on unintended consequences of an action.  Transparency of the self-interests and of the expertise of panel members is essential, followed by dialog among the communities affected by an action.  Certainly the scientific bases of policy decisions need to be assessed critically through a peer-review process prior to implementation.  We members of the scientific community must remember that we too have opinions that are influenced by past training and culture as well as by the quantifiable metrics.

Avatar of: John Blackadder

Anonymous

July 18, 2011

IPCC was contaminated from the start by a requirement to investigate climate change. Inherently, no group of this type is going to go back to its sponsors with a "Climate change? What climate change?" or a "Recent climate change isn't man-made" message.

We need to restrict IPCC to being only an open data gathering facility and forum for debate, a sort of climate science Wiki. And, we need new management to restore credibility for even that level of function. Setting up a inter-governmental policy committee can wait a few more years till we have  enough rational science.

This is not a minor issue. Literally today, we hear that scientists at CERN are restricted from public comment because their comic-ray studies suggest a major impact on cloud formation, and their latest numbers suggest a strong cooling trend. The implication, heresy at IPCC, is that man-made cooling isn't really as important as the sun's behavior.

This type of censoring is not the means to a good decision, either scientifically or politically.

Avatar of: katewerk

katewerk

Posts: 1457

July 18, 2011

Are you just learning about the IPCC"s reliance on Greenpeace and WWF propaganda NOW???  Where has The Scientist been?  http://bit.ly/oFz1o8  "one-third of the references in the IPCC’s 2007 report cite non-peer-reviewed sources"

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

It's time to disband IPCC. The group has demonstrated deliberate bias toward warming, rather than dispassionate science. It has been tagged with fraudulent reports, weak (and self-serving) choices in sources of data and reports, and the suspicion of financial motives for top officers.

This is not what was intended, especially as there is at least a strong undercurrent of dissent on the if, when and how of global warming. Through IPCC, we have governments making decisions with a bad factual base.

It is time to toss out the false prophets, and let some honest men guide us on this important matter.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

Disbanding the intergovernmental agency charged with making recommendations on climate change in favor of an unnamed alternative seems like a retreat into the happy 1950s, when nobody worried about such things. However, the leadership that allowed activist organizations to participate in drafting a report that was supposed to represent the best dispassionate information and conclusions of the scientific community should not be allowed to remain in place. Groups like Greenpeace have a role to play in the world, but the shouldn't be allowed to pretend that they don't have an agenda just because some of us agree with many of their conclusions. Edenhofer and his colleagues have corrupted the report just as badly as if he'd allowed sections of it to be written by Exxon. They should be excused from further participation, and Teske should be firmly told to restrict himself to writing things that represent his own organization and himself, not the scientific community. Lynas is correct in pointing out that although no overt falsification may have occurred, the biased viewpoint and conflicts of interest at the very least bring the committee and its work into disrepute. It appears to me that honest men are necessary but not sufficient; somebody who knows how to run a credible and unbiased committee has to be found.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

We don't need a Church of the Holy Warming. IPCC will see its power dwindle if warming is either not-happening or likely delayed. They have an inherent vested interest in selecting input in support of their core mantra.

Let the normal buffeting of scientific peer review handle this issue instead.

IPCC's problem is that they are set up to be biased, have been caught many times being biased, have consistently let the foxes run the hen-coop, and do not appear interested in cleaning up their act. If this were the News of the World, we'd be asking for heads by now, and the disbanding of the organisation.

We've given IPCC a number of chances to clean up. They have failed. It's time to call the question. Should IPCC be disbanded?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

There are multiple routes to arriving at good decisions on public policy, and a commission of unbiased peers is only one avenue.  We in the scientific community are steeped in the tradition of peer-review, putatively free of conflicts-of-interest.  Commissions composed of balanced experts with self-interest, through debate and negotiation, often produce better guidance for public policy than scientific peer review commissions that may lack a sufficiently broad perspective on unintended consequences of an action.  Transparency of the self-interests and of the expertise of panel members is essential, followed by dialog among the communities affected by an action.  Certainly the scientific bases of policy decisions need to be assessed critically through a peer-review process prior to implementation.  We members of the scientific community must remember that we too have opinions that are influenced by past training and culture as well as by the quantifiable metrics.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

IPCC was contaminated from the start by a requirement to investigate climate change. Inherently, no group of this type is going to go back to its sponsors with a "Climate change? What climate change?" or a "Recent climate change isn't man-made" message.

We need to restrict IPCC to being only an open data gathering facility and forum for debate, a sort of climate science Wiki. And, we need new management to restore credibility for even that level of function. Setting up a inter-governmental policy committee can wait a few more years till we have  enough rational science.

This is not a minor issue. Literally today, we hear that scientists at CERN are restricted from public comment because their comic-ray studies suggest a major impact on cloud formation, and their latest numbers suggest a strong cooling trend. The implication, heresy at IPCC, is that man-made cooling isn't really as important as the sun's behavior.

This type of censoring is not the means to a good decision, either scientifically or politically.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

Are you just learning about the IPCC"s reliance on Greenpeace and WWF propaganda NOW???  Where has The Scientist been?  http://bit.ly/oFz1o8  "one-third of the references in the IPCC’s 2007 report cite non-peer-reviewed sources"

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

It's time to disband IPCC. The group has demonstrated deliberate bias toward warming, rather than dispassionate science. It has been tagged with fraudulent reports, weak (and self-serving) choices in sources of data and reports, and the suspicion of financial motives for top officers.

This is not what was intended, especially as there is at least a strong undercurrent of dissent on the if, when and how of global warming. Through IPCC, we have governments making decisions with a bad factual base.

It is time to toss out the false prophets, and let some honest men guide us on this important matter.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

Disbanding the intergovernmental agency charged with making recommendations on climate change in favor of an unnamed alternative seems like a retreat into the happy 1950s, when nobody worried about such things. However, the leadership that allowed activist organizations to participate in drafting a report that was supposed to represent the best dispassionate information and conclusions of the scientific community should not be allowed to remain in place. Groups like Greenpeace have a role to play in the world, but the shouldn't be allowed to pretend that they don't have an agenda just because some of us agree with many of their conclusions. Edenhofer and his colleagues have corrupted the report just as badly as if he'd allowed sections of it to be written by Exxon. They should be excused from further participation, and Teske should be firmly told to restrict himself to writing things that represent his own organization and himself, not the scientific community. Lynas is correct in pointing out that although no overt falsification may have occurred, the biased viewpoint and conflicts of interest at the very least bring the committee and its work into disrepute. It appears to me that honest men are necessary but not sufficient; somebody who knows how to run a credible and unbiased committee has to be found.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

We don't need a Church of the Holy Warming. IPCC will see its power dwindle if warming is either not-happening or likely delayed. They have an inherent vested interest in selecting input in support of their core mantra.

Let the normal buffeting of scientific peer review handle this issue instead.

IPCC's problem is that they are set up to be biased, have been caught many times being biased, have consistently let the foxes run the hen-coop, and do not appear interested in cleaning up their act. If this were the News of the World, we'd be asking for heads by now, and the disbanding of the organisation.

We've given IPCC a number of chances to clean up. They have failed. It's time to call the question. Should IPCC be disbanded?

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

There are multiple routes to arriving at good decisions on public policy, and a commission of unbiased peers is only one avenue.  We in the scientific community are steeped in the tradition of peer-review, putatively free of conflicts-of-interest.  Commissions composed of balanced experts with self-interest, through debate and negotiation, often produce better guidance for public policy than scientific peer review commissions that may lack a sufficiently broad perspective on unintended consequences of an action.  Transparency of the self-interests and of the expertise of panel members is essential, followed by dialog among the communities affected by an action.  Certainly the scientific bases of policy decisions need to be assessed critically through a peer-review process prior to implementation.  We members of the scientific community must remember that we too have opinions that are influenced by past training and culture as well as by the quantifiable metrics.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

IPCC was contaminated from the start by a requirement to investigate climate change. Inherently, no group of this type is going to go back to its sponsors with a "Climate change? What climate change?" or a "Recent climate change isn't man-made" message.

We need to restrict IPCC to being only an open data gathering facility and forum for debate, a sort of climate science Wiki. And, we need new management to restore credibility for even that level of function. Setting up a inter-governmental policy committee can wait a few more years till we have  enough rational science.

This is not a minor issue. Literally today, we hear that scientists at CERN are restricted from public comment because their comic-ray studies suggest a major impact on cloud formation, and their latest numbers suggest a strong cooling trend. The implication, heresy at IPCC, is that man-made cooling isn't really as important as the sun's behavior.

This type of censoring is not the means to a good decision, either scientifically or politically.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 18, 2011

Are you just learning about the IPCC"s reliance on Greenpeace and WWF propaganda NOW???  Where has The Scientist been?  http://bit.ly/oFz1o8  "one-third of the references in the IPCC’s 2007 report cite non-peer-reviewed sources"

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 19, 2011

The claimed apparent "conflict of interest"  in IPCC assessment reports of June 2011, on the prospects of the possible use of renewable energy as a mitigation measure for negative effects of Climate Change and Global Warming should not be a pretext for abuse by  cilmate change skeptics. Althouh IPCC reports may be subject to scrutiny and  reviews by unbiased experts they, as well as scientific publications, are not perfect. Climate Change science  has shown so far that global warming is a man-made event. Mitigation measures are subject for research-based models and predictions, and hence, contain an uncertainty margine.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 19, 2011

Very good article on IPCC and Climate Change report Jessica P. Johnson. Yes. There are differing views on the IPCC report on Climate change.Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),IndiaE-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 19, 2011

The claimed apparent "conflict of interest"  in IPCC assessment reports of June 2011, on the prospects of the possible use of renewable energy as a mitigation measure for negative effects of Climate Change and Global Warming should not be a pretext for abuse by  cilmate change skeptics. Althouh IPCC reports may be subject to scrutiny and  reviews by unbiased experts they, as well as scientific publications, are not perfect. Climate Change science  has shown so far that global warming is a man-made event. Mitigation measures are subject for research-based models and predictions, and hence, contain an uncertainty margine.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 19, 2011

Very good article on IPCC and Climate Change report Jessica P. Johnson. Yes. There are differing views on the IPCC report on Climate change.Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),IndiaE-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of: Mabrouk A. El-Sharkawy

Anonymous

July 19, 2011

The claimed apparent "conflict of interest"  in IPCC assessment reports of June 2011, on the prospects of the possible use of renewable energy as a mitigation measure for negative effects of Climate Change and Global Warming should not be a pretext for abuse by  cilmate change skeptics. Althouh IPCC reports may be subject to scrutiny and  reviews by unbiased experts they, as well as scientific publications, are not perfect. Climate Change science  has shown so far that global warming is a man-made event. Mitigation measures are subject for research-based models and predictions, and hence, contain an uncertainty margine.

Avatar of: Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Anonymous

July 19, 2011

Very good article on IPCC and Climate Change report Jessica P. Johnson. Yes. There are differing views on the IPCC report on Climate change.Dr.A.Jagadeesh  Nellore(AP),IndiaE-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

Avatar of: dubld

dubld

Posts: 1

July 22, 2011

The entire IPCC is one big conflict of interest.  What member isn't seeking funding, prestige, business opportunities, etc.  Bureaucrats and scientists for sale have time and time again proven themselves incapable of solving anything, especially a climate too large and complex for us to affect.  77% of all energy renewable by 2050?  In what fantasy?  Out with the lot of them I say...

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

The entire IPCC is one big conflict of interest.  What member isn't seeking funding, prestige, business opportunities, etc.  Bureaucrats and scientists for sale have time and time again proven themselves incapable of solving anything, especially a climate too large and complex for us to affect.  77% of all energy renewable by 2050?  In what fantasy?  Out with the lot of them I say...

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

The entire IPCC is one big conflict of interest.  What member isn't seeking funding, prestige, business opportunities, etc.  Bureaucrats and scientists for sale have time and time again proven themselves incapable of solving anything, especially a climate too large and complex for us to affect.  77% of all energy renewable by 2050?  In what fantasy?  Out with the lot of them I say...

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
Advertisement
NeuroScientistNews
NeuroScientistNews