Brainwave – let’s re-invent the IPCC

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, George Will has a bright idea in today’s column which will, sadly, be read in 350 or so US newspapers this morning: “America needs a national commission appointed to assess the evidence about climate change.”

Brilliant. Truly brilliant. Shame, really, that the world already has the IPCC whose job it is to “assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.”

Of course, Will knows this. In the run up to Copenhagen, he’s simply lobbying for anything that will delay robust steps to cut emissions (RealClimate has a round up of his woeful track record writing about the issue).

What he may not know, however, is that the IPCC itself owes its existence – at least, in part – to a much earlier American attempt to deflect policy action. Alex and I covered this in our paper, State of the Debate:

According to Shardul Agrawala’s fascinating account of the origins of the IPCC, its roots can be found in a workshop held in 1985 in Villach, organized by two United Nations agencies and the non-governmental International Council for Science (ICSU).

At the Villach workshop, a group of scientists, acting in a personal capacity, announced a consensus that “in the first half of the next century a rise of global mean temperature would occur which is greater than any in man’s history.”

The need to deepen, extend and institutionalise this consensus was pushed in particular by the United States government – in part because it wanted to ‘buy time’ and delay a potentially costly policy response. The US wanted an inter-governmental mechanism and that’s what it got.

According to Agrawala, this formal insertion of scientific expertise was of great importance. The result was to pump sufficient shared awareness of the climate problem into the international arena, providing a platform for governments to enter into a serious negotiation.

The IPCC’s dominant position in the debate also became self-reinforcing. “The more credible experts there were already in the IPCC, the more attractive it was for other established experts to join, [and] the more internal strength the institutions had to defend its scientific integrity against political pressures.” An anchor for global understanding of the issue, and perceptions of its seriousness, had been provided.

But, hey, let’s have another review of the evidence! If it takes another thirty years, I am sure that will suit Will just fine…

Climate – Europe’s many voices

Today, Ban-Ki Moon, worried by fading prospects for a climate deal at Copenhagen, will try and knock heads (of state) together at his Summit on Climate Change. Here’s the list of speakers:

H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
H.E. Mr. Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
H.E. Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Republic of Maldives
H.E. Mr. Hu Jintao, President of the Peoples Republic of China
H.E. Mr. Yukio Hatoyama, Prime Minister of Japan
H.E. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
H.E. Mr. Fredrik Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden
H.E. Mr. Óscar Arias Sánchez, President of Costa Rica
H.E. Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, President of France
Professor Wangari Muta Maathai, Founder, Green Belt Movement, Kenya (Civil Society)
Ms. Yugratna Srivastava, Asia-Pacific UNEP/TUNZA Junior-Board representative, India, age 13 (Youth)
H.E. Mr. Tillman Joseph Thomas, Prime Minister of Grenada
H.E. Mr. Ahmad Babiker Nahar , Minister of Environment and Urban Development of Sudan
H.E. Mr. Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Prime Minister of Denmark

It’s a pretty standard list – major powers (check), regional balance (check), soon-to-be-submerged-island-state (check), boffin (check), civil society (check), token youth (check). But then you hit the European problem. The Swedes hold the Presidency and thus speak for the EU. Rasmussen is there because he’s going to shoulder a lot of the blame if Copenhagen fails to deliver. But how on earth has Nicolas Sarkozy managed to clamber onto the platform?

It beggars belief that, just when Europeans most need to speak with a single voice, the French president is – once again – giving his ego free rein. Or have I missed something?