The U.N. science body on climate change, accused of ignoring its critics and allowing glaring errors to creep into its work, announced Wednesday that a broader range of experts will write its next report on global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included more women and scientists from developing countries, but also selected 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 premier, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The previous panel had 559 members, chosen from 2,000 nominations. This one has 861 experts, picked from 3,000 nominations. Some 60 percent of the scientists are new to the role, the IPCC 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 voluminous 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, 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 co-chairs the group that will examine the impact of climate change, told a conference call 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," said Field. Nevertheless, the group will put in place better quality controls, particularly for the regional reports, he said.
None of those who wrote the section on Asia for the fourth report are involved with the next installment, he said, but added that this was coincidental.
"I view the fact that we have a different team coming in now as just part of the normal flow of events," Field said.
Climate change skeptics say IPCC scientists have in the past overestimated the effect of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and underplayed natural cycles of warming and cooling, which cannot be controlled. Others have claimed the authors, who aren't paid for their work, exaggerated the effects that climate change will have on the environment and human life.
A series of e-mails stolen last year from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit in Britain showed climate scientists discussing ways to keep the research of climate skeptics out of peer-reviewed journals.
Yet Van Ypersele insisted that the U.N. 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.
Source: The Associated Press.