Review of U.N. panel's report on climate change won't reexamine errors

By David A. Fahrenthold
Thursday, March 11, 2010

An outside review of a U.N. panel -- promised after flaws were uncovered in the panel's most recent report on climate change -- will not recheck that report's conclusions and will instead focus on improving procedures for the future, officials said Wednesday.

U.N. officials defended their decision, saying that there is still no reason to doubt the most important conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In a landmark report in 2007, the panel found "unequivocal" evidence that the climate was warming.

"Let me be clear: The threat posed by climate change is real," Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said during a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York. "Nothing that has been alleged or revealed in the media recently alters the fundamental scientific consensus on climate change, nor does it diminish the unique importance of the IPCC work."

But in Washington, Republican lawmakers said it is a mistake for the review not to delve more deeply into the U.N. panel's workings to see whether it had committed other errors beyond those already known.

"This is only half the battle," Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), one of Congress's most determined opponents of legislation to cap greenhouse gases, said in a statement. "A legitimate inquiry must look back and examine the science in the assessment reports, and not just the mistakes that have been uncovered thus far."

Also Wednesday, University of Colorado Professor Roger Pielke Jr., a past critic of the U.N. panel, said that a reexamination of the earlier report might restore some credibility to climate science.

"There's some closure needed on these issues that have been basically battled out in the media," Pielke said.

In recent months, scientists have questioned several items in the report. In one case, the panel said incorrectly that Himalayan glaciers were expected to melt by 2035. Critics also said the panel relied improperly on data from advocacy groups, not peer-reviewed science.

On Wednesday, U.N. officials said the outside review of the panel will be overseen by the InterAcademy Council, an association of national academies of science from around the world.

Robbert Dijkgraaf, a Dutch professor who will serve as co-leader of the review, said the flaws identified in the 2007 report could be used as "case studies." But, he said, the review's focus will be on the future -- on examining the panel's leadership, methods of sourcing and conflict-of-interest policies -- in preparation for its next report, due in 2013.

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