Tuesday, April 29, 2008

GAL and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

A couple of interesting posts from the Global Governance Watch website, noting some heavy criticism of the opinion of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming is a man-made crisis, and rejection of the IPCC's recommendation that CO2 emissions should be drastically cut to combat this. (Where did I leave that salt? Ah yes...)

The first is on the release of the recent Manhattan Declaration on Climate Change, in which around 500 "climate change experts and scientists" who have decided that "human- caused climate change is not a global crisis". (I do not have any of the necessary expertise to evaluate these claims - I just want here, however, to note two points: firstly, in terms of a fairly crude scientist and expert "head count", the 500 or so that signed this declaration seems a pretty paltry figure compared to that marshalled on the other side of the debate; and secondly, that the Declaration was issued by the International Climate Science Coalition, "an organization of scientists, energy and policy experts, and economists seeking to provide an alternative to the IPCC by promoting a "better public understanding of climate change science and policy'".)

More interesting, from a GAL perspective at least, is the earlier post on the results of an independent analysis commissioned by the US Congress to look into alleged inaccuracies in the climate predictions developed by the IPCC, particularly with regard to its earlier report entitled Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. The independent analysis criticised the methodology of some of the research on the basis of which the IPCC reached its conclusions, making a number of recommendations. Three of these are - at least analogically - of interest from a GAL perspective.

The IPCC is an intergovernmental body, set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and

established to provide the decision-makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information about climate change. The IPCC does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters. Its role is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

It is thus a public body, whose output is intended, indeed expected, to have a significant impact on legislative and policy choices taken at the national, regional and global levels. It is not, therefore, much of a stretch to characterise its activity as fundamentally public/administrative in character. The independent analysis, which focuses largely on the standards that should apply when a public body relies on academic scientific research, makes a number of interesting administrative law-type recommendations:

The independent analysis found that in many cases in which scientific papers are used as a basis for highly controversial policy documents, "the supplementary material [such as code and data] for academic work is often poorly documented and archived and is not sufficiently robust to withstand intense public debate"; and, moreover, that "[s]haring of research materials, data, and results is haphazard and often grudgingly done", noting in particular that one of the leading academics in the field, upon whose work the IPCC relied heavily, viewed the code that he developed as his own intellectual property, that he was under no obligation to disclose to peers.

The independent analysis recommended that, where academic work is to be used for controversial policy papers, it must be subjected to a much more intense level of scrutiny, involving, inter alia, more disclosure of codes, data, and funding sources.

One of the central criticisms of the independent analysis is that the academic work upon which the conclusions of the IPCC were based, although relying heavily upon statistical analyses, did not interact with the mainstream statistical community in order to test and validate those analyses. It recommends that, where bodies such as the IPCC are reveiwing academic work with a view to basing their conclusions thereupon, they should ensure the participations of specialist, expert statisticians in that process. Clearly, this kind of participatory requirement is intended to increase the "output legitimacy" (i.e. the quality of the results) of the administrative process in question (in this case, the production of the IPCC's report and findings).

Lastly, and perhaps most tenuously, the independent analysis raised issues that can perhaps be read as a form of accountability: recommendations for strengthening the ex post review process. In this case, however, it is not the review of the administrative activity of global body (the IPCC) itself that is in question, but rather a requirement that it act as a reviewer of the academic work upon which it will base its findings. In this regard, the analysis notes simply that "[e]specially when massive amounts of public monies and human lives are at stake", standard peer review mechanisms are likely to be inadequate; therefore, where it is to be used in service of a political goal, "academic work should have a more intense level of scrutiny and review". Indeed, the previous two issues, relating to transparency and participation, are in many ways simply complementary to this basic strengthening of ex post review. The report suggests, at least implicitly, that where the global body in question fails to discharge this more intensive review function, its own administrative output (the publication of findings and recommendations intended to influence legislative and policy programmes on climate change) should itself be regarded as lacking legitimacy.

As noted above, then, we find in the independent analysis recommendations that bear more than a passing resemblance to certain administrative-law type requirements relating to transparency, participation and review, tailored to meet the specific context of the use of academic work by public administrative bodies in formulating reports and recommendations on matters of political controversy. Are these part of global administrative law? Obviously not yet; however, if they were to be taken on board by bodies such as the IPCC, either formally through the adoption of binding internal procedures, or informally through consistent usage leading to the generation of legitimate expectations, then an argument could certainly be made that they have become rules of GAL. In any event, at the very least, this independent analysis provides us with an interesting example of the ways in which administrative law mechanisms and their analogues are beginning to penetrate the institutions of global regulatory governance, even in highly specific, technical fields.


andre said...


"firstly, in terms of a fairly crude scientist and expert "head count", the 500 or so that signed this declaration seems a pretty paltry figure compared to that marshalled on the other side of the debate;

Perhaps not: see

It’s an assertion repeated by politicians and climate campaigners the world over: “2500 scientists of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agree that humans are causing a climate crisis.”

But it’s not true. And, for the first time ever, the public can now see the extent to which they have been misled. As lies go, it’s a whopper.


Mark H. said...

While I believe that most of the relevant scientific community is in accord on the fact of human induced climate change, the more interesting issue is that of the dubious practices and culture of climate science - especially relevant because of the massive changes advocated (by some) to our economy and sources of energy production.

Steve McIntyre, the fellow that started the criticism of Mann's paper, has illuminated the failure to share data, methods, or to verify sources.

For anyone seriously interested in these issues one should start here:

"Some Thoughts on Disclosure and Due Diligence in Climate Science"


And if one wishes explore the issue, one could no better than follow the file tag at the end of the article, and read the many links in articles and comments.

Look for: "Disclosure and Diligence" at the article's end.

Ron Cram said...

This blog post is a very interesting contribution to any honest analysis of the IPCC's work. Describing the IPCC, Mr. MacDonald writes:

"It is thus a public body, whose output is intended, indeed expected, to have a significant impact on legislative and policy choices taken at the national, regional and global levels."

For this reason, Mr. MacDonald concludes the IPCC should abide by the same high standards people would expect of Global Administrative agencies. Yes, I understand that GAL is in its infancy and that no legally binding rules currently exist governing the IPCC. But it seems ridiculous to argue the IPCC should be exempt from the standards now being established.

Anyone familiar with attempts to get data, methods and code from IPCC authors know that the agency does not enforce its own rules regarding sharing scientific data. How does one get an agency to enforce its own rules? If GAL becomes binding on agencies like the IPCC and some enforcement mechanism is put in place, governments and citizens would benefit from this openness.

I commend the work of the GAL project. Hopefully, others will see the wisdom of this as well.