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Is the U.N. Climate Report More Trouble Than It’s Worth?

Several mainstream scientists are expressing doubts about the necessity of the IPCC reports

The IPCC’s famous “hocket stick” chart of global temperatures. Photo: UN

Last week, a draft of the next big United Nations report on climate change got prematurely leaked by a climate contrarian. These reports, assembled by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), come out every five years and are tasked with summarizing thousands of papers on the current state of global climate change, discussing the policies that might address the risk and discerning the global scientific consensus about the state of climate science – in other words, they’re a massive job. The reports should serve as guide lines for policy and decision makers, however, and get everyone up to speed on the latest in climate science.

But as Justin Gillis explains for the New York Times Green Blog, several mainstream scientists are expressing doubts about the necessity of these reports. Just as happened with this latest draft, climate deniers tend to nit-pick and lock onto the IPCC’s publications as all-too-convenient targets. The reports only come out every few years, but climate science moves faster than that, though in incremental steps. Some scientists that served on the IPCC panel think their time could be put to better use pursuing actual research questions rather than writing up massive summaries. Gillis writes:

Some other scientists, and a lot of environmental campaigners, feel the I.P.C.C. is just too cautious and too bureaucratic to make contributions to the global discourse that matter in real time. In their view, climate change itself is outrunning the statements that scientists are able to make about it through such a ponderous mechanism.

This is not the first time scientists have raised these concerns. CE Journal ran a piece back in 2010, for example, wondering if the IPCC had outgrown itself and calling for a further investigation:

A story on these issues would also examine whether the IPCC should be replaced by something else. Has it become too big, too unwieldy, and, most important, has it outlived its usefulness? If so, what should replace it? What do scientists and other experts who work on the IPCC have to say about this? And what do other experts have to say?

Experts are still grappling with these questions. While there is a need for overarching, informed summaries of the latest science, the IPCC may not necessarily be the best entity to answer that call in the coming years. Bets are still out, however, on what solution, if any, could take its place. Most importantly, regardless of who’s charged with writing these reports or even if these reports are written at all, the data remain the same: November was the 333rd month in a row to register a global average surface temperature over the 20th century average, and the planet is currently on a disastrous path to a very hot, very unpleasant future.

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