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Recently an Open Letter was sent by US scientists to federal agencies expressing concern about the current “climategate” hysteria and attitudes towards the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The over 250 signatories included both IPCC and non-IPCC authors and professionals from related disciplines including physical, biological and social scientists (see Open Letter from U.S. Scientists on the IPCC).

The letter is certainly informative. It conveys the signatories’ concerns about the current attacks on climate scientists. But it also gives a useful history and description of the IPCC review process and puts the whole question of recently disclosed report errors into its correct context. It endorses the public right to know the risks involved in climate change and the need for restoring confidence in the review process. The letter proposes specific ideas for improving the review process, providing for more rapid acknowledgment and correction of inevitable errors and correcting misconceptions about IPCC conclusions.

The letter declares:

“It is our intention in offering this open letter to bring the focus back to credible science, rather than invented hyperbole.”

It provides a brief history and outline of the IPCC review process:

“The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the IPCC in 1988 to provide policy makers regularly with balanced assessments of the state of knowledge on climate change.  In so doing, they created an open intergovernmental organization in which scientists, policy analysts, engineers, and resource managers from all over the world were asked to collaborate.  At present, more than 150 countries including the United States participate in the IPCC.  IPCC publishes an assessment report approximately every six years.  The most recent Fourth Assessment, approved by member countries and released in 2007, contained three volumes: The Physical Science Basis (Working Group I); Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Working Group II) and Mitigation of Climate Change (Working Group III) and a Synthesis Report.  More than 44 writing teams and 450 lead authors contributed to the Fourth Assessment — authors who have been selected on the basis of their expertise in consultation with all member countries and who were assisted by another 800 scientists and analysts who served as contributing authors on specific topics.  Authors donated their time gratis, and the entire process was supported by four Technical Support Units (TSUs) that employ 5 to 10 people each.”

And it acknowledges:

It was hard not to notice the extraordinary commotion that erupted around errors that were eventually found in the AR4. ” . . .  “In any case, it is essential to emphasize that none of these interventions alter the key finding from the AR4 that human beings are very likely changing the climate, with far-reaching impacts in the long run.”

“The heated debates that have emerged around these instances have even led some to question the quality and integrity of the IPCC.  Recent events have made it clear that the quality control procedures of the IPCC are not watertight, but claims of widespread and deliberate manipulation of scientific data and fundamental conclusions in the AR4 are not supported by the facts.  We also strongly contest the impression that the main conclusions of the report are based on dubious sources”

It concludes:

“the IPCC procedures are transparent and thorough, even though they are not infallible.  Nonetheless, we are confident that no single scholar or small group of scholars can manipulate the process to include or to exclude a specific line of research; authors of that research can (and are fully encouraged to) participate in the review process.  Moreover, the work of every scientist, regardless of whether it supports or rejects the premise of human-induced climate change, is subject to inclusion in the reports.  The work is included or rejected for consideration based on its scientific merit.”

After proposing procedures to improve the future work of the IPCC the letter concludes:

“The significance of IPCC errors has been greatly exaggerated by many sensationalist accounts, but that is no reason to avoid implementing procedures to make the assessment process even better. The public has a right to know the risks of climate change as scientists currently understand them. We are dedicated to working with our colleagues and government in furthering that task.”

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