NOVEMBER  4th 2005
You may be interested in this article by the eminent economist David Henderson, on how to challenge the IPCC monopoly of information on the climate. While he has been mainly concerned with how they play fast and loose with economics, his comments apply even more to their violation of basic facts on  physical, chemical and mathematical sciences.

By David Henderson (1)


A new approach

A recently-published report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs marks, or could mark, a new phase in the debate on issues of climate change (2). In this note I review some possibilities for action which the report could help to open up.

There are two spheres of action, official and unofficial, and I make suggestions for both. Under both headings, there are two related objectives, one critical and the other constructive.

Objective No 1 is to present a more effective challenge to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The actions that I propose would bring under closer and more systematic critical scrutiny:

· first, the Panel's forthcoming Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), due to appear in 2007;
· second, the process through which the Report is being drafted and given final published shape; and
· third, the claims of the Panel to authoritative and objective status.

Objective No 2 is to provide a sounder basis than now exists for reviewing, debating and assessing issues relating to climate change. A process is needed - for treating the issues, preparing reports and advising governments - which is more objective, more representative and more balanced than that which the IPCC has built up and shown itself unwilling to change.

First, a word on the IPCC and the reasons why a more effective challenge to it would serve the public interest.

The IPCC: its role, status and claims

The IPCC came into being in 1988 as the joint subsidiary of two international agencies, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Its clients, and its governing body, are the member governments of these two agencies - that is, effectively, the members of the United Nations (UN).  What I call its directing circle comprises senior government officials, chiefly from environment departments, the heads and senior staff of its twin parent agencies, and some past and all present members of its Bureau. The Bureau comprises 30 experts drawn from different countries and disciplines, appointed by governments to act as a management body.

Since its establishment, the IPCC has come a long way: its achievement has been truly remarkable. It has successfully completed and published three massive and agreed reports, covering the whole range of issues relating to climate change. In producing these reports, it has brought together teams comprising over 2,000 specialists across the world and put in place ordered procedures for directing their work: it has thus created both an effectively-functioning process and an extensive professional milieu. It has secured for its reports and their conclusions the endorsement of its many and diverse member governments; and in consequence, it has informed the thinking of those governments and prompted decisions by them. Its many participants and outside supporters can argue that it has created a world-wide scientific consensus, based on an informed and objective professional assessment, which provides a sound basis for policy.

Last, and especially to be noted, the IPCC has established itself, in the eyes of its member governments, as their sole authoritative source of information, evidence, analysis, interpretation and advice on the whole range of issues relating to climate change. It has acquired a monopoly position. 

Despite its achievements, and indeed in part because of them, there are good reasons to query the claims to authority and representative status that are made by and on behalf of the IPCC, and hence to question also the monopoly that it now holds.

To begin with, the idea of creating a single would-be authoritative fount of wisdom is itself open to doubt. Even if the IPCC process were indisputably and consistently rigorous, objective and professionally watertight, it could well be unwise for governments to place exclusive reliance, in matters of great complexity where huge uncertainties prevail, on a single source of analysis and advice and a single process of inquiry. Viewed in this light, the very notion of setting consensus as an aim appears as questionable if not ill-judged.

In any case, the ideal conditions have not been realised. The IPCC process is far from being a model of rigour, inclusiveness and objectivity. In particular:

· Aspects of the Panel's work have been shown to be dubious or at fault. These include,
but are not confined to, its treatment of economic issues (3).
· The response of the Panel's directing circle and milieu to informed criticism has
  typically been inadequate or dismissive (4).
· Despite the numbers involved, the IPCC milieu is not professionally representative.
· Both the directing circle and the milieu more generally are characterised by an endemic
  bias, towards alarmist assessments and radical 'solutions'. This bias goes back to
the earliest days of the IPCC: it reflects the views and presumptions of the Panel's
  sponsoring departments and agencies.

Evidence under these headings was submitted to the House of Lords Select Committee.

Up to now, the various doubts and criticisms that have been voiced about its work have not undermined the IPCC's authority, which chiefly depends on the view of it taken by its member governments. The role and status of the Panel, as also the process and milieu which it has brought into being, have not been subject to serious question or challenge except by outsiders holding no official position and carrying little or no weight in government circles.

This is the context in which the preparation of AR4 is currently going ahead. The process has now reached an advanced stage: a start was made in November 2003, and the final report is scheduled for publication in 2007. Not surprisingly, the draft is being put together with the same procedures, and essentially the same milieu, as for the Third Report. It is to be expected, first, that the final version of AR4 will present a similar picture of reality, and offer much the same conclusions and advice, as those of its predecessor; and second, that it will likewise be fully endorsed by the member governments who will in any case have formally approved, and probably amended, the final published draft and the Summary for Policymakers that accompanies it.

Until recently, there appeared to be little prospect of any effective challenge being made to either AR4 or the established IPCC process from which it is emerging.  However, the possibility of presenting such a challenge, and of gaining attention and support for some kind of alternative assessment, now appears as less bleak. 

A turning point?

The new element in the situation is the publication of the report of the House of Lords Select Committee. This document could set in motion a change in the intellectual and political landscape. For the first time since the IPCC came into being, searching criticisms of it have come from a source which cannot easily be disregarded or set aside by its directing circle or by governments. A group of eminent, experienced and responsible persons, drawn from a famous national legislative body and spanning the political spectrum, after taking and weighing expert evidence, has published a carefully considered and unanimous report in which, among other things, the work and role of the Panel are put in question.

The Select Committee report and the IPCC

Here are some pertinent excerpts from the Committee's report which bear on the role and conduct of the IPCC:

· 'We are concerned that the links between projected economic change in the world economy
  and climate change have not been as rigorously explored as they should have been by
the IPCC' (p. 7).
· '... it is a concern that the IPCC has not always sought to ensure that dissenting
voices are given a full hearing' (p. 16).
· '... we  noted evidence from Professor Paul Reiter of the Institut Pasteur in Paris,
which strongly disputed the IPCC's arguments on the likely spread of malaria ...
Professor Reiter's cautions underline the fact that even the IPCC conclusions, based
on a scientific process with many hundreds of experts, still need to be treated 
with care' (p. 23).
· 'We conclude that there are weaknesses in the way the scientific community, and the
IPCC in particular, treats the impacts of climate change. We call for a more
balanced approach...' (p. 29).
· 'The work of McKitrick and his colleague ... seems to us to point, once again, to
the failure of the IPCC scenarios to be rooted in historical precedent' (p. 40).
· '... it is clear to us that IPCC does need to reconsider its SRES [Special Report
on Emissions Scenarios] exercise' (p. 56).
· '... the IPCC's procedures are not as open as they should be. It seems to us that there
  remains a risk that IPCC has become a "knowledge monopoly" in some respects, unwilling
to listen to those who do not pursue the consensus line' (p. 58). 

Many of these or similar points have been made before, in one context or another, but they have now acquired greater salience and authority. It is to be noted that the concerns thus voiced by the Committee go beyond the handling of economic issues.

Failure at the centre

A related aspect of the Committee's report is the criticisms that it implicitly makes of Her Majesty's Treasury: in the opening paragraph of the Abstract of the report (p. 6), the Committee

'calls on the Government to give HM Treasury a more extensive role, both in examining the costs and benefits of climate change policy and presenting them to the United Kingdom public, and in the work of the [IPCC]'.

Here the Committee raised a key issue, which arises equally in other countries; and the report has already produced a response from the British government which is notable in itself and could set a precedent for others.  

The issue is that of the involvement in climate change matters of the central economic departments of state - treasuries, ministries of finance or economics, and agencies such as the US Council of Economic Advisers.  Before the appearance of the Select Committee report, there was no sign of any such involvement. In an article published over two years ago, Castles and I made the following comment on these economic departments:

'That they have so far held aloof, and left the handling of economic issues in the IPCC process to others, is surprising as well as unfortunate. An article in The Economist (15 February 2003) that commented on our critique noted that, in relation to issues of climate change policy, "vast sums are at stake". Yet the questionable treatment of economic issues in the SRES and the IPCC's Third Assessment Report, which as independent outsiders we have drawn attention to in this and our previous article, seems not to have been noticed by a single official in a single finance or economics ministry in a single country.' (5) (Italics in the original).

Thanks no doubt to the Select Committee report, the British Treasury has at last been stirred into action. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has set up 'a major review of the economics of climate change' to be 'taken forward jointly by the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury...'  The review is due to be completed by the autumn of 2006.

This action by the British government marks a dual precedent: it incorporates two tacit admissions which no IPCC member government has made, or even considered making, in the 17 years since the Panel was created:

· First, that the economic aspects of climate change should not be left as the exclusive
  preserve of environment departments and agencies and the IPCC directing circle, to
handle as they think best.
· Second, that the IPCC process is not to be viewed as self-sufficient, all-embracing
and authoritative, but rather as an exercise which, in some respects at least, can
be improved from the outside.  

If these perceptions were to take root in the UK, and spread beyond its shores, some far-reaching effects could ensue.

New horizons

The Select Committee report has thus opened up two fields of further inquiry and possible lines of action by governments.

· First, it points the way to the active involvement of officials and departments of
state other than the environmental agencies which have run the show up to now.
· Second, it has raised serious doubts about the IPCC process, a process which member
  governments continue to view uncritically and treat as authoritative.
It is high time to take up these lines of thinking, and to act on them, if AR4 is not to have the same character, the same elements of bias, and the same largely uncritical reception by governments and public opinion, as its predecessor. I now sketch out some specific actions that could be taken to challenge the IPCC monopoly process in the context of AR4. 


There are two heads of action, official and unofficial.  Both can and should be made more effective. Only the first can be decisive, since only member governments can reform the IPCC process. But for the time being at least, an effective critique of the process, and the main impetus for improving it, will come as now from outside sources; and in the immediate context of AR4, this unofficial contribution could well be more timely and to the point than anything that emerges from governments.

Action by governments, individually and in concert

Official actions are needed, first, to make the IPCC process more professionally representative and watertight, especially though not only on the economic side; and second, to ensure that work undertaken on issues relating to climate change is made subject to more effective scrutiny than is now the case. The two lines of action are related; but the second goes wider than the first, would involve new procedures, and raises more fundamental issues. The first is designed to improve and extend the IPCC process, while the second, if taken far enough, could establish a rival institutional mechanism alongside it.

The economic domain: bringing in new participants
Under the first heading, the treatment of economic issues stands out: the IPCC process has shown itself here as both flawed and unresponsive to outside criticism. The process has to be made more professionally representative, by bringing in new participants.  In particular, and as already noted, the central economic departments of state should no longer hold themselves apart from IPCC proceedings; and in relation to some of the economic issues that have been raised, the expertise of national statistical offices should also be drawn on. 

Besides wider official participation, a broader spectrum of academics should be brought in on the economic side: in particular, attempts should be made to involve historically minded economists and economic historians. Given the IPCC's non-responsiveness, only firm action by governments can ensure that such a broadening is achieved.

There are different ways in which individual governments can act to ensure wider participation. The essential point is that the responsibility for dealing with economic issues relating to climate change issues should no longer be left with environmental departments and agencies alone.

Collective action on the economic front: bringing in the OECD

Whether and in what ways the central economic departments of state now become involved depends on choices made by individual governments. Many may be slow to move, and some may not move at all.  It could well be that, in the absence of concerted action, not much will happen in time to influence the drafting and reception of AR4.  Fortunately, however, there is a procedure at hand by which a group of these economics and finance ministries, from the 30 member countries of the OECD, can become involved collectively, to good effect and without delay.

The mechanism for this is the OECD itself. A distinctive feature of the Organisation is that it is the only international agency in which ministers and officials from these central departments and agencies are able, if they so wish, to review systematically issues across the whole spectrum of microeconomic and 'structural' policies. They can do so, with Secretariat back-up from the OECD's Economics Department, in and through the Organisation's Economic Policy Committee (EPC) which is their committee. 

In that connection, I put forward two years ago a concrete proposal which could now be taken up. It is that the EPC delegates should place these IPCC-related economic issues on the Committee's agenda: they should instruct the Secretariat to prepare for them a short paper on the subject in the context of AR4. The paper would be placed on the agenda for the EPC's subsequent meeting, in six months' time: it should be a concise review, not a research-based study with a long gestation period. While it would be prepared in the OECD's Economics Department, the authors would be able - and indeed, required - to work closely with Secretariat colleagues in the Environment and Statistics Directorates of the Organisation. It is a unique advantage of the OECD that such exchanges can readily take place within it, so that cross-departmental issues and differences of view can be fully aired and debated.

Wider issues: the audit function

It is not only in relation to economic aspects that a need arises to make the IPCC process more professionally watertight. One of the morals to be drawn from recent events is that the IPCC's much-vaunted peer review process does not provide the assurances that are claimed for it. A leading example of its inadequacy is the prominence and uncritical endorsement given, in the Third Assessment Report and afterwards, to the celebrated 'hockey-stick' diagram. The diagram, and the study in which it featured, formed the basis for the assertion in that Report (p. 3) that for the Northern Hemisphere it is likely 'that the 1990s has been the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year of the millennium'. Probably no single piece of alleged evidence relating to climate change has been so widely cited and influential. Yet both diagram and study now appear as deeply flawed, in ways that a thorough professional scrutiny would have revealed (6). 

Such a scrutiny is not to be expected from the IPCC procedures. Even if the peers in question were fully competent and representative, which in some areas at least is not now the case, the peer review process as such, here as elsewhere, is insufficiently searching. As Ross McKitrick has pointed out, the main purpose of peer review is to elicit expert advice on whether a paper is worth publishing in a particular journal. Because it does not normally go beyond this, 

'...peer review does not typically guarantee that data and methods are open to scrutiny
or that results are reproducible. If decision-makers want a guarantee of these things,
  then a further process must be established to provide it.' (7)

The issue here is a general one, which goes well beyond the IPCC process. Faced with problems of the same kind as those raised by the hockey-stick study, the American Economic Review has now adopted an editorial policy which requires of articles submitted, as a precondition for publication, that data and computer code, in sufficient detail to permit replication by others, should be archived on the journal's website. 

McKitrick has proposed the establishment of a formal audit procedure within the IPCC process. There would be an Audit Panel, appointed by member governments, and comprising experts not connected with climate science, which would ensure that, in relation to studies that the IPCC draws on, full disclosure conditions are met. This would clearly be an improvement on current practice; and pending action by UN member states collectively within the IPCC context, individual governments, or groupings of governments - for example through the OECD or the European Commission - could act to establish audit rules and mechanisms of their own. Even now, in the context of AR4, there could be reviews of specific key studies to ensure full disclosure.  There is no need to hold off action pending IPCC agreement. 

Wider issues: the case for a 'Team B'

While an audit panel would make the IPCC process more professionally watertight, it would leave the Panel's status, and the IPCC process, unchanged in two fundamental respects. First, the aim of the process would still be to produce a single consensus view, with reservations and dissent blocked out or played down.  Second, the IPCC would retain its monopoly status.

The time has come to jettison both these working assumptions. Where there are pervasive uncertainties and wide differences of opinion, a striving after consensus is not appropriate, while it is unwise to place exclusive reliance on a single authorised source. These considerations would hold good even if the record of the IPCC were above question, which it is not. As in other spheres of action, provision should be made, in this case by governments, for establishing 'balance, disclosure and due diligence' in the conduct of the debate on climate change (8). 

In order to achieve this result, governments need to go further down the road of full scrutiny, by arranging for the preparation and publication of an alternative and rival overall assessment to that of the IPCC. They should make formal provision for tapping a wider range of opinions, sources and expertise. So far from playing down differences of view in the interests of arriving at consensus, a contrasting informed assessment should be commissioned, funded and published. 

An instructive precedent is the establishment in the US in the mid-1970s, by the then Director of Central Intelligence, of an alternative assessment of the Soviet strategic threat to set alongside that provided by the authorised established source which was the CIA itself. The group of experts that prepared this alternative assessment became known as 'Team B'. Their report led to a major revision of the US administration's picture of reality. In the case of climate change issues today, governments should consider how best to establish a 'Team B' counterpart and rival to the IPCC overall assessment, as a standing rather than an ad hoc arrangement.

I am not suggesting that the huge programme of work of the IPCC should be duplicated: what is in question is not an exact counterpart to AR4 or its possible successors. Rather, there should be two rival reports of a new kind, each of manageable book length and clearly written, which would present contrasting views, assessments and evaluations. Possible terms of reference could take as a starting point the suggestion in McKitrick's paper, that 'the job of [one] group would be to produce a report making as strong a case as possible that human activity is causing a significant climate change that will have harmful consequences, [while the other] group would have the job of making as strong a case as possible to the contrary'.  The rival teams would be appointed by, and report to, sponsoring governments as a whole: the conduct of the operation should not be left to the IPCC and its sponsoring departments and agencies.

As with the audit function, a venture on these lines could be set up by individual governments, or - more appropriately - by a group of them. It should not depend on the prior consent of all IPCC member governments.     

The unofficial critique: a new initiative

Even if official actions of the kind just outlined begin to move on to the agenda of governments, there can be no guarantee that results will soon emerge. The IPCC process and milieu are well established and entrenched. Governments will not readily modify what have become unquestioned presumptions and commitments, nor can they be expected to resolve right away to change the elaborate procedures which they have approved and still view as professionally above reproach. It could be a long time before a well functioning officially sponsored rival assessment came into being.  For the time being, therefore, the main critique of the IPCC must come from outsiders. It is worth asking how such a critique could be made more effective.
I believe that, in the context of AR4, there should now be a more coordinated attempt to present a sustained unofficial critique of the IPCC process and what emerges from it, together with positive proposals for reform. Such a report should cover the whole range of issues and topics that are involved, economic as well as scientific, and its preparation should bring together an international team of writers and commentators. An unofficial Team B should be created for the purpose.

A new initiative

More coordinated action is needed under three related headings:

· To produce in the near future a timely and wide-ranging survey of the issues and the
way they are being handled within the IPCC, with a view to informing and influencing
  public and official opinion.  This would take the form of a published study, a book
of essays.
· To follow and comment on the process of producing AR4, including in particular the
final meeting at which the texts of the three Working Group reports and the Summary
for Policymakers are agreed by member governments.
· To publish a concise informed critique of AR4 itself, as soon as possible after the
Report has been published, again covering all aspects of the subject-matter and with
an eye to the procedures that have been followed by the IPCC and member governments.

The programme of work thus envisaged would extend over the next two years. It should be launched as soon as possible. The focus of the work would not be on 'climate scepticism', but on concerns about the IPCC process and what emerges from it, and on ways in which that process could be made more representative and more objective. 

A first stage could be to hold a meeting to prepare the way for the initial survey just mentioned, and to discuss the next stages of the programme. Since the task of drafting AR4 is already well advanced, it is not to be expected that the meeting or a book emerging from it would influence significantly what goes into the draft.  But such a book could help, first, to enable the AR4 draft and final report to be considered in a more informed way than would otherwise be the case; and second, to make it harder for the draft text to be turned - as happened in 2001 - into a final Summary for Policymakers which was less balanced and more alarmist than the original.

A suitable time and place for such an initial conference could be early next year in Australia. It is there that the six member countries of the newly-created Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development - Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US - are due to hold an inaugural ministerial meeting in January.  Further, the whole range of climate change issues has long been the subject of informed debate in Australia: the meeting could have a high local profile and a strong Australian input.     

A new mechanism

The design and execution of the programme outlined above should be the responsibility of an international consortium of think-tanks created for the purpose. The institutions taking part would combine to provide funding, lay down broad terms of reference, and appoint a small but adequately representative management committee or task force to run the show. The management committee would be responsible in particular for choosing key participants, including editors and a panel of authors and critics, planning the necessary meetings and conferences, and making suitable arrangements for dissemination and publication. It is not difficult to list a number of think-tanks across the world whose role, expertise and contacts make them well equipped for membership of such a consortium.

The first steps, then, would be to form the consortium, provide for the funding that would enable an effective start to be made, and select the key figures who would take the joint project further.  Prompt action is called for if a timely impact is to be made.


1) Visiting Professor, Westminster Business School. Formerly Head of the Economics and
  Statistics Department at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
2) The report is entitled 'The Economics of Climate Change'. It was published in July
2005 by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and can be downloaded from the House of
Lords website.  Volume I contains the report itself, and Volume II the written and
oral evidence submitted to the Committee. 
3) On the economic side, I and my Australian co-author Ian Castles have advanced over
the past three years a critique of the IPCC's work, while authors involved with it
have contested our arguments. I have reviewed the whole debate in a recent article
  entitled 'SRES, IPCC, and the Treatment of Economic Issues: What Has Emerged?',
(Energy and Environment, Volume 16 No. 3 & 4, 2005).
4) In the case of Castles and me, the IPCC itself has formally classed us among purveyors
of 'disinformation' and described us as 'so-called "two independent commentators"'.
5) Ian Castles and David Henderson, 'Economics, Emissions Scenarios and the Work of
the IPCC', Energy and Environment, Vol 14 No 4, 2003, p. 431.
6) Comprehensive exposure of the flaws of the hockey-stick study has come from two
Canadian authors, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick. A good survey is contained
in a paper by McKitrick, 'What is the Hockey Stick Debate About?", presentation to
the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Study Centre Meeting on "Managing Climate
Change - Practicalities and Realities in a post-Kyoto Future", Parliament House,
Canberra Australia, April 4, 2005.
7) 'Science and Environmental Policy-Making: Bias-Proofing the Assessment Process',
Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol 53, 2005, p. 289.
8) These terms are taken from the title of a perceptive paper by McKitrick: 'Bringing
  Balance, Disclosure and Due Diligence into Science-Based Policymaking'. In Porter,
Jene (ed.) Public Science in Liberal Democracy: The Challenge to Science and
Democracy, University of Toronto Press, forthcoming.

Copyright 2005, David Henderson

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