So the big news today in the climate change world is that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced the formation of an independent panel to review the IPCC* process.  Of course this was spurred by the discovery of mistakes in the most recent IPCC report.  

This is how it is being reported on the front page of international news organizations such as the BBC:

The IPCC has been under pressure over errors in its last major assessment of climate science in 2007.

Mr Ban said the overall concept of man-made climate change was robust, and action to curb emissions badly needed.

The Inter-Academy Council will convene a panel of experts to conduct the review, and will be run independently of UN agencies.

At first blush, this might seem like a PR nightmare for climate change science, and a huge opportunity for fossil fuel industry funded deniers.  
However, I think this is great news.  Let me tell you why below the fold.

*IPCC = Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

First of all, some details on the panel and it’s objectives directly
from the IPCC web site (PDF):

In view of the relevance of the IPCC assessments for global and sub-global policy-making processes, and to reduce the occurrence and minimize the potential impact of errors in the preparation of reports, further strengthening the IPCC processes and procedures is necessary to ensure continued scientific credibility of its assessments. ...

Subsequently, the United Nations Secretary-General and the Chair of the IPCC have come to the conclusion that an independent review of the IPCC process and the procedures for preparing reports is desirable. The executive heads of the founders of the IPCC, the Executive Director of UNEP, and the Secretary-General of WMO, concur with this conclusion. Collectively, they have decided to entrust this task to the InterAcademy Council (IAC), because it embodies the collective expertise and experience of national academies from all regions of the world. The IAC has agreed to undertake this task.

In carrying out this task, it is expected that the IAC, through its networks of national academies of sciences, will engage high-profile experts from relevant fields to prepare a report that presents recommendations on possible revisions of the IPCC procedures and other measures and actions

The "proposed terms of reference for the review" are:

  1. Review IPCC procedures for preparing reports including:

Data quality assurance and data quality control

Guidelines for the types of literature appropriate for inclusion in IPCC assessments, with special attention to the use of non peer-reviewed literature

Procedures for expert and governmental review of IPCC material

Handling of the full range of scientific views; and

Procedures for correcting errors identified after approval, adoption and
acceptance of a report.

  1. Analyze the overall IPCC process, including the management and administrative functions within the IPCC, and the role of UNEP and WMO, the United Nations system and other relevant stakeholders, with a view to strengthen and improve the efficiency of the assessment work and effectively ensure the consistent application of the IPCC Procedures.
  1. Analyze appropriate communication strategies and the interaction of the IPCC with the media to ensure that the public is kept apprised of its work.
  1. Prepare a report on the outcome of the consultations referred to above...

And most importantly the panel will be completely independent, so any claims of the panel being a PR stunt will be completely without merit.:

The IAC will conduct its work independently according to its procedures for carrying out expert studies. Other than providing relevant information, neither IPCC, WMO nor UNEP will have any oversight or control over the review process.

Experts contributing to the review will do so without any remuneration for their services.

So, the goal of this panel will be to increase transparency and accuracy in future IPCC reports.  And it will be carried out by scientists who will be likely to bring strong knowledge foundations and even stronger critical thinking abilities to the process.

This panel in no way undermines the scientific foundations that have lead to the current consensus on climate change.  

In fact, both of the people who announced the IAC formation clearly stated as much.

Ban Ki-moon

"Let me be clear - the threat posed by climate change is real," said Mr Ban, speaking at UN headquarters in New York.

"I have seen no credible evidence that challenges the main conclusions of [the IPCC's 2007] report."

And the IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri:

"The IPCC stands firmly behind the rigour and reliability of its Fourth Assessment Report from 2007, but we recognise that we can improve," he said.

"We have listened and learned from our critics, and we intend to take every action we can to ensure that our reports are as robust as possible."

So if anyone tries to tell you that this assessment in any way undermines the strength of climate change science.  Please tell them that the goal and result of the assessment will be quite the opposite.

Originally posted to Hopefully Skeptical on Wed Mar 10, 2010 at 02:42 PM PST.

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