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Nobody doubts that climate change is happening. Nor might one doubt some marginal effect from increased levels of CO2 due to industrial society.

The phrase, “curate’s egg” derives from an 1895 cartoon in the satirical British magazine Punch. A humble curate is having breakfast at the table of a bishop. The bishop suggests that the curate may have a bad egg. “Oh, no, my Lord,” responds the curate, “I assure you that parts of it are excellent.”

Of course, you can’t have an egg that is partly bad, which is why the curate’s egg came to mind when looking at this week’s “independent” review of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the InterAcademy Council (IAC).

Following the largely whitewash internal reviews of Climategate, not much was expected from the IAC, a science bureaucracy that is firmly within the orbit of the UN’s brand of Global Salvationism. Still, the review had to contain some acceptable level of criticism. Its central claim, however, is that, like the curate’s egg, the IPCC is “good in parts,” and that it can be rendered fresh and credible with a little tightening of policies and procedures, more transparency, tighter reviews, more responsiveness to stakeholders, new Executive committees, better communications etc. etc.

The review criticizes where it is unavoidable. It notes the shoddy standards that led to a welter of unsubstantiated alarmist statements appearing in the IPCC’s 2007 assessment report. It indirectly wags the finger at IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri for the arrogant way he responded to criticism and “strayed” into advocacy. But advocacy has always been the primary purpose of the IPCC.

The IAC admits that the IPCC is not a scientific body but sits “at the interface between science and politics.” Nevertheless, its review claims vaguely that the IPCC assessment process has been “successful overall.” It has merely failed to keep up with, and respond quickly enough to, controversy. But the controversy is entirely of its own making.

The IAC acknowledges that the IPCC’s review process is a mess, but then it was never designed to court objective analysis. As economics professor Ross McKitrick — who has seen the ugly process from the inside — noted on this page last week, once the reviewers have been appointed, you know exactly what their report’s conclusions will be. And if Lead Reviewers don’t like critiques of their favoured science, they simply bury them.

The IAC review wasn’t meant to address science and yet the opening sentence of its executive summary is “Climate change is a long-term challenge that will require every nation to make decisions about how to respond.” These are weasel words that prejudge the issue. Is it talking about man-made climate change? How long-term is long-term?

In the wake of the report, both UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Achim Steiner, head of the United National Environment Programme, UNEP (one of the IPCC’s institutional parents, and thus hardly un-conflicted) claimed that the IAC had done nothing to undermine the solid “science.” According to Mr. Steiner — who pulled out the “authority” card — “The thousands of scientists involved in the fourth assessment of the IPCC concluded that it is over 90% certain that human beings and their activities are contributing to climate change.”

Mr. Steiner didn’t seem to have noticed that one of the IAC’s criticisms refers to this kind of use of numbers to create spurious certainty. Meanwhile his claim is flagrantly deceptive. The vast majority of those “thousands” of scientists are not climatologists. Nobody doubts that climate change is happening. It never stops. Nor might one doubt some marginal effect from increased levels of CO2 due to industrial society. The question is, again: How much, and when? The bigger question is what, if anything, to do about it? None of these issues is the slightest bit “settled.”

In fact, the IAC review did acknowledge, despite its weasely opening, that “alternative models” [to that of climate being driven by man-made CO2] should be tested. This notion has been anathema to the IPCC in the past. The review also admits that there is “a debate” over climate change, which is again like garlic to vampires when it comes to the winners of that 2007 Nobel Peace Prize (for setting the nations of the world at each other’s policy throats).

Typically, Mr. Steiner accused critics of being “ideologically” motivated. But what, pray, motivates him? Apparently it is the pure-hearted concern to promote “the opportunities from a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.”

As for True Believers in the media, one Canadian national daily newspaper suggested that the IAC’s approach might have been too timid “if the IPCC is to bulletproof itself from the small group of dissenters that attack it daily.”

But the group of dissenters is growing, and their dissent is proving increasingly valid. Meanwhile the notion that the IPCC needs to bulletproof itself is analogous to the Church of Galileo’s time suggesting that it might bulletproof the Office of the Geocentric Universe.

Bulletproofing suggests an even less-responsive IPCC, which is certainly not an option. In fact, reform may be impossible. Mixing science and politics made the IPCC a curate’s egg from the start.

Financial Post, 1 September 2010