Britain has officially expressed its concern to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about lax scientific procedures used by the body which supplies the world with the facts about global warming.
Evidence has emerged the IPCC made exaggerated claims in its last report in 2007 about the melting of Himalayan glaciers by 2035, the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and increased frequency of violent storms. The panel also used research that had not been peer-reviewed. That has prompted the British Government to communicate formally its disquiet to the IPCC and its chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.
The controversial Indian engineer, who has no background in climate science, has been "urged" by the Government to ensure the IPCC's procedures are rigourous, and to explain publicly what the IPCC is doing to guarantee that this is the case. Dr Pachauri, who enjoys a lavish lifestyle in Delhi funded by his own research institute, is not considered to have mounted an effective defence of climate-change science in the face of the allegations.
At the weekend it was alleged that Dr Pachauri knew last November that the glaciers claim was false, before the UN Copenhagen climate change summit, but did not correct it until last week, when he claimed he had known of the error for only a few days. The question now being raised is whether he is the appropriate figurehead for the next official IPCC assessment report – known as AR5 and due in 2013. There is, however, not yet an open campaign to remove him.
The British Government fears the accusations of the IPCC's sloppy procedures and exaggeration may seriously undermine public confidence in the scientific case for global warming, especially coming on top of the affair of the leaked emails from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia.
Yesterday, Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said it would be "profoundly irresponsible" to allow recent controversies over scientific data to undermine the fight against climate change. He said it would be "devastating" for future generations if the world community did not continue with its efforts to cut carbon emissions and limit further temperature rises.
"Yes it was bad a mistake that was made, yes the IPCC needs to reform its procedures so these kind of mistakes don't happen again," he said. "But the truth is, it doesn't undermine decades of climate research and the overwhelming majority of scientists say that."
The Government now sees restoring confidence in climate science as an absolutely critical issue – in which the IPCC itself has a critical role to play. "We have urged the IPCC to ensure that their scientific standards are of absolutely the highest quality of scientific rigour, and that they communicate properly and exactly what they are doing to ensure that this is the case," a senior Government official said yesterday. "We have expressed our desire that the IPCC robustly defends the science and improves it procedures where they have been shown to fall short."
Yesterday, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown also took up the climate issue when he said that the pledges made by countries at Copenhagen to cut their carbon emissions – which were due to be officially registered by today – would enable to the world to "peak" its CO2 emissions by 2020, a vital step on the road to limiting to C the rise in average world temperatures.
In a letter to Dr Alan Williams, chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Brown, who is due to appear before the panel of senior MPs tomorrow, said: "For the first time, the world will see, collected together, strong mitigation commitments by countries representing more than 80 per cent of global emissions. If those commitments are then implemented to their maximum potential, they could lead to emissions peaking by around 2020 or before, representing the crucial first step towards the level of reductions required to hold global temperature increases to under two degrees."
A spokeswoman for the IPCC said last night: "We have no information on this at the moment."