by Stephen Leahy
the Bush administration denies the alleged global-warming effects of greenhouse gas emissions, conservative lobby groups and environmentalists in Washington and beyond continue to question the findings of the global Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The IPCC was established in 1988 to "assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change."
Last Thursday, a proposal in the U.S. Senate to seriously cut greenhouse gas emissions died at the hands of the pro-business Bush administration.
The controversial bill, the Climate Stewardship Act, proposed ambitious and binding targets for slashing emissions. It was the first time mandatory curbs on emissions -- said to be primarily responsible for global warming -- had been considered by lawmakers, and many see it as the last chance to put such legislation in place before the 2004 presidential elections.
In spite of mounting scientific evidence, the Bush administration remains in vigorous denial about climate change.
In September, Britain's 'Sunday Observer' newspaper reported that White House officials revised government scientists' reports on climate change and enlisted the help of conservative lobby groups funded by the oil industry to attack the studies.
Those efforts were in response to a May 2002 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, 'The Climate Action Report 2002,' which stated that burning of fossil fuels was responsible for recent global warming and that the development posed a significant risk.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) called the report "junk science" and filed a lawsuit. The CEI is a powerful conservative lobby group that has received more than one million dollars in donations since 1998 from oil industry giant ExxonMobil.
It has since filed other lawsuits and challenges against other government agencies, such as the EPA and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which have issued reports on climate change, calling their work unscientific.
But it would be difficult to bring that kind of political pressure to the IPCC, says Eric Haites, a Canadian economist who has been involved with the institution's work since 1992.
The Geneva-based IPCC has a decentralized structure and operates by consensus, so there is no power center that could be influenced one way or another, Haites said in an interview.
Although set up by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Program (UNEP), virtually all IPCC work is done by thousands of independent scientists and other experts from around the globe, who offer their services.
With a formal staff of only three or four people and a minuscule budget, individual countries sponsor and fund the IPCC working groups and task forces, Haites says. Those countries have changed with each of the three assessments completed to date.
The 150 or so participating countries have agreed to back a fourth assessment, which began this year and is scheduled to be completed by 2007.
Each assessment is an incredibly time consuming and difficult process, says Alison Shaw, a researcher at the University of British Columbia's Sustainable Development Research Initiative.
"There's an enormous range of opinions within the scientists involved," says Shaw, who has studied how the IPCC operates and interviewed dozens of scientists and others involved.
Some researchers are convinced climate change is here and others say it is too soon to know, she adds. However, those opinions do not matter because the assessment only looks at peer-reviewed research, from which it draws its conclusions.
Several thousand pages of research compiled during the assessment eventually get boiled down in the 'Summary for Policy Makers'. In an arduous process, representatives from each country and leading scientists debate and eventually agree on every single word, she says.
The last Summary concluded that over the 20th century the mean global surface temperature increased by 0.6 degrees Centigrade and that "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."
Released in September 2001, it became the IPCC's most widely read document.
The Clinton administration gave that report its seal of approval -- but others disagreed with its main findings.
"The IPCC's 'Summary for Policy Makers' report seriously understates the uncertainties around global warming," says William O'Keefe, president of Washington's George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative lobby group that specializes in science and policy.
Although the IPCC science is very good, the Summary shows a political bias towards global warming as a certainty, which is not an accurate reflection of the current research, O'Keefe told IPS.
Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace Canada agrees the IPCC is not completely immune from political pressure.
Within four months of taking office, the Bush administration managed to have the outspoken head of the IPCC, World Bank climatologist Robert Watson, removed in April of last year, he says.
Greenpeace obtained an internal memo from ExxonMobil to the White House that asked for Watson's removal two months before the IPCC vote.
Although Washington had just one vote, countries voted 76 to 49 to replace Watson with engineer and economist Rajendra Pachauri.
Pachauri, who was favored by the United States, is doing a decent job, Guilbeault told IPS. Like many NGOs, Greenpeace has non-voting observer status at the IPCC.
The panel's work is non-partisan and scientific, Guilbeault contends. "It's in everyone's best interest that it stays that way."
November 5, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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