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Climate panel seeks independent review

WASHINGTON — The Nobel Prize-winning international scientific panel studying global warming is seeking independent outside review for how it makes major reports.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it's seeking some kind of independent review because of recent criticism about its four 2007 reports.

Critics have found a few unsettling errors, including projections of retreats in Himalayan glaciers, in the thousands of pages of the reports.

Scientists say the problems are minor and have nothing to do with the major conclusions about man-made global warming and how it will harm people and ecosystems. But researchers acknowledge that they have been too slow to respond to a drip-drip-drip of criticisms in the past three months. And those criticisms seem to have resonated in poll results and media coverage that has put climate scientists on the defensive.

"The IPCC clearly has suffered a loss in public confidence," Stanford University climate scientist Chris Field, a chairman of one of the IPCC's four main research groups said Saturday. "And one of the things that I think the world deserves is a clear understanding of what aspects the IPCC does well and what aspects of the IPCC can be improved."

An independent review "is much needed," said University of Colorado environmental studies scientist Roger Pielke Jr., a longtime critic of the IPCC.

"The IPCC has a long road ahead to regain trust," Pielke said by e-mail.

In a statement issued Saturday by overall IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri the group of volunteer scientists said it tries to be accurate and follow procedures.

"But we recognize the criticism that has been leveled at us and the need to respond," Pachauri said in the statement.

One example of the criticism was a Senate speech earlier this month when Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., called problems with the IPCC "the makings of a major scientific scandal."

"There is a crisis of confidence in the IPCC," Inhofe said Feb. 11. "The challenges to the integrity and credibility of the IPCC merit a closer examination by the US Congress."

The panel shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former Vice President Al Gore. The panel was created by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization.

Pachauri's statement said the panel consulted with the United Nations and plans to find "distinguished experts" to review how it write its reports.

There were no details on how the review would be done. They will come sometime in early March, according to Pachauri's statement.

But one of the troubles is that the IPCC is written by most of the world's top experts in climate science. And the experts who don't write it, often review it, so it's hard to find someone both independent and knowledgeable.

That's why the IPCC is most likely to find an outside organization or group — such as a scientific society of a national academy of science — to run the review, Field said.

That panel would then make the decision on who should be part of the review and if former IPCC authors should be part of it. Scientists who write or review the panel's reports say they do not get paid, but sometimes get reimbursed for travel expense and in the end often lose money on the deal.

University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver, who has been an IPCC author in the past, called the IPCC plan and statement "an appropriate and measured response."