U.N. Climate Panel to Reform -- but No Change of Leadership

The U.N.'s top panel of climate scientists agreed on Thursday to change its practices in response to errors in a 2007 report -- but chairman Rajendra Pachauri dismissed suggestions he should step down.

At an Oct. 11-14 meeting in Busan, South Korea, the 130-nation panel agreed to tighten fact-checking in reports that help guide the world's climate and energy policies and to set up a "task force" to decide on wider reforms by mid-2011.

"Change and improvement are vital to the IPCC," Pachauri told a telephone news conference by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The IPCC has been under fire after errors in its last report in 2007, notably a projection that global warming could melt all Himalayan glaciers by 2035 -- centuries before the worst-case thaw could really occur. The InterAcademy Council (IAC), grouping experts from national science academies, called for "fundamental reform" of IPCC management on Aug. 30, and said panel leaders should serve only one six-year term, rather than the current maximum of two.

Pachauri, re-elected in 2008 to a second term, said a one-term limit, if adopted, would apply only to future IPCC leaders when he steps down in 2014 after presenting the next report.

"I have every intention of staying right till I have completed the mission that I have accepted," he said.

In a later interview with Reuters, he said he would view it as a "dereliction of duty" to hand over mid-way. "I work 18 hours a day, I don't get a single holiday, I am travelling all the time. I could make my life easier by withdrawing," he said, adding that there were benefits from continuity and experience.

And he said that the IPCC's basic 2007 finding -- that it is at least 90 percent certain that human activities led by use of fossil fuels are the main cause of recent global warming -- was unaffected by errors.

Pachauri also rebuffed suggestions that the IPCC could issue more frequent reports. "Knowledge is moving rapidly but not as rapidly as might warrant producing reports with greater frequency," he said.

The IPCC agreed to new guidelines to tighten checks, as well as rules for fixing mistakes and for handling material that had not been peer reviewed by scientists.

Task forces would look into issues such as management of the Geneva-based IPCC Secretariat, which has a budget of about $5 million a year. Among IAC recommendations were the appointment of an "Executive Secretary" and extra communications staff.

Pachauri told Reuters the next report would look harder at issues such as geo-engineering -- ways to affect the global climate such as by reflecting sunlight with mirrors or fertilizing seas to encourage growth of carbon-absorbing algae.

"Geo-engineering is an area that will get clearer focus," he said.

Experts are looking for new ways to slow global warming after the Copenhagen summit last year failed to agree a binding treaty to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Among other areas, the panel would seek to work out more about sea level rise and how clouds would form in a warmer world when there will be more moisture in the air. White cloud tops can reflect sunlight and keep the planet cool.