Opening up the IPCC

Updated: I have now 2010-06-29 submitted this comment to the IAC. Thank you, all signatories.

We have a rare opportunity to affect the conduct and perception of climate science. If you believe this is important, please read on, and comment.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces reports which review and summarize the science of climate change. These reports are then used by inter-governmental treaties, bodies, conferences, and national governments, as the basis for international and national policies on climate change. In other words, it is vitally important. The Clear Climate Code project has the goal of “increasing public confidence in climate science results”, and the perception of IPCC reports directly affects this goal.

There has been a lot of controversy about the accuracy and balance of IPCC reports. In response, in March the UN asked the InterAcademy Council (representing the national science academies of many different countries) to conduct a review of the IPCC processes and procedures. A committee has been established and the review is underway. The committee is now soliciting public comment. This is a rare opportunity to influence the way in which the science of climate change is conducted, reviewed, synthesized, and communicated.

I have written the following comment, and am hereby soliciting signatures. If you agree with this comment and would like to be added as a signatory, please either contact me directly, or post a comment to this blog post, giving your name and affiliation, as you wish it to appear in the list of signatories. Please also spread the word about this blog post, and encourage your friends, colleagues, and contacts to sign it.

[edited to add: as people send me their endorsements, I will update the list of signatories here in the post. I cannot make other changes, since this is now receiving signatures.]

Comment to the InterAcademy Council Review of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

1. Summary

The IPCC procedures should be amended to increase the transparency of
the science and of the IPCC process itself. The proposed amendments
are small, but would have a large effect on confidence in IPCC

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” – Louis D. Brandeis, 1913.

2. The Problem

IPCC reports contribute to global public policy debates and processes,
which may have major effects on the daily lives of every person in the
world. Every government and large enterprise has already been
affected. As the century continues, the effects of policies based on
IPCC work will increase in their scope and impact: they will create
whole new industrial sectors, thousands of businesses, and many ways
of life.

For this reason, the IPCC reports and the processes which create them
have been under increasing scrutiny. Questions are asked and doubts
are raised, both about the IPCC process and about the underlying
scientific research. Both the research, and the processes of review
and synthesis, have been criticised for opacity. Very serious
accusations have been made: of a lack of rigor, of group-think, of
conflicts of interest, of deception, and even of conspiracy and fraud.

This has led to doubts about the validity of IPCC conclusions, and to
serious difficulty in making national and international policy
regarding climate change.

All this is well-known and need not be rehearsed further here.
Indeed, the recognition of these problems has led directly to the
United Nations request for a review, and the establishment of this IAC
review committee.

3. The Solution

A key part of any solution to these problems is to increase the
transparency of the research underlying IPCC reports, and of the IPCC
process itself. While the research and the process remain closed and
opaque to commentators and to the public, doubts will flourish and
will impede progress.

3.1. Bibliography

The IPCC AR4 WG1 report included references to around 5000 items of
peer-reviewed research. Thousands more were referred by the WG2 and
WG3 reports. To assess or fully understand any part of an IPCC
report, an interested reader will want to follow the bibliographic
references and read the underlying research. For this reason the
bibliographic function of an IPCC report is very important. However,
the IPCC AR4 bibliography does not perform it well.

Each chapter of each report of AR4 has its own separate bibliography.
These bibliographies are not linked together, within a report or
between reports. The formats of these bibliographies varies. There
is no way to see whether any given paper is referred in more than one
working-group report, in more than one chapter, or at all. In the
online published text of each chapter of AR4 each citation does not
link to the matching reference in that chapter’s bibliography. In
turn, in each chapter’s bibliography, each reference does not link to
any online materials relating to that piece of research.

AR5 should have a single unified bibliography, containing all
references in all working group reports. Each citation in the body of
a report should link to the matching entry in the bibliography. If a
reference is to material which is published online, the bibliography
should link to that publication. The bibliography should also
reproduce whatever part of the publication and supporting materials is
available for reproduction (possibly just the abstract, but see
below). To protect these references against future change or loss,
wherever possible the IPCC should also archive copies of any online
publication on its own server (for instance, at the IPCC Data
Distribution Centre

There are many free tools available for managing online bibliographic
databases and repositories such as this. Such tools allow
collaborative enterprises such as the IPCC to readily create,
populate, update, search, and publish bibliographic data. The IPCC
should adopt such a tool, and mandate its use by lead authors and
contributing lead authors.

3.2. Underlying Research

Each piece of research lies somewhere on a spectrum of transparency
and open-ness. Some publications are open-access: freely available
for anyone to read and assess. For instance, some are published in
open-access journals. Many are not open-access, but describe results
such as datasets which are publicly available. Still more may have
some additional materials, such as computer source code used to
produce or analyse the datssets, freely available for download.
Finally, a great deal of research is entirely closed: only the
abstract is available, and neither the scientific paper, nor the data
described in the paper, nor the computer source code (or other
processing details), is generally open.

In recent years, and especially since AR4, it has become clear that
public confidence in research is directly connected to this spectrum
of transparency. The more open the research, the less vulnerable it
is to criticism, and especially to the more serious accusations of
fabrication and fraud. As argued above, this criticism seriously
damages the reputation of the IPCC and impedes progress in the use of
the IPCC reports.

For this reason, all contributors to AR5 should be encouraged to open
their work as much as possible: to make their contributed papers
available online, to publish their datasets and supporting materials
such as computer source code, design documents, and additional text,
images, and charts. This can be very simply done by the IPCC
routinely gathering and publishing information about the transparency
of each piece of underlying research. This information can easily be
stored in the IPCC bibliographic database.

As noted above, whenever possible a publication, and/or supporting
material, should be copied to an IPCC repository, to protect against
change or loss. As publications in climate science become more open,
such reproduction should be increasingly possible.

3.3. The IPCC Process

Much of the IPCC process itself is already open. Draft reports,
review comments, and responses are all published. However, the IPCC
reports themselves are not open. It is not possible to freely
reproduce and disseminate them. The IPCC should immediately change
this, and adopt an open licensing policy. All IPCC reports, past and
future, should be freely available under a license which conforms to
the Open Knowledge Definition, for
example the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license CC-BY-SA

The existing transparency should also be increased. There have been
prominent recent calls for the review and synthesis process to take
place in public, for instance by adopting a wiki-style drafting
mechanism. Such a move would protect the IPCC against certain
accusations of group-think (or even conspiracy). However, such a move
is somewhat outside the scope of the detailed recommendations below.

4. Recommendations

This is a series of concrete recommendations for amendments to the
document “Principles Governing IPCC Work, Appendix A – Procedures for
the preparation, review, acceptance, adoption, approval and
publication of IPCC Reports”
, with the effect of implementing the
solutions described above.

In section 4.1, “Introduction to Review Process”, this paragraph should
be added:
The IPCC Secretariat should identify, implement, and provide a
bibliographic system and repository for the use of Coordinating
Lead Authors, Lead Authors, and Review Editors.
The content of this bibliographic system and repository shall be
shared between all the Working Groups and the Task Force on
National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, and shall be publicly
available on or before completion of the Report for a period of at
least five years.

In section 4.2.3, “Preparation of Draft Report”, this sentence should
be added to the first paragraph:
Contributions should include, wherever possible, access
instructions for any original data, supplementary materials,
computer source code used for analysis or processing, and an
indication of the public availability and licensing of such

In Annex 1, under “Lead Authors”, this paragraph should be added:
Lead Authors shall record all contributed material in the IPCC
bibliographic system. Where any access to original data,
supplementary materials, or computer source code is provided, Lead
Authors shall record such access in the IPCC bibliographic system
and, wherever possible, copy such material to the IPCC repository.

In section 4.2, “Reports Accepted by Working Groups and Reports
prepared by the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories”,
this paragraph should be added:
Reports accepted by Working Groups, or prepared by the Task Force
on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, shall be made publicly
available under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike
license CC-BY-SA.

In section 4.4, “Reports Approved and/or Adopted by the Panel”, this
paragraph should be added:
The Synthesis Report shall be made publicly available under the
Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license CC-BY-SA.

Furthermore, the IPCC should make its existing reports publicly available
under the same CC-BY-SA license.

5. Conclusion

The IPCC reports have been questioned and attacked on many fronts, and
this has been a source of great difficulty in making national and
international policy regarding climate change. A principal ground for
complaint has been the transparency of the underlying science and of
the IPCC process of review and synthesis. Progress can be enabled by
addressing these complaints: by making the science and the process far
more open.

The IPCC doesn’t have a direct influence on the working practices of
the thousands of researchers who contribute work to its reports.
However, it can shine a bright light on those practices by the simple
and cheap step of requesting and recording certain information in its
bibliography, and by making that bibliography readily available to the

Finally, by making its own processes more open, and by making its own
reports more freely available, the IPCC can both avoid any further
criticism on these grounds and set a leading example for the research
community from which it is drawn.



  • Nicholas Barnes, Founder, Clear Climate Code project
  • David Jones, Founder, Open Climate Code project
  • Richard Drake, Founder, Open Climate Initiative
  • Rufus Pollock, Founder, Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Jonathan Gray, Community Coordinator, Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Joshua Halpern, Professor of Chemistry, Howard University
  • Tim Lambert, School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of New South Wales
  • Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge and Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Andrew Montford. Author: The Hockey Stick Illusion
  • Subbiah Arunachalam, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, India
  • Dave Berry, ex Deputy Director of the UK National e-Science Centre
  • Peter Suber, Berkman Fellow, Harvard University
  • Lucia Liljegren of the Blackboard
  • Carrick Talmadge, Senior Scientist, University of Mississippi
  • Ivo Grigorov (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/DTU-Aqua)
  • William Eichinger, William Ashton Professor of Engineering, University of Iowa
  • Nick Levine
  • Philippa Davey
  • Leif Burrough
  • David L. Hagen
  • Scott McKay
  • Ronald Broberg
  • Ted Lemon
  • Martin Brumby
  • Gerry Morrow
  • David Bishop
  • Conrad Taylor
  • John Shade
  • Allen McMahon
  • Robert Thomson
  • Eamon Watters
  • Bruce Cunningham
  • Greg Freemyer
  • Chad Herman
  • Barry Woods
  • Jack Mosevich
  • Stephen L. Jones
  • Zeke Hausfather
  • Daniel Godet
  • Laurence Childs
  • Peter O’Neil
  • Phillip Bratby
  • Colin Brooks
  • Andrew Smith
  • Peter Walsh
  • Louis Hooffstetter
  • Steve Fitzpatrick
  • Stephen Gaalema
  • Charles Minning
  • Brian Crounse

60 Responses to “Opening up the IPCC”

  1. David L. Hagen Says:

    I endorse the call above for the IPCC to establish open evaluation and reporting with a common public reference database linked to online resources wherever possible.

  2. Scott McKay Says:

    I endorse this call as well.

  3. Ronald Broberg Says:

    I support this effort to improve the bibliographic record of citations and references throughout the IPCC reports as well as the broader goal of increasing access to the documents, data, and code used to support the IPCC review and synthesis.

  4. Ted Lemon Says:

    I too endorse this call. Openness in science is indeed the best, and probably the only, way to make sure that this important work is not ignored or discredited for reasons having nothing to do with the science.

  5. Nick Barnes calls for improved IPCC bibliography « The Whiteboard Says:

    […] Categories: Uncategorized Tags: IPCC Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  6. Dave Berry Says:

    I agree with these proposals.

    Dave Berry, ex Deputy Director of the UK National e-Science Centre.

  7. Jim Cripwell Says:

    I know the IPCC is not like a Supreme Court, but when such a court has judges who dissent from the majority view, then minority reports are written and included in the judgement.

    There needs to be a similar procedure for the IPCC. It is extremely unlikely that all the scientists involved agree with everything that is written, and there should be an opportunity for dissent to be shown in the final IPCC report.

  8. Peter Suber Says:

    Please add my signature. Thanks for doing this.

    Peter Suber
    Berkman Fellow, Harvard University

  9. Tweets that mention Clear Climate Code » Blog Archive » Opening up the IPCC -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by OA Tracking Project, Clear Climate Code. Clear Climate Code said: Opening up the IPCC: We have a rare opportunity to affect the conduct and perception of climate scie… #climatechange […]

  10. Martin Brumby Says:

    Please add my signature.
    The recommendations set out here are modest and temperate and represent the absolute minimum requirement for establishing any credibility for the IPCC.

  11. Gerry Morrow Says:

    More openness, please add my name.

    Gerry Morrow

  12. Peter Murray-Rust Says:

    I am glad that the IPCC / IAC has solicited public comment and support this petition for increased Openness and Transparency. Please add me to the petition as

    Peter Murray-Rust, University of Cambridge and Open Knowledge Foundation

  13. David Bishop Says:


  14. Conrad Taylor Says:

    I also support this call. Please add my name.

    My sole caveat is that if there is a requirement for the use of a Creative Commons “Share-Alike” licence for IPCC publications, does this deter some people from using materials in, e.g. corporate and government policy documents which are not “open”? If “Share Alike” is a barrier to citation and use, I’d drop this in favour of a more liberal open licence.

  15. Nick.Barnes Says:

    Conrad: that’s an excellent question, and I regret specifying CC-BY-SA in the comment. I wanted to be specific to avoid the amendment getting too verbose; I should probably have said “a license no more restrictive than CC-BY-SA”, but I couldn’t change the comment after I’d opened it for signatures.

  16. John Shade Says:

    Well done. I am pleased to endorse your proposals. If the IPCC, or something like it with another name, is to continue, it would hugely improved by them, and could perhaps hope to inspire and inform debates rather than discourage and mislead them as has been the case so far.

  17. John Shade Says:

    Well done. I am pleased to endorse your proposals. If the IPCC, or something like it with another name, is to continue, it would be hugely improved by them, and it could perhaps hope to inspire and inform debates rather than discourage and mislead them as has been the case so far.

  18. allen mcmahon Says:


  19. Nick.Barnes Says:

    Allen, I have added you as “Allen McMahon”. I hope I got the capitalization right.

  20. Robert Thomson Says:

    I support this call 100% and there should be a way of also recording and acknowledging alternative or minority views.

  21. Eamon Watters Says:

    Please add my endorsement to your proposal.

  22. John Blake Says:

    [edit: CCC is not a venue for offensive diatribes. Take it elsewhere – Nick Barnes]

  23. Bruce Cunningham Says:

    Please add me to the endorsement list.

  24. lucia liljegren Says:

    of The Blackboard.

  25. The Blackboard » Opening up the IPCC: Petition at CCC Says:

    […] going to run the preface for the letter, the full letter is here We have a rare opportunity to affect the conduct and perception of climate science. If you believe […]

  26. Greg Freemyer Says:

    Please add my endorsement

  27. Chad Says:


  28. Chad Herman Says:

    Heh, sorry. I forgot my last name. You might need that.

  29. Barry Woods Says:

    Please add my signature.

  30. Jack Mosevich Says:

    I endorse this call.

  31. Stephen L. Jones Says:

    Sensible and necessary proposals. I’m happy to endorse your propositions

  32. Zeke Hausfather Says:

    Sign me up.

  33. Daniel Godet Says:

    Minority report as soon as dissent unavoidable
    Open the IPCC or close it (perhaps best option to save money under current conditions)

  34. Carrick Says:

    Please add my name.

    Carrick Talmadge, Senior Scientist, University of Mississippi

  35. Laurence Childs Says:

    Excellent idea and very well put. Please add my name.

  36. peter oneil Says:

    Peter ONeil

    Please add my name.
    I consider this to be a move in the right direction, although i would prefer that the ipcc was dismantled because i think that it has been fatally wounded.

  37. Phillip Bratby Says:

    Please add my name.

  38. Colin Brooks Says:

    I endorse this call

  39. Andrew Smith Says:

    Please include my name.

  40. Peter Walsh Says:

    Of all organisations on this lovely blue planet of ours, the United Nations and any of it’s sub-organisations should be above reproach and opprobrium. Likewise, any reports which may affect part or all of this planet must be accurate and honest to the nth degree and must be open to debate. I absolutely endorse the proposals above.

    It is time for change.

    Peter Walsh, Dublin, Ireland

  41. Steve Fitzpatrick Says:

    I support all that you have included, but I think it does not go nearly far enough. The efforts of the IPCC appear to have been corrupted by the political agendas of many participating scientists. There is a very long way to go to establish public trust in the IPCC process.

    1) The IPCC ARs are too important to allow any referenced publication, data and supporting materials to not be freely available to the public. I suggest that the IPCC budget to purchase public-access rights to every publication included in the discussions/analysis of the working groups. The public worldwide has every right to independently evaluate these publications if they are to be the basis for national laws and international agreements which will significantly influence the lives of everyone.

    2) Refusal to release data and calculations is a valid reason to, in whole or in part, discount the conclusions of any publication. As Steve Mosher has suggested, where supporting data and calculations have not been disclosed by the original author(s), this fact should be explicitly stated within the body of text (eg. “supporting data not available”) wherever that publication is referenced in the AR.

    3) The process of selecting referenced work has been at best obscure, and has appeared to allow lead authors to heavily influence the selection process. It is crucially important that all internal discussion/analysis/communication on the selection process be freely available on line as supporting information at the time the AR is released. The public must be able to effectively “listen in” on all deliberations of the working groups.

    4) The working groups must include some qualified scientists who do not completely agree with the consensus view. All comments and contributions from these scientists to the process (see 3 above) must be part of the supporting information.

  42. Ivo Grigorov Says:

    Nick, please add my name. Apologies for delay

  43. Ivo Grigorov Says:

    affiliation (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/DTU-Aqua)

  44. Louis Hooffstetter Says:

    By definition, science is open, honest, and reproducible. ‘Climate Science’ as practiced today is an oxymoron. If the IPCC wants anyone to take their ‘Climate Science’ seriously, it needs to be completely open, honest, and reproducible. Please add my name as well.

  45. Nick.Barnes Says:

    @Steve Fitzpatrick: Those are all interesting points of view. I don’t agree with all of them, but if you want to make them in an IAC comment, then you should. You did not make clear whether you wanted me to add your name to this comment.

    @Louis Hooffstetter: a great deal of science is not “reproducible” in the sense often expected in the blogosphere. And a great deal of climate science is reproducible, in the sense meant by scientists.

    To both Steve and Louis: you are treading very close to the border of acceptable comment on this blog. If you want to discuss whether scientists are honest, or corrupted by political agendas, please do so elsewhere.

    The point of this IAC comment is to make suggestions which (a) are concrete, (b) would make a difference, (c) may gather support from across the spectrum of opinion, and (d) may be acceptable to the IAC and IPCC. I seem to have managed (a) to (c); time will tell about (d). In any case, I recommend (a) to (d) as requirements, to anyone drafting a comment for the purposes of affecting the process (as opposed to grand-standing).

  46. Steve Fitzpatrick Says:

    Nick #45,

    Ok, you can add my name. The changes you suggest, while not going as far as I honestly think is needed, are far better than no changes.

    I was not aware of the rules for acceptable comments; I will be more careful if I post a comment here again.

  47. William M. Connolley Says:

    No, don’t like it, sorry. I think you have identified the wrong problem :-(


  48. Nick.Barnes Says:

    No need to apologise! There’s certainly more than one problem. What would you fix, and how?

  49. Robert Says:

    I will perhaps be willing to sign this but I do have some suggestions first. I commend your effort but I feel as though there are some things that should be addressed by AR5. Firstly, I would like the evaluation process for the 1st and second drafts opened up more and to be more transparent. An example of this would be to require explanations which are logical that explain the rejection of commentarys and subsequent responses allowed by the comments author. An example would be if I notice an error, indicate it and they say back, comment rejected, that is very unethical and should instead require a reason for the rejected commentary and subsequently give the original author a chance to prove his comment is valid.

    Secondly, the 1st and second drafts should be open to the public for evaluation of. An example of how this could be done is through allowing normal citizens to register online and make short commentaries as long as their credentials make it through the online registration process. An example of how this is done is I register, provide all my information (include contact) as well as level of education and specialization and then am given an email a few days later which confirms I can comment and/or a rejection if they feel that the individual is actually a bot or someone who will be spamming or ranting or so on. All submitted comments could be kept in a database online and a second column could be posted indicating whether or not the individual was accepted as a reviewer and why. This might take up some man hours but would eliminate the stigma of having just ph.d’s do the most of the reviewing. It is of course for the final decisions to be made by those with the big degrees but simple commentary from the public can always be constructive.

    Let me know what you think?

  50. Stephen Gaalema Says:

    Add my name, please.

  51. Nick.Barnes Says:

    @Robert: I agree that the drafting and review processes should be very much more open. That wasn’t really the focus of this comment, which is about the open-ness of the underlying science. I don’t want to broaden this comment to address your concerns, because I feel it would lose its focus. In any case, as explained above, I can’t make any changes at all now that it has a large number of signatures. But I encourage you to write your own comment for the IAC; their public comment form is here.

  52. Charles Minning Says:

    I agree. The IPCC process needs a thorough overhaul.

  53. drj Says:

    Can I again encourage people who want to make a “thorough overhaul” (or similar) to make a submission to the IAC.

    This is our chance to change the IPCC, so if you genuinely believe it needs changing, please write a comment and send it to the IAC. It would be great if you could publish it on your blog.

    People saying “this is wrong” (“this” the submission in the article, that I’ve signed) could be a little more critical. In other words say what’s wrong and why. But we’re not going to change the petition, that would change what people have already put their name to. So it would really be better to write your own comment to the IAC.

    We’re still interested in what you have to say about this submission, but please spend some time making a comment to the IAC.

  54. Brian Crounse Says:

    Please add my name.

  55. Nick.Barnes Says:

    I have now submitted this comment to the IAC. Feel free to continue discussing it here, but it is too late to add your signatures.

  56. Vincent Gray Says:

    I have been the most prolific reviewer of all the IPCC Reports. I contributed 1,898 comments to the last Report 16% of the total. Most were rejected without reasons given. I would like to have reasons for rejection, the right of reply, and for my responses to be part of any future report.
    The IPCC already quotes non peer reviewed papers when it suits them (e.g. the CSSP Reports) They also refuse to discuss papers in peer reviewed Journals they disapprove of, such as “Energy and Environment” which has published several of my papers. Publication of responsible criticisms is currently impossible because of the manipulation revealed by the Climategate Emails. I would like to see the inclusion of responsible papers, however and wherever published, and permit reviewers to submit papers they have published

    I would like the Reports to deal with Climate Science instead od “Climate Change” interpreted as caused by human changes in the amnosphere, plus marginalizing of “natural’ influences

  57. drj Says:

    @Vincent Gray

    “Review” is mostly covered by section 4.2.4 of Appendix A of the Principles Governing IPCC Work.

    Did you make a submission to IAC suggesting a change to any of the published procedures?

    This is not the sort of blog where we encourage people to be vaguely whingey about the IPCC.

  58. Jorge Kampmann Says:

    This is a great task. I endorse it completely . thanks tor the work already being done..

    Being in Europe (DE) and working with Linux I would request that software developed hereunder within the IPCC-process should be portable to various operating systems in particular LINUX.

    If possible this could be done with Java – however I understand that most of the programs are written in Fortran … ok then – a good compilation environment (Makefile) should be made available including versions of compiler, libraries and linker.

    Generally the so called sceptics should not be excluded from the reports moreover there should be a chapter or even a special report on the sceptics including the argumentation against them. Example: Scafetta/West against Benestad (in 2010)

    best regards

  59. Lance McKee Says:

    Please add my name.

    Overcoming technical obstacles often precedes and forces the obsolescence of old policies, financial arrangements, perceptions and behaviors. The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) creates open geoprocessing interface and encoding standards that make it much easier to publish, discover, access, assess and use geospatial data and processing services. Contributors to AR5 should familiarize themselves with OGC standards ( and consider participating in activities such as the Global Earth Observation System of Systems Architecture Implementation Pilot (

    Lance McKee
    Senior Staff Writer
    Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)

  60. drj Says:

    @lance: Sorry, it’s way too late. The IAC submission deadline was the end of June. We would have appreciated your endorsement.

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