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High Hopes and Slender Means for IPCC's Parent (The Economist)

When it comes to getting global carbon emissions under control, The Economist's Green.view column says the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is more of a distraction than a savior. Overall the Economist comes down on this IPCC co-creator pretty hard -- too hard.

In "High Hopes and Slender Means" the columnist slams UNEP from several angles, painting it as a bungling bureaucratic backwater that is all talk and no action.

"In the bitchy world of UN agencies, UNEP's reputation is not good. At dinner parties in Nairobi it is known as 'INEPT' for its lack of focus and reliance on glossy brochures. It has grown to 1,000 staff in 42 countries, but remains a mess. Part of the reason is its vague yet towering mandate."

A Nobel Peace Prize is not exactly an indicator of failure. No other organization has been able to do what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has done under the auspices of UNEP.

The IPCC was created almost 20 years ago in response to growing concern about the risk of anthropogenic climate change. The United Nations tasked two UN bodies -- the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program -- to set up a global panel to provide balanced, objective policy advice. IPCC has published three out of four parts of its "Climate Change 2007" (also known as the Fourth Assessment Report) based on a consensus of scientists from around the globe.

In Valencia: High-level conclusions

The IPCC Plenary is meeting in Valencia, Spain, this week to adopt the fourth and final volume of "Climate Change 2007." This volume is the Synthesis Report, targeted to policymakers.

It's the final step in integrating the enormous amounts of scientific information contained in the three volumes released earlier this year. The most recent volume, the IPCC "Working Group III" report released in May 2007 recommended ways to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The Synthesis Report will be launched on November 17, 2007.

In Rome: Heavyweight attention

This report coincides with an energy summit in Rome this week. The meeting this year has a special sense of urgency: It is the first since the IPCC's report concluded that fossil fuel use was driving climate change, with potentially disastrous economic and social effects.

World Energy Council delegates from 90 member countries will hear keynote addresses from the President of the European Commission, the Director General of the World Trade Organization, and the Chairman & CEO of EDF, the world's largest utility, plus speeches by GE's Jeffrey Immelt, author Vijay Vaitheeswaran, and the heads of almost every major European utility, from Areva to Vattenfall.

In Hollywood: Thank the Academy and a cast of thousands

As Bill Clinton said at Greenbuild, the first task was to prove the inconvenient truth that climate change is real and human-induced. That job is done, and KPCB's new star Al Gore didn't do it alone. For most world leaders, the IPCC consensus has been much more persuasive than Hollywood could ever be.

Too skeptical

The unnamed writer affects a UN insider's perspective that could come only from spending considerable time in Nairobi. The Green.view column "attempts to support the green agenda with a skeptical eye," according to its own publicity.

Perhaps IPCC has achieved all of its accomplishments despite UNEP. Perhaps the Economist is being too skeptical -- but at least they include this single paragraph of balancing praise for UNEP:

"It had a hand on this year's Nobel Peace Prize, through its involvement in the International [sic] Panel on Climate Change. It has helped eliminate 95% of ozone-damaging chemicals. Other successes, such as a 50% drop in deforestation in the Amazon, have hardly been noted. The 1992 Rio Earth summit, which it helped organise, was a watershed in redefining man's relationship with nature."

Calling the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change by the wrong name is a common mistake, but not one easily made by a UN insider. The real insiders are busy instigating global action on climate change. Don't disparage their success.