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The US Won't Pay For the World's Best Climate Science

The US Won't Pay For the World's Best Climate Science
From Wired - August 11, 2017

The most formal manifestation of the scientific consensus on climate change is an organization called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Headquartered in Geneva, under the aegis of the United Nations, it coordinates the volunteer efforts of several thousand scientists, industry experts, nonprofit researchers, and government representatives into reports issued every five to seven years. These reports underpin virtually every climate-based decision on Earth, from the US militarys threat assessments to the Paris climate agreement itself.

So its maybe surprising that the IPCC is a shoestring operation, running on just over $4.3 million a year. It gets that money from about 25 different countries, plus a few UN groups. Historically, the biggest chunk of that money comes from the US. Or rather, it used to.

Congress and the Trump administration effectively zeroed out Americas nearly $2 million contribution for 2017, and the 2018 budget explicitly bars the State Department from giving the IPCC money. Congress, remember, has the power of the purse. But the budget starts and ends with Trump: first as a proposal, and finally as a bill he signs into law. Removing the IPCC from the budget doesnt necessarily put the organization in an immediate bind; it has savings. But it could leave US scientists out of many important scientific discussionsand leave the US underprepared as climate change progresses.

The UN established the IPCC as an independent research organization in 1988, because member nations were worried about the rising chorus of alarming climate science. They wanted a group to review the research and deliver actionable recommendations to the UN. The IPCCs fifth assessment came out in 2014, and the sixth is due in 2022.

Every country that wants to participate can do so, and the IPCCs executive committee selects delegates based on the needs of the working groupsnot just scientists, but industry representatives, nonprofit experts, and other climate-interested professions. The US people that work in these groups are generally selected by the DOE or by the EPA," says Daniel Kammen, a UC Berkeley energy physicist who has been working with the IPCC since 1999. "They get a letter saying you are requested, and the US will cover your travel with the understanding that all the work you do is volunteer.

Those volunteers dont conduct any new research. Rather, they review the existing literature in order to present a consensus on climate change, its impacts, and how the world can prepare for the worst of them. Numerous subgroups investigate the nuances in renewable energy, agriculture, sea level rise, and so on. Most of that work happens remotely. The only thing the IPCC pays for is flying the delegates to working group meetings once or twice a yearflights that eat up the bulk of the organizations budget.

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