Global action on the global problem of human-induced climate change is stalled. In most countries action has become a victim to internal politics and also to the absence of any international authority capable of organising a concerted response. Everybody waits for others to do something.
The politics involved in the workings of the UN prevent it from providing a solution to the absence of an international authority, and attempts to get one set up by treaty seem hopeless.
In this situation even the scientific authority of the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has come into question. It is alleged to be biased and complicit in the attempts of certain vested interests to exploit fear of catastrophe. Also it is not effectively answerable to anybody. There is obviously not just some plausibility but some substance in these accusations.
There is no doubt that everybody who works for the IPCC is already convinced that climate change is dangerous and that it is at least exacerbated by our use of fossil fuels. They want to find more evidence for their view. They may be nominally responsible to the UN, but in practice that is illusory.
In this situation it is easy for those who oppose the IPCC to make accusations that sound very plausible to those who are unable to evaluate the accusations for themselves. What is clearly needed is an impartial body that can encourage specific, well-argued accusations against the IPCC and evaluate them in a publicly accessible way.
The fact that members of the IPCC are biased does not imply that they will only attend to data that suit their views or draw unwarranted conclusions. In fact, if they are confident in their conclusions they will normally be motivated to make sure that they do not leave themselves open to such accusations.
Nevertheless, such accusations need to be examined publicly, competently, impartially, authoritatively and in detail. How is it possible to constitute the appropriate body?
Let a consortium of major foundations agree to finance it for a specific period and set up a steering committee to secure the cooperation of the IPCC and of major universities throughout the world. The steering committee will call on those universities to nominate one or two people who are not involved professionally or publicly with questions of climate, but possess the sort of abilities necessary to understand the scientific issues involved. That will produce a panel of perhaps two hundred. The actual jury will consist of ten or a dozen members chosen by lot from the panel, subject to appropriate constraints, such as that no jury contain more than one citizen of any one country.
The jury will be appointed to examine a particular case which has been deemed by the panel as meriting investigation. It will not aim at a simple “guilty/ not guilty” verdict or at unanimity. Rather each juror will be asked, in relation to each specific aspect of the evidence produced, to assess any probability that the evidence might warrant the accusation of scientific malpractice, say on a scale of 0-10, and to comment on their reasons for that assessment. The jury might proceed to produce an agreed assessment by a process like that used in scoring performances in sports such as gymnastics, diving and figure skating. Scores that deviate so far from the median as to be idiosyncratic are dropped and an average is taken of the rest. In many cases that might come out as zero, but in such complex and disputable material, it would not be damning to be given a score of one or two. People have genuine differences about the weight to be given to a piece of evidence. In any case the point of the exercise would not be in the verdict so much as in what emerged in the process of arriving at it.
It might well be that small groups of dissident scientists who think they have a serious case against the consensus will feel that the whole arrangement is just a move to discredit them unheard. They lack the resources to mount the sort of case that demands to be taken seriously and risk being attacked for their failure to do so. It might be necessary to assure them that if they can convince the panel that they have a case that should be heard, they will receive adequate financial support to mount it before the tribunal. It is likely that the major vested interests that want to discredit the IPCC will decide that their best tactic is to ignore the panel or prevent it from getting any sort of recognition. So they will not fund any challenge.
Granted that such accountability might produce a well-grounded consensus about the need for action, it would be necessary to establish an authority to assign responsibilities to particular agents, especially states in a way that is accepted by most of them and puts those who resist under pressure to conform.
Such a body would involve quite different expertise and a very different modus operandi, not judicial but political. I think that it would still need to be based on selecting by lot from a relatively large group of nominees the membership of the decision-making body. I leave it to the reader to speculate about these matters. The decision-making body would probably need to be accompanied by an appeals tribunal to hear cases against specific decisions.