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Climate scientists buckling under heat of work

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Hobart correspondent for Fairfax Media

View more articles from Andrew Darby

The world's foremost climate scientists are said to be staggering under the weight of their work in the critical stages of a highly anticipated report on global climate change.

The UN International Panel on Climate Change is over the next 18 months finalising its massive fifth assessment report, the key document relied upon to address the global environmental crisis.

Work on the first section, on the physical science of global warming, is to be largely done in Hobart this week ahead of its formal completion in late September.

But the IPCC's Working Group I on physical science has faced a flood of 31,422  comments on its second draft, each of which must be dealt with, according to the group's co-chair, Thomas Stocker.

"We want to get this right," Professor Stocker told reporters, before the opening plenary session of the meeting on Tuesday, when he said the scientists' workload could be outpacing them.

"The question must be raised whether the volunteer scientists who act as lead authors are still equipped with an adequate infrastructure for this Herculean task mandated by governments," Professor Stocker said.

"And whether enough researchers will continue to donate their time."

The IPCC's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, said despite the weight of the comments, the organisation needed to be as open and inclusive as possible.

"We don't want to restrict it to a point where people might say that you only get your own chosen people to comment on the report," he told the ABC.

Dr Pachauri also warned against being misled by the leaking by a blogger of the Working Group's second draft in December.

"While the leaked report, the draft, may have said a few things, I wouldn't at this stage come to  any conclusions because we're still working very hard with this report," he said.

"It's entirely possible that what we get in the final version may be far stronger or in some cases maybe a little more moderate."

Professor Stocker said the leak breached the IPCC's system of trust.

"We have basically relied on a system of trust  towards those people who sign up as expert reviewers, and in that particular case that trust was not honoured," he said.

"But that will not disturb any of the processes we have started three years ago and will complete in September  2013."

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