Thursday, January 21, 2010

Climate chief admits error over Himalayan glaciers

Fred Pearce in New Scientist: The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been forced to apologise for including in its 2007 report the claim that there was a "very high" chance of glaciers disappearing from the Himalayas by 2035. Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, conceded yesterday that "the clear and well-established standards of evidence required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly" when the claim was included in the 900-page assessment of the impacts of climate change.

The paragraph at issue reads: "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high." The report's only cited source was a 2005 report by the environment group WWF, which in turn cited a 1999 article in New Scientist.

The New Scientist article quoted senior Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain, the then vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, who was writing a report on the Himalayas for the International Commission for Snow and Ice. It said, on the basis of an interview with Hasnain, that his report "indicates that all the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035". The claim did not, however, appear in the commission's report, which was only made available late last year.

This week a group of geographers, headed by Graham Cogley of Trent University at Peterborough in Ontario, Canada, have written to the journal Science pointing out that the claim "requires a 25-fold greater loss rate from 1999 to 2035 than that estimated for 1960 to 1999. It conflicts with knowledge of glacier-climate relationships, and is wrong."

The geographers add that the claim has "captured the global imagination and has been repeated in good faith often, including recently by the IPCC's chairman". The IPCC's errors "could have been avoided had the norms of scientific publication, including peer review and concentration upon peer-reviewed work, been respected", they say….

Drang-Drung is a large glacier in Ladakh, and one of the main tributaries of the Zanskar river, the Stod or Doda River. Shot by Wildchild826, Wikimedia Commons

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