18 January 2010

Glacial Fallout and the IPCC

The IPCC's error with respect to Himalayan glaciers has all of a sudden gained enormous traction. Here is a quick round up of the latest.

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, says that the Panel is revisiting the erroneous claims on glaciers:
"We are looking into the issue of the Himalayan glaciers, and will take a position on it in the next two or three days," Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told Reuters in an e-mail.
What this might mean isunclear since the AR4 is disbanded and it is not clear that the IPC has any policies or procedures for revisiting or addressing errors in previously published reports. Depending on how the IPCC responds, there likely will be other issues to be addressed, including of course the IPCC's egregious errors on disasters and climate change.

In Indian media, Pachauri also appears to have disavowed any responsibility for the IPCC error, while India's environment minister Jairam Ramesh claims to have been vindicated in his dispute with Pachauri and the IPCC:
India's Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh Monday said “I was right on the glaciers” while maintaining that the Himalayan glaciers are "indeed" receding, which is a cause for great concern, but the view that these rivers of ice would melt down completely by 2035 due to global warning is "alarmist" and without any scientific basis.

"It is a clear vindication of our position. (But) It is a serious issue. (Himlayan) glaciers are serious issues for India. Most of the Himalayan glaciers are in a poor state, but the report that suggested that the glaciers will vanish completely by 2035 is alarmist and misplaced," Ramesh told reporters in New Delhi.

He maintained that the causes for the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas needs to be carefull studies.

Ramesh was referring to the study by the Nobel prize winning group - United Nations Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 had - that claimed that most of the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

The Rajendra Pachauri-led UN panel had warned that the melting of glaciers would have far-reaching consequences for India. However, new evidence has emerged to suggest that the IPCC may have been mistaken.

The IPCC's claim was based on an article in a London-based science journal which had borrowed the statement from India's glaciologist Syed Iqbal Hasnain. “The study was not made on any scientific evidence,” a very happy sounding minister.

WWF-India Climate Change and Energy Programme chief Shirish Sinha admitted that there are "limitations to scientific models used for such studies."

"We need to look at new data and study. The larger issue is the coming of scientific data which is not validated," said Sinha.

The report was based on compilation of papers. We regret the report that was put out. The information used in the report was not validated and the predictions were based on scientific models. What WWF has seen is that smaller glaciers are more vulnerable but larger ones are not that vulnerable," Sinha has been quoted as saying by CNN-IBN television channel.

A little-known scientist Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Syed Husnain who first issued the doomsday warning, has admitted that it was based on a news story in a science journal.

Pachauri, however, washed his hands off the report saying Husnain was not working with him but in the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) when he published it

"Husnain was with JNU when the report was published in 1999. I am not responsible for what he did in his past, can't say anything now. Have to assess facts first," Pachauri replied when asked if the misleading report was an embarrassment for The Energy and Resources Institute.
Hasnain now works for Pachauri at TERI.

[UPDATE: WWF Australia apparently removed their statement from their webpage (Why?). However it live on here.] WWF Australia has issued a statement apologizing for the error in its report and distancing itself from the IPCC. Here is an excerpt from the statement:
. . . In this case, we relied upon a published article rather than the original report for the information we cited in our own document. Referring to this article without double-checking the primary source was a mistake inconsistent with our high standards and one we sincerely regret. . .

How can the IPCC justify not having peer-reviewed this statement before including it in their report?

A: This is a question for the IPCC.

6 comments:

fred said...

Dr.Paul Reiter and Malaria springs to mind (2005). I believe Dr.Reiter had to threaten with legal action in order to have his name removed from the final draft.

Ryan said...

Roger, you might want to fix the formatting of that last quotation, so that it's clear what part of it comes from the WWF...

Australian reporting on this is what you would expect. "The Australian" loves it (see first four stories here), and more left-leaning news sources are covering it, but claiming it's no big deal. Here's an odd statement from an article in ABC news:

"Meanwhile, a leading Australian glaciologist says the UN's scientific reporting process has been corrected since the mistake was made."

No idea what that could possibly be referring to...

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

-2-Ryan

Thanks .. the entire blockquote is from the WWF.

Charlie said...

wwf.org.au has taken down the statement you linked to in the head post. Now it just says "expired page".

Google has pointers to it, but not a full cached version.

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Meanwhile, NASA continues to point to the expected disappearance of Himalayan glaciers by 2030 (yes, 2030 not 2035 or 2350)as part of the "evidence" for climate change.
ref: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ about midway in the page, next to a photo from space of "The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro".

So far I've not received any response from the feedback I submitted 17 January using the link at the very bottom of http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/ .

Perhaps if some others also send in their feedback, NASA will pay attention. It took multiple people sending in feedback on the Climate Change Key Indicators page before they would correct some gross errors.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

Just for posterity sake, here is the full WWF-Australia statement released then apparently retracted today, part 1 ...

Statement on Himalayan Glaciers

WWF-Australia Latest News | January 17th, 2010 at 9:00 am |

WWF recently became aware that a 2005 report contained erroneous information about the rate at which glaciers are melting in the Himalayas.

The WWF report, An Overview of Glaciers, Glacier Retreat, and Subsequent Impacts in Nepal, India and China, quoted an article published in 1999 which predicted a high likelihood of Himalayan glaciers disappearing entirely by 2035 due to climate change.

Although scientists remain deeply concerned about glacier retreat in that region, this particular prediction has subsequently proved to be incorrect.

At the time the WWF report was issued, we believed the source of the statement to be reliable and accurate.

We regret any confusion caused by our role in repeating the erroneous quote in the 2005 report and in subsequent publications and statements.

As the world's leading science-based conservation organisation, WWF is strongly committed to ensuring the information we provide to the public is thoroughly reviewed to meet the highest standards of accuracy.

Our offices around the world are taking action to correct this information in WWF publications and websites.

POSSIBLE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Q1. How can this sort of mistake happen?

A: Like other scientific organisations and educational institutions, WWF often cites the works of prominent researchers and scientists in our reports and publications. In this case, we relied upon a published article rather than the original report for the information we cited in our own document. Referring to this article without double-checking the primary source was a mistake inconsistent with our high standards and one we sincerely regret.

Q2. How does this information about the Himalayas impact what WWF has been saying on the issue of climate change?

A: It doesn't. WWF's work on climate change is based on many decades of peer-reviewed work produced by the world's most respected scientists, climatologists and conservationists. This work has confirmed that climate change is being observed in all regions of the world, and is already having significant impacts on a very wide range of natural and human systems, and that the future impacts will be extremely severe without urgent action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

One inaccurate quote does not diminish the overwhelming evidence that climate change is one of the foremost threats facing our planet today and one which requires immediate action.

Q3. Does this mistake reflect on the overall credibility of the IPCC's work?

A: The IPCC comprises of leading scientists and researchers from around the world and is widely known and respected for its leadership on climate science.

WWF strongly supports the IPCC for its continuous and tireless actions to help raise the level of knowledge about climate change and its efforts to counteract this global threat.

One isolated incident does not and should not be used to undermine the credibility of this outstanding and respected group of scientists who are at the forefront of climate change research.

Roger Pielke, Jr. said...

part 2 ...

Q4. What steps will WWF take to avoid these inaccurate figures being spread even more widely?

A: WWF has asked its network of offices to review their internal and external websites, publications and reports and to correct this reference wherever necessary.

Whilst we believe that in general our processes for ensuring the accuracy of our work are robust, we will of course review our systems and quality controls to ensure accuracy before publishing.

Q5. How does WWF choose the sources that it cites in reports?

A: WWF always strives for the highest possible standards. Our work on climate change is based on many decades of peer-reviewed work produced by the world's most respected scientists, climatologists and conservationists.

In this instance, not reviewing the primary source of our information was an isolated mistake which went against the strict standard procedures followed by our organisation.

We believe that one inaccurate quote - included in error in our work - does not diminish the overwhelming evidence that climate change is one of the foremost threats facing our planet today and one which requires immediate action.
Q6. How can the IPCC justify not having peer-reviewed this statement before including it in their report?

A: This is a question for the IPCC.

Q7. What impact does the acknowledgement of this error have on the current understanding of global warming?

A: This one, isolated error does not affect our overall understanding of the impacts of climate change. Subsequent research has confirmed that the overall findings of the WWF reports in regards to the negative impacts of climate change on the Himalayan glaciers and throughout the region are accurate. And the body of evidence showing that climate change is occurring in all other regions of the world, and having significant impacts on natural systems, remains overwhelming.

An isolated case of an inaccurate quote in a single publication should not diminish the overwhelming evidence that climate change is one of the foremost threats our planet is facing today. It should also not disrupt the work of the many people trying to prevent the worst impacts ofclimate change.

Q8. Has it been used extensively in IPCC arguments? If so what will be done to rectify this situation?

A: This is a question which needs to be answered by the IPCC.

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