UN admits to major error in key climate report
Published 21/01/2010 | 05:00
THE UN's top climate change body has issued an unprecedented apology over its flawed prediction that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said yesterday that the prediction in its landmark 2007 report was "poorly substantiated" and resulted from a lapse in standards. "In drafting the paragraph in question the clear and well-established standards of evidence required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly," the panel said. "The chair, vice-chair and co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of IPCC procedures in this instance."
The stunning admission is certain to embolden critics of the panel, already under fire over a separate scandal involving hacked emails last year.
The 2007 report, which won the panel the Nobel Peace Prize, said that the probability of Himalayan glaciers "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high".
It emerged last week that the prediction was based not on a consensus among climate change experts but on a media interview with a single Indian glaciologist in 1999. That scientist, Syed Hasnain, has now said that he never made such a specific forecast in his interview with 'New Scientist' magazine.
Professor Hasnain works for the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, headed by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the climate change panel.
Dr Pachauri has defended the panel's work: "We slipped up on one number, I don't think it takes anything away from the overwhelming scientific evidence of what's happening with the climate of this Earth."
Prof Hasnain confirmed that he had given an interview to Fred Pearce, of 'New Scientist'.
"I said that small glaciers in the eastern and central Himalayas are declining at an alarming rate and in the next 40-50 years they may lose substantial mass," he said.
"That means they will shrink in area and mass. To which the journalist has assigned a date and reported it in his own way."
Mr Pearce was not immediately available for comment.
Despite the controversy, the IPCC said that it stood by its overall conclusions about glacier loss this century in big mountain ranges.
The error is now being exploited by climate sceptics, many of whom are convinced that stolen email exchanges last year revealed a conspiracy to exaggerate the evidence supporting global warming. (© The Times, London)