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"After" Copenhagen
Climate Change News

Glacier Melt Rate to Be Re-Examined By UN Panel
19 Jan 2010

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The Nobel prize-winning United Nations panel whose work was the benchmark for global climate negotiations is being forced to re-examine its estimate on how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting.

Research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting Himalaya’s glaciers may disappear by 2035 needs to be investigated anew following a report in the London- based Times newspaper that flawed data may have been used, said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the award-winning scientific group.

“We are looking at the issue and will be able to comment on the report after examining the facts,” Pachauri said in a telephone interview. “We’re not changing anything till we make an assessment.”

The UN group mandated to summarize climate research used by policy makers around the world said in a 2007 report that the likelihood of Himalayan glaciers vanishing within three decades is “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at current rates. Melt from Himalayan glaciers supplies water for hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians.

Pachauri defended the finding that glaciers are shrinking as the world warms. “The science doesn’t change,” he said yesterday. “Glaciers are melting across the globe and those in the Himalayas are no different.”

Pachauri chairs the IPCC panel that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. The IPCC’s practices were challenged late last year after e-mails stolen from computer servers at the University of East Anglia showed climate researchers discussed keeping some scientific papers out of the IPCC report.

The British university said the e-mails were taken out of context. The report has formed the basis for two years of global climate-treaty talks.

Global Warming ‘Unequivocal’

The UN panel concluded in 2007 that global warming including melting glaciers is “unequivocal” and rising human greenhouse-gas emissions were “very likely” the main cause.

The environmental group WWF’s India unit, whose input was used by the IPCC in its glacier report, said yesterday that the error is unlikely to affect climate-change negotiations.

WWF-India “accepts its mistake” of referring to sources it couldn’t verify and will issue a clarification, said Shirish Sinha, its head of climate change and energy program.

“It gives a lot of fodder to the climate skeptics but this one problem with the data or the date shouldn’t have too much implication for the climate negotiations as they are now dominated by several factors such as trade and economy and science is only one of the factors,” Sinha said in a telephone interview.


India needs to undertake a scientific study of the Himalayan glaciers before “drawing any conclusions” on how fast they are melting, Jairam Ramesh said yesterday at a news conference in New Delhi about the disputed UN study.

“Glaciers are a very serious issue,” India’s environment minister said. “But to derive the conclusion that glaciers are melting rapidly and will disappear is alarmist and not necessarily based on facts.”

Pachauri at the Copenhagen climate talks in December dismissed allegations by global-warming skeptics that UN data were manipulated.

If the “presumption” about the speed of the glaciers melting is wrong, the assertion may be removed from future IPCC assessments, the London-based Times reported Jan. 17, citing Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers.

That assertion lacked scientific evidence and was based on “speculation,” the newspaper cited Syed Iqbal Hasnain, an Indian scientist credited with initial claims about the glaciers, as saying.

Hasnain, Pachauri Ties

Hasnain, now a distinguished fellow at the Energy and Resources Institute led by Pachauri, didn’t take calls on his mobile phone and wasn’t available in his office. Pachauri is director-general of the environmental research institute.

Gaps, meanwhile, remain in data for many glaciers in the Himalayas, the University of Zurich’s World Glacier Monitoring Service has said. Glaciers from the Andes to Alaska and the Alps shrank as much as 3 meters (10 feet), the 18th year of retreat and twice as fast as a decade ago, the group said last year.

India’s Chhota Shigri and Hamtah glaciers both lost about 1.4 meters of thickness in 2006 with no new data available for 2007, the monitoring group reported last January.


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Source: Bloomberg