January 23, 2010
Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent
The Indian head of the UN climate change panel defended his position yesterday even as further errors were identified in the panel's assessment of Himalayan glaciers.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri dismissed calls for him to resign over the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change’s retraction of a prediction that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035.
But he admitted that there may have been other errors in the same section of the report, and said that he was considering whether to take action against those responsible.
“I know a lot of climate sceptics are after my blood, but I’m in no mood to oblige them,” he told The Times in an interview. “It was a collective failure by a number of people,” he said. “I need to consider what action to take, but that will take several weeks. It’s best to think with a cool head, rather than shoot from the hip.”
The IPCC’s 2007 report, which won it the Nobel Peace Prize, said that the probability of Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high”.
But it emerged last week that the forecast was based not on a consensus among climate change experts, but on a media interview with a single Indian glaciologist in 1999.
The IPCC admitted on Thursday that the prediction was “poorly substantiated” in the latest of a series of blows to the panel’s credibility.
Dr Pachauri said that the IPCC’s report was the responsibility of the panel’s Co-Chairs at the time, both of whom have since moved on.
They were Dr Martin Parry, a British scientist now at Imperial College London, and Dr Osvaldo Canziani , an Argentine meteorologist. Neither was immediately available for comment.
“I don’t want to blame them, but typically the working group reports are managed by the Co-Chairs,” Dr Pachauri said. “Of course the Chair is there to facilitate things, but we have substantial amounts of delegation.”
He declined to blame the 25 authors and editors of the erroneous part of the report , who included a Filipino, a Mongolian, a Malaysian, an Indonesian, an Iranian, an Australian and two Vietnamese.
The “co-ordinating lead authors” were Rex Victor Cruz of the Philippines, Hideo Harasawa of Japan, Murari Lal of India and Wu Shaohong of China.
But Syed Hasnain, the Indian glaciologist erroneously quoted as making the 2035 prediction, said that responsibility had to lie with them. “It is the lead authors — blame goes to them,” he told The Times. “There are many mistakes in it. It is a very poorly made report.”
He and other leading glaciologists pointed out at least five glaring errors in the relevant section.
It says the total area of Himalyan glaciers “will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 square kilometers by the year 2035”. There are only 33,000 square kilometers of glaciers in the Himalayas.
A table below says that between 1845 and 1965, the Pindari Glacier shrank by 2,840m — a rate of 135.2m a year. The actual rate is only 23.5m a year.
The section says Himalayan glaciers are “receding faster than in any other part of the world” when many glaciologists say they are melting at about the same rate.
An entire paragraph is also attributed to the World Wildlife Fund, when only one sentence came from it, and the IPCC is not supposed to use such advocacy groups as sources.
Professor Hasnain, who was not involved in drafting the IPCC report, said that he noticed some of the mistakes when he first read the relevant section in 2008.
That was also the year he joined The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, which is headed by Dr Pachauri.
He said he realised that the 2035 prediction was based on an interview he gave to the New Scientist magazine in 1999, although he blamed the journalist for assigning the actual date.
He said that he did not tell Dr Pachauri because he was not working for the IPCC and was busy with his own programmes at the time.
“I was keeping quiet as I was working here,” he said. “My job is not to point out mistakes. And you know the might of the IPCC. What about all the other glaciologists around the world who did not speak out?”
Dr Pachauri also said he did not learn about the mistakes until they were reported in the media about 10 days ago, at which time he contacted other IPCC members. He denied keeping quiet about the errors to avoid disrupting the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen, or discouraging funding for TERI’s own glacier programme.
But he too admitted that it was “really odd” that none of the world’s leading glaciologists had pointed out the mistakes to him earlier. “Frankly, it was a stupid error,” he said. “But no one brought it to my attention.”