Thursday, 4 February 2010

IPCC should clear its stand

The news that 55 countries have sent their carbon reduction plans to the United Nations, according to the Copenhagen Accord is a positive sign, as it includes countries that emit more than 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases. But this has been overlooked in the breaking news category, given the travails of the UN Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), headed by Rajendra K Pachauri, which has erred in more than one place in its fourth assessment report.

Doubts flared up late last year when V K Raina, a respected glaciologist, in his paper ‘Himalayan Glaciers: A State-of-the-Art Review of Glacial Studies, Glacial Retreat and Climate Change’ said IPCC’s 2035 deadline for the end of the Himalayan glaciers was suspect as it lacked scientific backing. Pachauri dismissed the finding as ‘voodoo science’.

Now the tables have turned, and how. Some of the IPCC’s claims have been exposed as more voodoo than science. The report on vanishing glaciers comes from a World Wildlife Fund report, which in turn based its report on an interview glaciologist Syed Hasnain gave the press. The next was ‘Amazongate’ — the panel’s report that 40 per cent of the rainforest would vanish is also based on a WWF report. It was not peer-reviewed. It is said that the report contains 20 such non-peer reviewed passages. Among them is a report on ice vanishing from mountaintops around the world. It is based on a student dissertation and an article in a mountaineering magazine.

The IPCC’s mistakes have allowed the immensely powerful energy lobby and its adherents to claim even more loudly that global warming is a left-wing conspiracy, making it harder to achieve a worldwide consensus on the issue. It is ironic that the IPCC, which was set up to examine the case for global warming, should be undermining it. Though the IPCC chief has refused to review the report, citing time constraints, a proper explanation is needed — especially as the next report is expected only by 2014. Pachauri, however, has limited himself to saying that the glacier report was a mistake. No clarifications have been issued on the other matters. Such an attitude is unlikely to restore public trust in the IPCC, to say the least.

The exposés show that the IPCC should tighten its review procedures. The IPCC — and the world — cannot afford to lose public trust by making mistakes that were entirely avoidable. Otherwise, it would do irreparable harm to efforts to minimise the worst effects of global warming.