UN May Retract Melting Himalayan Glaciers Claim, Will Media Care?

A 2007 warning from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that Himalayan glaciers would be completely gone by 2035 due to global warming may be retracted in the coming days.

New revelations concerning this claim indicate that it actually came from a 1999 article in a scientific journal that was in no way verified by any members of the IPCC.

As Britain's Sunday Times reported Sunday, in the wake of ClimateGate e-mail messages showing IPCC scientists manipulating climate data, a retraction of this Himalayan glacier warning would further undermine claims by these people that the science is settled concerning man's role in global warming (h/t Ed Morrissey):

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research. If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. The IPCC was set up precisely to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

Professor Murari Lal, who oversaw the chapter on glaciers in the IPCC report, said he would recommend that the claim about glaciers be dropped: "If Hasnain says officially that he never asserted this, or that it is a wrong presumption, than I will recommend that the assertion about Himalayan glaciers be removed from future IPCC assessments." 

This is what the New Scientist reported on June 5, 1999:

MELTING Himalayan glaciers are threatening to unleash a torrent of floods into mountain valleys, and ultimately dry up rivers across South Asia. A new study, due to be presented in July to the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI), predicts that most of the glaciers in the region will vanish within 40 years as a result of global warming.

"All the glaciers in the middle Himalayas are retreating," says Syed Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, the chief author of the ICSI report. A typical example is the Gangorti glacier at the head of the River Ganges, which is retreating at a rate of 30 metres per year. Hasnain's four-year study indicates that all the glaciers in the central and eastern Himalayas could disappear by 2035 at their present rate of decline.

Glaciers cover around 17 per cent of the Himalayas and contain thousands of cubic kilometres of water. Taken together with those on the neighbouring Tibetan plateau, they represent the largest body of ice on the planet outside the polar regions. Furthermore, their meltwater makes up two-thirds of the flow of great South Asian rivers such as the Ganges, on which hundreds of millions of people depend.

But Hasnain's working group on Himalayan glaciology, set up by the ICSI, has found that glaciers are receding faster in the Himalayas than anywhere else on Earth. Hasnain warns that as the glaciers disappear, the flow of these rivers will become less reliable and eventually diminish, resulting in widespread water shortages.

According to the Times, Hasnain's report didn't say anything about the glaciers being gone by 2035:

The IPCC's reliance on Hasnain's 1999 interview has been highlighted by Fred Pearce, the journalist who carried out the original interview for the New Scientist. Pearce said he rang Hasnain in India in 1999 after spotting his claims in an Indian magazine. Pearce said: "Hasnain told me then that he was bringing a report containing those numbers to Britain. The report had not been peer reviewed or formally published in a scientific journal and it had no formal status so I reported his work on that basis.

"Since then I have obtained a copy and it does not say what Hasnain said. In other words it does not mention 2035 as a date by which any Himalayan glaciers will melt. However, he did make clear that his comments related only to part of the Himalayan glaciers. not the whole massif.
Britain's Daily Mail also reported on this matter Sunday:

The revelation is a major blow to the credibility of the IPCC which was set up to provide political leaders with clear, independent advice on climate change.

It follows the 'Climategate' email row in which scientists at the University of East Anglia appeared to have manipulated data to strengthen the case for man-made climate change.

Dr Benny Peiser, of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said: 'The IPCC review process has been shown on numerous occasions to lack transparency and due diligence.

'Its work is controlled by a tightly knit group of individuals who are completely convinced that they are right. As a result, conflicting data and evidence, even if published in peer reviewed journals, are regularly ignored, while exaggerated claims, even if contentious or not peer-reviewed, are often highlighted in IPCC reports.

'Not surprisingly, the IPCC has lost a lot of credibility in recent years. It is also losing the trust of more and more governments who are no longer following their advice - as the Copenhagen summit showed.'

The flawed claim appeared in chapter 10 of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which stated: 'Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.'

New Scientist filed its own report on this growing controversy last Monday:

Glaciologists are this week arguing over how a highly contentious claim about the speed at which glaciers are melting came to be included in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. [...]

Vijay Raina, a leading Indian glaciologist, wrote in a discussion paper published by the Indian government in November that there is no sign of "abnormal" retreat in Himalayan glaciers. India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, accused the IPCC of being "alarmist". [...]

Graham Cogley, a geographer from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, says the 2035 date is extremely unlikely. "At current melting rates it might take up to 10 times longer," he says.

Not surprisingly, the growing controversy is causing a lot of fingerpointing according to New Scientist:

However, the lead author of the IPCC chapter, Indian glaciologist Murari Lal, told New Scientist he "outright rejected" the notion that the IPCC was off the mark on Himalayan glaciers. "The IPCC authors did exactly what was expected from them," he says.

"We relied rather heavily on grey [not peer-reviewed] literature, including the WWF report," Lal says. "The error, if any, lies with Dr Hasnain's assertion and not with the IPCC authors."

But Hasnain rejects that. He blames the IPCC for misusing a remark he made to a journalist. "The magic number of 2035 has not [been] mentioned in any research papers written by me, as no peer-reviewed journal will accept speculative figures," he told New Scientist.

"It is not proper for IPCC to include references from popular magazines or newspapers," Hasnain adds.

Indeed it is not. As Ed Morrissey noted Sunday:

So the IPCC read the interview in which Hasnain speculated — with no scientific evidence whatsoever — that a portion of the Himalayan glaciers would melt at some indeterminate time, and concluded that the entirety of the massif would evaporate by 2035.  They never even bothered to wait for Hasnain’s report to see exactly what he claimed, and why.  Instead, they just inflated the unsubstantiated speculation with a zeppelin of greenhouse-gas hyperbole and stated categorically that the entire glacial structure in the Himalayas would be gone in a quarter-century.

This is what passes for science at the UN.  This is what passes for science at the IPCC.  It’s also what passed for science at the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

And AGW hysterics like to call skeptics deniers, in what is clearly the most obvious case of projection on the global stage.

The only questions remaining are will the IPCC retract this warning, and how will American media report the retraction if it occurs.

After all, this glacial melt claim is pivotal to climate alarmism. If it is retracted, and the IPCC admits that it unscientifically based its conclusion on one article in one journal, not only would this undermine its own credibility as a scientific organization, but it would remove one of the great threats alarmists like Nobel Laureate Al Gore use to scare people into believing this myth.

No matter how you slice it, coming only two months after ClimateGate first unfolded, it is quite clear the wheels are falling off the manmade global warming bus. 

Ain't it grand?

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.