Posted by: shipbright | February 23, 2010

IPCC controversy…keeping the debate on an even keel…

Over the last few weeks there has been a brewing controversy over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] handling of its data.  The IPCC is organized under the auspices of the United Nations and is a consortium of the world’s leading climatologists whose collective view on climate change is the most advanced and rigorous study of climate change.

Below are two statements from the IPCC.  There are those whose denial of climate change seeks to discredit any refinement of data-refinement and constant updating is part of the scientific process…certainty is left for death and taxes. 

For those following the Tibetan Plateau series the first statement refers specifically to the Himalayan glaciers.  There are other smaller contributing factors to the deglaciation of the Himalayan glaciers such as carbon soot from pollution.  Anyone who has watched what volcanic soot can do to an ice pack knows that the gray ash holds the sun’s heat and melts the snow/ice more rapidly than the surrounding white snow/ice.  I saw this first hand in Alaska last winter when the Mt. Redoubt volcano erupted.  I was teaching skiing on the weekends at the Aleyska Ski Resort and watched how the ash, warmed by the sun, melted patches of snow on the ski trails. 

Regardless of the soot contribution in the Himalayas, which some think is the root cause, the rising temperatures and changes in the hydrologic cycle over the long run in the Tibetan Plateau is the prime variable.  Long term monitoring and traditional knowledge by residents [see Asia Society video in early post for herdsmen interviews] bear this out.  More importantly the climate change issue does not hang on what happens to one area of glaciers–it’s the world as a whole, places like Greenland, the Andes, Antarctica. 

Geneva, 20 January 2010 

IPCC statement on the melting of Himalayan glaciers [1]

The Synthesis Report, the concluding document of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (page 49) stated: “Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.”

This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.  [emphasis mine]

 It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment [2] refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly. The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of “the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report” [3]. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.

 1. This statement is from the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the IPCC, and the Co-Chairs of the IPCC Working Groups.

2. The text in question is the second paragraph in section 10.6.2 of the Working Group II contribution and a repeat of part of the paragraph in Box TS.6. of the Working Group II Technical Summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.

3. This is verbatim text from Annex 2 of Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work.


 Geneva, 25 January 2010


The January 24 Sunday Times ran a misleading and baseless story attacking the way the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC handled an important question concerning recent trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters. The article, entitled “UN Wrongly Linked Global Warming to Natural Disasters”, is by Jonathan Leake.

 The Sunday Times article gets the story wrong on two key points. The first is that it incorrectly assumes that a brief section on trends in economic losses from climate-related disasters is everything the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) has to say about changes in extremes and disasters. In fact, the Fourth Assessment Report reaches many important conclusions, at many locations in the report, about the role of climate change in extreme events. The assessment addresses both observations of past changes and projections of future changes in sectors ranging from heat waves and precipitation to wildfires. Each of these is a careful assessment of the available evidence, with a thorough consideration of the confidence with which each conclusion can be drawn. The second problem with the article in the Sunday Times is its baseless attack on the section of the report on trends in economic losses from disasters. This section of the IPCC report is a balanced treatment of a complicated and important issue. It clearly makes the point that one study detected an increase in economic losses, corrected for values at risk, but that other studies have not detected such a trend. The tone is balanced, and the section contains many important qualifiers. In writing, reviewing, and editing this section, IPCC procedures were carefully followed to produce the policy-relevant assessment that is the IPCC mandate.

The IPCC…bookmark this website.  It’s the best knowledge on the globe.


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