The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.
Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on Asia, said: ‘It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.
Hey, whatever works, right? There's more:
The claim that Himalayan glaciers are set to disappear by 2035 rests on two 1999 magazine interviews with glaciologist Syed Hasnain, which were then recycled without any further investigation in a 2005 report by the environmental campaign group WWF. It was this report that Dr Lal and his team cited as their source.
The WWF article also contained a basic error in its arithmetic. A claim that one glacier was retreating at the alarming rate of 134 metres a year should in fact have said 23 metres – the authors had divided the total loss measured over 121 years by 21, not 121.
Math is hard, I suppose. But there's more.
Last Friday, the WWF website posted a humiliating statement recognising the claim as ‘unsound’, and saying it ‘regrets any confusion caused’.Well, confession is good for the soul, I suppose. But there's even more:
Dr Lal said: ‘We knew the WWF report with the 2035 date was “grey literature” [material not published in a peer-reviewed journal]. But it was never picked up by any of the authors in our working group, nor by any of the more than 500 external reviewers, by the governments to which it was sent, or by the final IPCC review editors.’
Which is what happens when you have a narrative to construct. And a conclusion you'd like. Read on:
In fact, the 2035 melting date seems to have been plucked from thin air.
Professor Graham Cogley, a glacier expert at Trent University in Canada, who began to raise doubts in scientific circles last year, said the claim multiplies the rate at which glaciers have been seen to melt by a factor of about 25.
A factor of 25? Well, I suppose that's pretty close.
Maybe I'm being a bit too harsh about this. After all, getting the right information is painstaking work.
One of the problems bedevilling Himalayan glacier research is a lack of reliable data. But an authoritative report published last November by the Indian government said: ‘Himalayan glaciers have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat.’ When this report was issued, Raj Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, denounced it as ‘voodoo science’.
Voodoo? Maybe someone ought to alert Pat Robertson! The good news is that Pachauri, who we have featured in this space a while back, was now on the case and had identified the scoundrels:
Having been forced to apologise over the 2035 claim, Dr Pachauri blamed Dr Lal, saying his team had failed to apply IPCC procedures.
Lal denies that. And we get a sense of what IPCC procedures actually are from the following:
It was an accusation rebutted angrily by Dr Lal. ‘We as authors followed them to the letter,’ he said. ‘Had we received information that undermined the claim, we would have included it.’
However, an analysis of those 500-plus formal review comments, to be published tomorrow by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the new body founded by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, suggests that when reviewers did raise issues that called the claim into question, Dr Lal and his colleagues simply ignored them.
For example, Hayley Fowler of Newcastle University, suggested that their draft did not mention that Himalayan glaciers in the Karakoram range are growing rapidly, citing a paper published in the influential journal Nature.
In their response, the IPCC authors said, bizarrely, that they were ‘unable to get hold of the suggested references’, but would ‘consider’ this in their final version. They failed to do so.
The Japanese government commented that the draft did not clarify what it meant by stating that the likelihood of the glaciers disappearing by 2035 was ‘very high’. ‘What is the confidence level?’ it asked.
The authors’ response said ‘appropriate revisions and editing made’. But the final version was identical to their draft.
Last week, Professor Georg Kaser, a glacier expert from Austria, who was lead author of a different chapter in the IPCC report, said when he became aware of the 2035 claim a few months before the report was published, he wrote to Dr Lal, urging him to withdraw it as patently untrue.
Dr Lal claimed he never received this letter. ‘He didn’t contact me or any of the other authors of the chapter,’ he said.
Do you sense there's a pattern here? It's pretty clear that something other than dispassionate inquiry was driving the work of Lal and the others involved. And yet I also wonder why we haven't heard any of this before now. If the Japanese government, or Kaser, or any of the others who raised objections at the time, were genuinely concerned, why didn't they make their concerns public in 2007? Or later on when this report received a Nobel Prize?
Or maybe we just shouldn't worry our pretty little heads about such things. Tim Blair notes this comforting explanation:
Professor Christopher Field, director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution in California, who is the new co-chairman of the IPCC working group overseeing the climate impacts report, said the 2007 report had been broadly accurate at the time it was written.
He said: “The 2007 study should be seen as “a snapshot of what was known then. Science is progressive. If something turns out to be wrong we can fix it next time around.”
Yeah, let's fix it. Good plan, Professor!