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The Himalayan glacier controversy

The world’s worst polluters—the oil, coal, automobiles, chemicals, cement and steel industries—and climate change-deniers must feel elated at the recent disclosures of flaws in the data underlying scientific assessments and public and government perceptions of the issue.

Their greatest joy must come from the failure of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference at Copenhagen to produce a strong, effective, legally-binding agreement which imposes deep emissions-cut obligations on the industrialised countries.

The conference produced the so-called Copenhagen Accord—a flimsy, ineffective, non-binding collusive agreement between less than 30 countries among the 193 present. This undermines many gains made in the UNFCCC process, including the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR) and the Kyoto Protocol. This is a setback for climate remediation

The world needed an agreement to peak global greenhouse emissions by 2020 and then reduce them sharply to limit global warming to 1.5° to 2° C. But the Accord absolves the major polluters of their climate-related obligations and will probably lead to a 3.5° to 4° C temperature rise.

This setback is compounded by recent reports of manipulation of scientific data by the Global Climate Project, based at a British university, whose researchers concluded that climate change is happening faster than thought earlier. Climate change-deniers hacked into the researchers’ emails to claim they tweaked data to suit predetermined conclusions. The claim involves a certain interpretation of colloquial expressions like “fix”. Although “fix” might mean fitting different observations into a curve, instead of a straight line, these disclosures have embarrassed the researchers.

But so overwhelming is the evidence from numerous other sources that “feedback” effects like melting of polar ice-sheets and glaciers are accelerating climate change, that the disclosures didn’t cause grave damage. More serious harm was caused by recent reports of errors in the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (FAR) of the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The FAR draws on research by 4,000 scientists worldwide. All its assertions are meant to be supported by papers published in rigorously-scrutinised, peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The FAR says the Himalayan glaciers “are receding faster than in any other part of the world and … the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 … is very high”. This wasn’t drawn from a scientific journal, but from a report by the advocacy group WWF, based on a story by British popular-science magazine New Scientist. [Read More]