Can Climate Forecasts Still Be Trusted?

But other climatologists are calling for consequences. They insist that IPCC Chairman and Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri is no longer acceptable as head of the panel, particularly because of his personal involvement in the affair. "Pachauri should resign, so as to avert further damage to the IPCC," says German climatologist Hans von Storch. "He used the argument of the supposed threat to the Himalayan glacier in his personal efforts to raise funds for research." Storch claims that the Indian-born scientist did not order the retraction of the erroneous prediction until it had generated considerable public pressure.

'Best of My Abilities'

Pachauri, for his part, rejects calls for his resignation. "I have a commitment to successfully complete the Fifth Assessment Report, a commitment that I am certainly not willing to set aside," the IPCC chairman said.

The prognosis drama began in 1999. The theory of the disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 first appeared in an article in the British popular magazine New Scientist, for which Indian glaciologist Syed Hasnain was interviewed.

As it turned out, the specification of the year 2035 was the result of a simple mistake. In an article published three years earlier, Russian glaciologist Vladimir Kotlyakov did in fact predict a massive decline in the area covered by glaciers, but not until the year 2350. "All of the IPCC's peer-review procedures failed," says Canadian geographer Graham Cogley.

Indian scientist Hasnain's ties to the IPCC chairman have triggered a public relations crisis. The glaciologist now works at The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, whose director is none other than Rajendra Pachauri. Could this explain why Pachauri suppressed the error in the Himalaya passage of the IPCC report for so long?

The erroneous prediction of a precipitous end for the Himalayan glaciers was already revealed in November, when a glaciologist working for the Indian environment ministry presented a study on Himalayan glaciers that arrived at completely different conclusions than the IPCC report. But Pachauri dismissed the new study as "voodoo science."


In mid-January, the New Scientist confessed to its own sloppiness, exactly one day after IPCC Chairman Pachauri and his glacier expert Hasnain had announced a joint venture involving TERI, Iceland and the United States to study the Himalayan glaciers, with half a million dollars in funding from the New York-based Carnegie Foundation. "Perhaps Pachauri was so hesitant to look into the matter because he was trying to protect the research projects being conducted by his own institute," says climate statistician Storch. Pachauri, however, claims that he was simply pressed for time: "Everybody in the IPCC was terribly preoccupied with planning for several events that were to take place in Copenhagen," he said, referring to the climate change summit held in the Danish capital in December.

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