Pachauri should go?

Claims that Himalayan glaciers would have melted by 2035, and that there would be a rise in hurricanes, typhoons and other extreme weather events were never properly peer reviewed before inclusion in the IPCC’s reports.

So-called ‘grey’ literature was used in contravention of the IPPC’s own rules. While the claims are not central, they were high-profile. Agencies linked to IPCC chair Pachauri obtained funding using these claims. Yesterday Charles Clover (author of ‘The End of The Line‘, an investigation into overfishing) called on Pachauri to go (see below). Today there are more reports of monies obtained on foot of wrong material.

From The Sunday Times
January 24, 2010
‘Sloppy science is seeping into the climate watchdog’
By Charles Clover

You need a steady nerve if, like me, you think it is a matter of evidence, not belief, that the world is warming as a result of human activity. After Climategate — the emails that appeared to show scientists using tricks to “improve” the evidence for global warming — comes Glaciergate, the disclosure that the Nobel prize-winning panel on the world’s climate, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published an unsubstantiated assertion that Himalayan glaciers were in danger of melting away by 2035.

When you stop to think about it, the assertion made in 1999 by an Indian scientist, who now disowns the statement, is absurd. Some of the Himalayan glaciers are a third of a mile thick and those on Everest, for instance, start at more than 20,000ft. So even though glaciers the world over are melting, a date for the total disappearance of the ones in the Himalayas is more likely to be nearer 2350, if ever.

How did the 2035 figure get pasted into an IPCC report that was apparently scrutinised by experts from the countries most familiar with the annual Himalayan snow-melt?

While we ponder that question, it looks this weekend as though Glaciergate could be followed by Disastergate, Hurricanegate, Floodgate and Droughtgate. It is beginning to look as though the more alarming assertions published by the IPCC — that climate change is behind the increasing frequency of, and damage caused by, natural disasters — may not have been properly peer-reviewed. They lack the gold standard of credibility that we have been assured the panel’s 3,000-page assessment enshrines.

It is a mess. And politically it couldn’t have come at a worse time, just as the election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts brings the end of Barack Obama’s super-majority in the Senate, in a Congress in which only one party believes in doing anything about global warming. The drip, drip of error gives ammunition to even the most scientifically illiterate Republican senator who wants to talk down Obama’s climate bill. The frail global pact to reduce emissions that survived the ill-fated Copenhagen conference will not survive the defeat of cap-and-trade in America.

Are the CNN bulletins right to suggest that the improper use of “grey” literature — reports that were not peer-reviewed — has undermined the case for concern about global warming and for steep cuts in our emissions?

Absolutely not. The 2035 figure was not central to the IPCC report’s findings or even mentioned in its summary. That is why it has taken so long to be challenged, in the end by another IPCC scientist working on melting glaciers, not a sceptic. Established IPCC rules on sourcing and evaluating “grey” literature say such sources should be identified and actively reviewed. These rules were clearly breached.

To be fair, I think it is understandable that one or two details were missed in a report stretching to 1,500 pages that went through several drafts. Modern scientists are unforgivably prolix and, as any author knows, the longer the book, the more likely it will contain mistakes. Nevertheless it is the job of the IPCC author, the chapter’s author and the working group chairman to spot strong statements that are unsupported by strong evidence. That is their job. In this case they screwed up.

Though their errors are worse than any yet shown to have been committed in an email from a scientist at the University of East Anglia, I think it would still be forgivable if it turned out to be just one incident. We all make mistakes. But if it turns out to be just one example of a general sloppiness creeping through the IPCC, then it will reflect disastrously on the chairmanship of the IPCC itself, currently occupied by Rajendra Pachauri.

Pachauri already stands accused of poor judgment for defending the report’s general conclusions about Himalayan glaciers after they were called “alarmist” by India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh. Pachauri accused Ramesh of relying on “voodoo science”. Pachauri looks pretty silly now.

The IPCC chairman also stands accused of making policy statements — for example, encouraging the world to eat less meat — when he is meant to be an adviser to policy makers, not one himself.

Pachauri also seems to have an awful lot of jobs. He already has a full-time job as director general of the Indian Energy and Resources Institute, which seems to benefit from UK government funding. He is also an adviser to Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and the Chicago Climate Exchange — all of which stand to benefit from carbon trading. His predecessors, Bert Bolin, a Swedish scientist, and Bob Watson, now chief scientist at Defra, were part-time, but they put enormous effort into the job. How much time is Pachauri putting in? It doesn’t appear to be a lot.

If we are to have the best possible predictions about climate change, urgent decisions need to be taken. The agreeable but gaffe-prone Pachauri should accept it would be wise to walk now, so some heavy-hitters can step in and prevent a disastrous slide in the IPCC’s credibility. The sooner, the better.

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3 Responses to Pachauri should go?

  1. David Allen says:

    After seeing Phil Jones lose his job in demonstrably unfair circumstances I really begrudge having to have this debate about Pauchari now. Whats more disappointing is how ‘climategate’ has become an instiutionalised fact in the media now, despite the fact that e-mails were flagrantly manipulated to make them look worse than they were . This article rolls out the same limp, unimformed reference i’ve seen in countless others in the last few weeks, in its own way helping to slowly etch the event into the public’s collective memory as something synonymous with corruption. And so the annals of history are rewritten for their purposes.

  2. John Gibbons says:

    @ David

    There’s one rule for science, and no rules at all for the sceptics/deniers. They are free to spread smear and fear, and no matter how many times their duplicity is shown up, they never, ever apologise. Nor are they in any way amenable to new information that doesn’t dove-tail with their prejudices. They just ignore or rubbish it. Simple really, when you’re not interested in the facts to begin with.

    Scientists do all the actual science here, most of it of an extremely high standard. The deniers/liars never once acknowledge this fact. Instead, they ferret through the garbage heap, looking for a line in a hacked email, a mistaken reference in a support paper, or a loose phrase to twist out of context and repeat ten thousand times on the Fox News until the big lie becomes the received wisdom.

    I agree David that history is thus being re-written. Monbiot, in leading the charge against East Anglia, handed terrific ammunition to the boo boys, for whom doubt (or, more accurately, confusion) is their only product.

    Witness the pathetic has-been academics-cum-industry hacks like Plimer, who haven’t an iota of peer-reviewed science to back them up, but are happy to behave like performing monkeys for their paymasters in duping the media and general public.

  3. james nix says:

    Pachauri has rejected the calls to resign and says he is concentrating on the 2014 IPCC report.

    According to data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service, published mid week, most glaciers are melting at historically high rates and many will disappear by the middle of this century (see Juliette Jowit’s report in the Guardian, and picked up in the Irish Times).

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