Posts Tagged ‘glaciergate’

IPCC troubles in context: Some good Dutch media coverage

September 3, 2010

One of Holland’s quality newspapers, the Volkskrant, had some excellent coverage of the IAC’s review of the IPCC process. Below is my translation of (part of) an editorial column (discussed in Dutch in an earlier post):

In a way it was inevitable that the UN climate panel IPCC got cornered earlier this year when some mistakes were discovered in its reports. The IPCC, as a volunteer organization with a small staff, could no longer cope with the societal polarization which was the consequence of the unwelcome message of global warming and climate change. Thus, professionalization is required.


The mistakes and glitches which were discovered in the IPCC’s 2007 report were the result of clumsiness and sloppiness. They did not undermine the knowledge that the climate is changing.

I would add that most IPCC mistakes were minor or even imaginary, and most were in working group 2 about (regional) effects of climate change; they did not concern the physics of climate and why it is changing. (See  e.g. my commentary on the 2035 – 2350 glacier mistake, which is the only serious mistake, even if it is in a relatively insignificant and hardly read portion of the whole report. The Dutch area-under-sea-level slip was mostly clumsy.)

In spite of this it caused a wave of distrust, which suggests that climate science and IPCC as its flag bearer had a problem with their public image.

With not a little help from large quarters of the media. And of course human psychology to rather not believe things that you don’t want to be true.

On the one hand climate scientists are expected to keep themselves to the facts only. At the same time their results and understanding are also arguments in the societal discussions about climate change. But as soon as they participate in this discussion accusations of bias come up.

A more professional IPCC should not only work on the internal weaknesses and make and present itself as scientifically solid as possible. It will also have to make clear that its work has political implications, but that that doesn’t mean that it’s engaged in doing politics.

The last portion (my bold) should be self-evident, but since in reality many people and media chose to paint it as the opposite, it is unfortunately necessary to point out the obvious.

RealClimate on the IPCC errors and their significance

February 15, 2010

RealClimate has a good post on the recent string of (alleged) errors in the IPCC report. It explains the IPCC proces, the nature and significance of the errors, and highlights the spin put on them by several media outlets.

Excerpt about the reported amount of land in the Netherlands that is below sea level:

Sea level in the Netherlands: The WG2 report states that “The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level”. This sentence was provided by a Dutch government agency – the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which has now published a correction stating that the sentence should have read “55 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding; 26 per cent of the country is below sea level, and 29 per cent is susceptible to river flooding”. It surely will go down as one of the more ironic episodes in its history when the Dutch parliament last Monday derided the IPCC, in a heated debate, for printing information provided by … the Dutch government. In addition, the IPCC notes that there are several definitions of the area below sea level. The Dutch Ministry of Transport uses the figure 60% (below high water level during storms), while others use 30% (below mean sea level). Needless to say, the actual number mentioned in the report has no bearing on any IPCC conclusions and has nothing to do with climate science, and it is questionable whether it should even be counted as an IPCC error.

 And wrapping up the context of this whole manufacured controversy:

Do the above issues suggest “politicized science”, deliberate deceptions or a tendency towards alarmism on the part of IPCC? We do not think there is any factual basis for such allegations. To the contrary, large groups of (inherently cautious) scientists attempting to reach a consensus in a societally important collaborative document is a prescription for reaching generally “conservative” conclusions. And indeed, before the recent media flash broke out, the real discussion amongst experts was about the AR4 having underestimated, not exaggerated, certain aspects of climate change. These include such important topics as sea level rise and sea ice decline (see the sea ice and sea level chapters of the Copenhagen Diagnosis), where the data show that things are changing faster than the IPCC expected.

Glaciers are retreating, but won’t be gone in 2035

January 28, 2010

(Nederlandse versie hier)

In the latest IPCC report the claim was made that the Himalayan glaciers would very likely be gone by 2035, if present rates of warming continued. That is not the case. The source for this statement was a WWF report, which in turn relied on a report from the International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI). This report however mentioned the year 2350, which was mistakenly taken over as 2035 in the WWF (and subsequently the IPCC) report. I.e. the IPCC used a secondary source, apparently without checking the primary source. Even then, the year 2350 is only based on extrapolation and is not strongly supported, as William Connolley points out.

This is absolutely wrong, and much more problematic than the whole stolen emails-affair. This statement should not have made it through the rigorous review process that IPCC reports undergo. It appeared in the working group 2 report, about effects of climate change. The scientific basis for this field (and apparently also the level of review) is not as strong as that for working group 1, about the physical workings of the climate system.

It doesn’t mean that everything is fine with the glaciers. The vast majority of glaciers worldwide are retreating, just not suddenly 25 times as fast as they did in the previous 40 years. The scientific basis of how and why the climate is changing (i.e. the topic of working group 1) has not been tarnished, despite claims to the contrary from the usual suspects. However, the chance of such a blunder occurring again should of course be absolutely minimized.

One of the Indian scientists involved, Murari Lal, has been falsely cited as having put the 2035 number in the report for political purposes; a quick check with him personally revealed that he didn’t. This kind of witch-hunt seems to have become the norm in climate science reporting, a very sad state of affairs.

See also the reaction of the IPCC, RealClimate and several other bloggers (SkepticalScience, Stoat, Deltoid, and a detailed account by Nielsen-Gammon and ClimateScienceWatch) and a good presentation about changes in glaciers, with on page 40 the context of the erroneous 2035-statement.

Update: More good posts at MoD, Deltoid

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