The head of the UN’s climate change panel has defended the use of unproven science to justify climate change by saying the “grey literature” cannot be ignored.
By Richard Alleyne
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has been under fire since a report from the charity the WWF was used to make claims about reductions in ice on mountains.
In particular it included the erroneous claim that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. It was said to be 300 years out and led to accusations that the organisation was cherry-picking evidence to justify its claims.
In a hearing at the InterAcademy Council, an organisation of the world’s science academies which is conducting an independent review of the processes and procedures of the IPCC, Dr Pachauri described the inclusion of the glacier claim as “human failure” which should not have happened.
But the IPCC’s chairman said there was a need to use information which was not from peer-reviewed scientific journals, because in some places that was the only research that had been done.
He said the media and other sections of society had misunderstood the role of such information, labelling it grey literature, “as if it was some form of grey muddied water flowing down the drains”.
Dr Pachauri said academic work being done by bodies including the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, national governments and charities “cannot be ignored”, but had to be closely examined to make sure it was robust.
He said the mistake about the glaciers should have been picked up by the authors of the section of the Fourth Assessment report in which it was included, or by its reviewers.
He said there had been comments, which can be made about the assessment by contributors or governments before the report is published, but “they were not very specific in this regard”.
He told the hearing in Amsterdam: “Somehow it just missed everybody’s attention.
“It is in my view a human failure which happened a few times, we just have to make sure something like this doesn’t happen once again.”
At the time, the IPCC was forced to apologise for the mistake, which blew up amid efforts to secure a new global agreement to tackle rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The row added to the furore surrounding the publication of emails from the University of East Anglia which suggested that scientists were trying to conceal data that questioned the case for man-made global warming.
However, Dr Pachauri said the mistake was buried in the 1,000 page report and did not get used in the much-shorter summary which is written for use by policy-makers.
And he said: “We have been less than adequate in informing the public that, yes, there was an error but that does not take away anything from the fact the glaciers are melting at a very rapid rate.
“This is where our communication skills need to be enhanced.”
Even if the Himalayan glaciers did not melt by 2035, glaciers around the world were in decline, with water supplies predicted to fall and the melting ice contributing to sea level rises, he said.
“Although there was this error, there’s a whole lot of valid information and assessment on glaciers which we can only ignore at our own peril and the peril of generations yet to come,” he said.