09 November 2009

IPCC vs. Indian Environment Ministry

I'm not at all sure what to make of this report just out in the Guardian. Apparently, the Indian Environment Ministry has just issued a report (here in PDF) saying that they see no signal of a climate effect of greenhouse gas emissions on the retreat of Indian glaciers:

Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, released the controversial report in Delhi, saying it would "challenge the conventional wisdom" about melting ice in the mountains. . .

Today Ramesh denied any such risk existed: "There is no conclusive scientific evidence to link global warming with what is happening in the Himalayan glaciers." The minister added although some glaciers are receding they were doing so at a rate that was not "historically alarming".

The report is noteworthy because it contradicts the 2007 report of the IPCC:
Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN agency which evaluates the risk from global warming, warned the glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world and could "disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner".
Predictably and understandably, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, takes strong exception to the report. However, his response, far from being measured and focused on the data is a bit over the top and focused on credibility not the actual science of Indian glaciers:
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, told the Guardian: "We have a very clear idea of what is happening. I don't know why the minister is supporting this unsubstantiated research. It is an extremely arrogant statement." . .

Pachauri dismissed the report saying it was not "peer reviewed" and had few "scientific citations".

"With the greatest of respect this guy retired years ago and I find it totally baffling that he comes out and throws out everything that has been established years ago."

In a remarkable finding, the report claims the Gangotri glacier, the main source of the River Ganges, actually receded fastest in 1977 – and is today "practically at a stand still".

Some scientists have warned that the river beds of the Gangetic Basin – which feed hundreds of millions in northern India – could run dry once glaciers go. However, such concerns are scotched by the report.

According to Raina, the mistake made by "western scientists" is to apply the rate of glacial loss from other parts of the world to the Himalayas. "In the United States the highest glaciers in Alaska are still below the lowest level of Himalayan glaciers. Our 9,500 glaciers are located at very high altitudes. It is completely different system."

"As long as we have monsoons we will have glaciers. There are many factors to consider when we want to find out how quickly (glaciers melt) … rainfall, debris cover, relief and terrain," said Raina.

In response Pachauri said that such statements were reminiscent of "climate change deniers and school boy science".

"I cannot see what the minister's motives are. We do need more extensive measurement of the Himalayan range but it is clear from satellite pictures what is happening."

Many environmentalists said they were also unconvinced by the minister's arguments. Sunita Narain, a member of the Indian prime minister's climate change council and director of the Centre for Science and Environment, said "the report would create a lot of confusion".

"The PM's council has just received a comprehensive report which presents many studies which show clear fragmentation of the glaciers would lead to faster recession. I am not sure what Jairam (Ramesh) is doing."

How do I make sense of this? Right now I don't. Given that my own personal experience with the IPCC is mixed at best, I'd rather hear more arguments about the evidence than the appeals to authority and credentials. So I guess for now I am reserving any judgments on what is going on here, though I have placed some inquiries. If I learn anything of interest I will report back.


  1. Your characterization appears to be spot on.

    The introduction to this on the surface rather bland report indicates that it was published to provoke scientific discussion of an important topic. The executive summary uses very matter of fact and non-sensationalist language to describe what is currently known.

    Dr. Pachauri appears to prefer no scientific discussion. Pachauri's outrage may lead to exactly the type of debate that Minister Ramesh is looking for and Pacuari wants to suppress.

    It is interesting that the unit of time recommended for analyzing Himalayan glacier data is centuries. Given the observed recent rates of retreat as 5-10 meters per year, this seems like a reasonable time period. Raina, the author, has been looking at the glaciers for many, many years. Surely he would have noticed if things were changing dramatically.

    The rest of the report should be interesting.

  2. Well done to India for trying to break the IPCC's anti-science monopoly on climate science. Not the first time they've produced an indpendent report that challenges the IPCC's contrived perspective. I'm sure India knows its own environmental history and can put the modern warm period in context - something that the politised IPCC is unwilling to do, due to it's main purpose of producing biased reports in order to underpin the UN's global governance agenda via the demonisation of CO2.

  3. Although Jairam Ramesh is Minister of State for Environment & Forests and he admits personally requesting the "Discussion Paper", he writes, "The views expressed in these papers are NOT meant to represent the views of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, or the Government of India; instead we hope to gain useful lessons for public policy from...these papers...". (emphasis added). He also portrays himself as President, G.B. Pant Society of Himalyan Environment & Development and, perhaps, development of the Himalayas is driving his agenda.
    It is refreshing to read that Dr. Pachauri is taking up the "climate change" cause, perhaps at the risk of his homeland's national self-interest and alienating some of his countrymen. I hope that it is not merely an elaborate "dance" lacking substance as we near the Copenhagen Conference.

  4. Climate Science is beginning to resemble hired gun expert witnesses used in court rooms. If you want one conclusion you hire an expert to give you that and if you want the opposite conclusion, just hire a different expert.

  5. Brian:
    Are you saying we should "follow the money" with respect to Ramesh but not for Pachauri? That is a bit assymetric, is it not?

  6. The Himalayan Glaciers got my attention when Al Gore stated in AIT (at approx 17m30s into the movie) that: "In the Himalayas there's a particular problem because 40% of all the people in the world get their drinking water from rivers and spring systems that are fed more than half by the melt water coming off the glaciers. And within this next half century those 40% of the people on Earth are gonna face a very serious shortage because of this melting."
    That's an interesting half truth, because at the mouth of the rivers where 40% of the world population lives, the contribution of the glaciers isn't more than half of the river water anymore.

  7. If he said 40% of the world's population then he is more of an idiot than I thought. The Indian and Bangladeshi Government will be mortified that their population in the area roughly went up by 1000%. 4% is more likely. That amounts to rougnly 250 million people.

  8. Sean, don't be surprised. Anytime there is a really hot topic that has strong policy implications, "science-slinging" is the order of the day.

  9. I recommend actually reading the report - it's easy to fly-by blog posts and not deal with the subject being covered.

    The data set certainly looks interesting.

  10. The Himalayan glaciers are losing mass and retreating at a significant rate. The rate is line with what is observed in many other ranges. These glaciers have their main accumulation at high elevation during the summer monsoon, which coincides with the main melt at lower elevation. The glaciers are large, and will not melt away quickly http://glacierchange.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/zemu-glacier-sikkim-thinning-and-retreat/
    The only way to get rid of a glacier is to remove its accumulation zone. http://www.nichols.edu/departments/Glacier/glacier%20survival.html
    The large Himalayan glaciers are still maintaining snowpack year around at high elevation and will survive current climate. I have seen glaciers disappear that I monitor each year. http://glacierchange.wordpress.com/2009/07/19/milk-lake-glacier-loss/
    Do not look for large non-calving mountain glaciers to disappear fast. It takes awhile for them to melt.

  11. "I cannot see what the minister's motives are. ..."

    It is interesting to see, that in climate science or environmentalism, that only those who don't publish scaring result have hidden motive.

    That I know of, it is not that different than the position express by your father last year or so.

  12. Why would we be even remotely surprised when a scientist from outside the carefully selected IPCC club finds that there is nothing “historically alarming” about glacier melt in India?

    The FACT -- as I noted and substantiated here -- is that:
    “all across the entire spectrum of data, there isn’t ONE D**N THING about the current climate conditions that is ‘historically alarming’ in ANY WAY!”

  13. Roger,

    There is a reference to a upcoming study in Annals of Glaciology (John Shroder, University of Nebraska-Omaha) claiming that certain Himalayan glaciers have not retreated but rather advanced over the last several decades.


    Unfortunately, I was not able to trace the paper yet (journal home, google etc.), so I assume it has yet to be published.


  14. This article from the Calcutta Telegraph gives an Indian perspective on the report.


    Experts dispute glacier fear in Himalayas
    G.S. MUDUR

    New Delhi, Nov. 8: Glaciers in the Himalayas are shrinking, but there is no evidence to suggest that global warming has enhanced the loss of glacial ice in this region, a review paper to be released by the government tomorrow has said.

    The paper has combined archived data from the Geological Survey of India from the early 20th century with a series of observations from academic institutions to question grim forecasts predicting the looming demise of Himalayan glaciers.

    “The Himalayan glaciers are melting — but there is nothing dramatic, nothing to suggest that they’ll vanish within decades,” Vijay Kumar Raina, a senior glaciologist and a former deputy director-general of the GSI, told The Telegraph.

    Raina, who pencilled the review paper which is to be released by the ministry of environment tomorrow, has said observations of glacial loss in other parts of the world, including the polar regions, cannot be extrapolated to the Himalayas.

    “The Himalayan glaciers are located at high altitudes — the lowest level of these glaciers is about 3,700 metres. The glaciers in Alaska and the polar regions drop down to near sea level. The environment is completely different,” he said.

    Two years ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN agency tasked with reviewing research on global warming, had cautioned that the Himalayan glaciers were receding faster than in any other part of the world. At the current trends in global warming, the glaciers in the Himalayan region could “disappear altogether by 2035 if not sooner,” the panel had said in an assessment report.

    Some scientists have warned that the loss of ice because of glacial melting could turn the Ganga, Indus, and the Brahmaputra into seasonal rivers, with potentially adverse impacts on agriculture and the economy.

    Such assessments have kindled an academic feud over the fate of the glaciers. Some glaciologists in India believe that such predictions are based on selective and not an exhaustive analysis of research.

    “Forecasts of the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers is nonsense,” said Rameshwar Bali, associate professor of geology at the University of Lucknow. “This is organised propaganda by climate change activists,” he said.

    Some geologists point out that data from some glaciers suggests that the rate of retreat has actually declined over the decades.

    The Pindari glacier in Uttarakhand has retreated at about 6m every year between 1966 and 2007 compared to about 20m every year between 1906 and 1958, according to a paper presented by Bali and his colleagues at a scientific meeting earlier this year.

    Another geologist Anjani Tangri at the Uttar Pradesh Remote Sensing Applications Centre has combined satellite images and field trips to the Gangotri glacier to show that its rate of retreat has also declined significantly.

    “But everyone has been chanting about global warming,” Tangri said.

    Some glaciologists point out that multiple factors can influence melting. Rainfall, the orientation of the valley, and rock and debris cover — they can all affect the melting,” said Rajinder Ganjoo, a geologist at the University of Jammu.

    Ganjoo has just published a paper in the journal Climatic Change, where he has shown how weather can influence the accumulation and loss of snow on the Naradu glacier in Himachal Pradesh.

    “There appears to be exaggeration of the extent of glacial melting,” said Ganjoo, who trudged up to the snout of the Siachen glacier last year for observations that indicate a retreat rate of just 60cm per year — not 7.5m every year as suggested by others.

  15. A nice summary of additional science that does not agree with the IPCC story line.


  16. At root here is another pointed statement about potential cherry picking. The last chapter of the report where the links between changes in glaciers and global warming is explored is clearly highly critical of the use of Glaciers to support recent temperature changes. As I noted before Raina would clearly like to look at a century long time scale before making any grand pronouncements.
    I do have to say though that the photographs are not particularly compelling evidence of movement or non-movement. It would seem that a bit more effort into the graphics is needed to make the report easier to understand and reference.

  17. @bernie (7)
    If he said 40% of the world's population then he is more of an idiot than I thought.
    Not quite, the Chinese are living on the other side of the Himalayas. India + China + Pakistan + Bangladesh = 41% of world population.

  18. Hans:
    OK, I forgot about the Chinese side of the Himalayas. However, it is hardly reasonable to assume that the entire populations of India, China and Pakistan are dependent on these rivers. Bangaldesh, of course, consists largely of the Ganges Delta and is heavily dependent on two major rivers rising in the Himalayas. It would be like saying that all 300 million Americans, 150 million Mexicans and 35 million Canadians are dependent on the Mississippi. It is true in a trivial sense, but certainly not true with respect to the issue at hand.

  19. Pachauri's response would seem to be overly ad-hom and curiously unsubstantive *if* the primary relevance of Ramesh's was thought to be international climate change policy (vis-a-vis Copenhagen).

    However, Pachauri is likely seeing Ramesh's comments in India's domestic context. Given the implications of Himalayan ice-melt for Indians, and the (literally) thug-infiltrated political quagmire that is Indian government, it actually makes a LOT of sense to try to assassinate Ramesh's character if inroads are to be made. A cursory appeal to the science ("look at the satellite photos, the glaciers are obviously receding") is probably sufficient in this context, and at this point mitigating Ramesh's political influence becomes a priority.

    This could actually be more well thought out and strategically sound (from the IPCC's perspective as it relates to Indian policy).