Climate scientists respond to IPCC criticisms

This week, the NZ Herald ran an editorial calling for greater scientific rigour and new leadership for the IPCC. An excerpt:modeled_temperature_ipcc_USEPA

Climate scientists are anxious to deny that [recent] “slip-ups” discredit the IPCC’s conclusions overall but sceptics of climate change have seized upon them to do exactly that.

The IPCC’s reputation is not helped now by the argument of authority its supporters have employed for so long. Criticism was dismissed as conceit in the face of a “scientific consensus” that by implication could not be wrong.

Well the consensus has been wrong, or at least careless on several points. Scepticism has strengthened, but it is only scepticism; human-induced climate change has not been disproved. It remains too worrying to be dismissed.

Read in full: Climate debate needs facts, not anecdotes

Other media have contributed to local coverage:

TV3: Have gaffes given sceptics the ammo to undermine climate change theories?

Radio New Zealand: Climate change authority accused for ‘sloppy paperwork’

NZ Herald: Scientist defends climate report despite slip-ups

All this comes in the wake of a sustained campaign of enquiry in the UK press into errors, allegations of scientific fraud and the scandal over hacked emails at the University of East Anglia.

(See below for multiple links to overseas coverage)

The Science Media Centre approached climate scientists for their response to criticisms featured in media coverage of this issue both here and overseas.

Prof Martin Manning, Climate Change Research Institute, VUW (past Head of IPCC Working Group 1 Technical Support Unit) comments:

“Detailed scrutiny of the IPCC assessment is now finding some problems in the Working Group 2 report and a proper response to this needs to cover three aspects:

“First, the text in all the chapters is open to two rounds of draft review that anyone can participate in. Nearly all of the criticisms of text that are being made now were not raised in those review comments. This suggests that the new scrutiny of the IPCC report has arisen because some want to discredit a process rather than contribute to it.

“Second, there are indeed some mistakes in the Working Group 2 report. The statement about very rapid loss of Himalayan glaciers should not have been made because there is no scientific basis for it. The reference to non-scientific articles on reduction in mountain ice is also unhelpful because there is other more substantial evidence for the point being made. But some other criticisms of the report are clearly biased because they focus on a single paragraph, rather than the lead-in to it and the complementary information that is provided elsewhere in the assessment.

“Third, it is important to recognise that the material in IPCC assessment reports is compiled at three different levels of scrutiny and care in preparation. The chapters that are being criticised are the starting point for this. But then there is a Technical Summary that extracts the key issues carefully and undergoes a much higher level of checking. Then there is the Summary for Policymakers, which provides the basis for any policy response, and which receives even more scrutiny and comments from both expert reviewers and governments. The final version of the SPM is approved by governments virtually word by word.

“So while there have been mistakes made in the Working Group 2 report, if the framework that has been set up jointly by scientists and governments for collecting and distilling key information on climate change was properly recognised, then much of the debate would fade away.”

Dr Dave Lowe, Adjunct Professor of atmospheric chemistry, Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellingon and Director of LOWENZ Ltd comments:

“I am one of the lead authors for chapter 2 of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, Working Group 1 (WG1) report. This chapter dealt with gases and radiative forcing. I found the whole writing and review process of the WG1 report incredibly rigorous and I would have to say that it is definitely the most thorough peer review process that I have come across in my entire research and scientific publishing career.

“WG1 which reports on the “Physical science basis of climate change” is fastidious in its use of peer-reviewed scientific publications to provide up to date assessments underpinning scientific understanding of climate change.

“It is important to note that WG1 is NOT the source of the widely reported mistakes made about Himalayan glaciers…these occurred in the IPCC’s Working Group 2 (WG2) report. I am not as familiar with the WG2 (and WG3) reports which provide assessments of impacts, mitigation, socio-economic issues etc. related to climate change. However my understanding is that because peer-reviewed scientific literature is not available for many of the issues treated in the WG2 and WG3 reports these necessarily include references to non peer reviewed reports and other material. Hence although the WG2 and WG3 reports provide valuable information, it is essential that the public realise that the primary source of the hard physical science underpinning current knowledge of climate change is the WG1 report.”

Dr Jim Salinger, an Auckland-based climate scientist, shared the following letter to the editor in response to the NZ Herald:


“You are quite correct in your recent editorial that facts should be based on published scientific articles rather than anecdotes.
When interviewed I was on a train on Sunday between Geneva and Zurich, so did not have access to published facts. Here they are!

“The World Glacier Monitoring Service, from the University of Zurich in its report ‘Fluctations of Glaciers 2002-2005’ notes:

‘Overall it can be concluded that glaciers and ice caps around the globe have been shrinking dramatically since their Holocene maximum extent towards the end of the Little Ice
Age, between the 17th and the second half of the 19th century, with increasing rates of ice loss since the mid-1980s. ….. However, under the present climate scenarios, the
ongoing trend of worldwide and fast, if not accelerating, glacier shrinkage on the century time scale is not a periodic change and may lead to the deglaciation of large parts of many
mountain regions by the end of the 21st century.

“The tables from glaciers in India and China show negative mass balance indicating ice loss from mountain glaciers in these regions.

“This data is at:

‘Preliminary data for 2007/08 conclude the average mass balance of the glaciers with available long-term observation series around the world continues to decrease, with tentative figures indicating a further thickness reduction of 0.5 metres water equivalent during the hydrological year 2007/08. The new data continues the global trend in strong ice loss over the past few decades and brings the cumulative average thickness loss of the reference glaciers since 1980 at about 12 metres of  water equivalent. All so far reported
mass balance values are tentative.’

“In the Journal of Glaciology Wagnon et al in 2007 conclude that little is known about the Himalayan glaciers. They conclude for mass balance studies commenced in 2002/03  that overall specific mass balances are mostlynegative during the 4 year study period.

“These studies confirm Sir Edmund Hillary’s observations noted on 7 July 2005:

“‘The warming of the environment of the Himalayas has increased noticeably over the last 50 years. This has caused several and severe floods from glacial lakes and much disruption to the environment and local people. I agree the practical idea of remedial action of draining the lakes before they get to a dangerous condition is the only way to stop disasters. Therefore I support the petition to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee lodged by Pro Public and others…’

“I rest my case.”

Selected UK press coverage of IPCC, the glacier error and  ‘climategate’ fall-out:

Telegraph: Editorial – We need facts, not spin in the climate debate

Guardian: Leaked climate change emails scientist ‘hid’ data flaws

The Independent: Scientist in climate row speaks out – (interview with Phil Jones of UEA CRU)

Telegraph: Climate change leader ‘knew about false glacier claims before Copenhagen’

Guardian: No apology from IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri for glacier fallacy (Rajendra Pachauri responds to IPCC error claims and calls for resignation)

Guardian: Climate change emails between scientists reveal flaws in peer review

The Independent: Britain protests over false melting glacier claims

Telegraph: UN climate change panel based claims on student dissertation and magazine article

Guardian: How the ‘climategate’ scandal is bogus and based on climate sceptics’ lies (analysis of oft-repeated claims re: climategate emails)

IPCC’s official statement on Himalayan glaciers error