Five glaring errors were discovered in one paragraph of the world’s most authoritative report on global warming, forcing the Nobel Prize-winning panel of climate scientists who wrote it to apologize and promise to be more careful.
The errors are in a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is affiliated with the UN. All the mistakes appear in a subsection that suggests glaciers in the Himalayas could melt away by 2035 — hundreds of years earlier than the data actually indicates. The year 2350 apparently was transposed as 2035.
The climate panel and even the scientist who publicized the errors said they are not significant in comparison to the entire report, nor were they intentional. And they do not negate the fact that worldwide, glaciers are melting faster than ever. But the mistakes open the door for more attacks from climate change skeptics.
“The credibility of the IPCC depends on the thoroughness with which its procedures are adhered to,” Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in an e-mail. “The procedures have been violated in this case. That must not be allowed to happen again because the credibility of climate change policy can only be based on credible science.”
The incident follows a furor late last year over the release of stolen e-mails in which scientists talked about suppressing data and freezing out skeptics of global warming.
In a statement, the climate change panel expressed regret over what it called “poorly substantiated estimates” about the Himalayan glaciers.
“The IPCC has established a reputation as a real gold standard in assessment; this is an unfortunate black mark,” said Chris Field, a Stanford University professor who in 2008 took over as head of this part of the IPCC research. “None of the experts picked up on the fact that these were poorly substantiated numbers. From my perspective, that’s an area where we have an opportunity to do much better.”
Patrick Michaels, a global warming skeptic and scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, called on the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, to resign, adding: “I’d like to know how such an absurd statement made it through the review process. It is obviously wrong.”
The report in question is the second of four issued by the IPCC in 2007 on global warming. This 838-page document had chapters on each continent. The errors were in a half-page section of the Asia chapter. The section got it wrong as to how fast the thousands of glaciers in the Himalayas are melting, scientists said.
“It is a very shoddily written section,” said Graham Cogley, a professor of geography at Trent University in Canada, who brought the error to everyone’s attention. It wasn’t copy-edited properly.”
Cogley wrote a letter about the problems to Science magazine that was published online on Wednesday. He said he remains convinced that the great bulk of the work in the IPCC volumes was trustworthy.
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