Sunday, July 25, 2010

Brain Hoskins and Camilla Toulmin, drinking tea with The Economist

I have just discovered that The Economist offers a series of interesting short interviews on a series of different topics. Two of them are related to climate change. One is with Brian Hoskins, a very well known expert on atmospheric dynamics and review editor in the last IPCC Report. He offers what I find are candid views on uncertainties, climate models and action on climate change. This interview is post-climategate.

In the second one The Economist speaks with Camilla Toulmin before the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. She is an environmental economist who was unknown to me previously, and speaks about China and mitigation technologies. In an unfortunate moment she expresses his confidence that China will reduce its emissions because ...Himalayan glaciers...It seems that that single and apparently unimportant paragraph in the last IPCC Report was indeed taken up by some as a critical issue.

3 comments:

Kooiti MASUDA said...

Though the designation "Himalayan" is inappropriate, glacier melt water does indeed comprise a large part of river runoff in the arid northwestern China.

Richard Tol said...

Toulmin is an economist specialising in Africa, so I think she should be forgiven for mixing up hydrology in East Asia.

China is worried about precipitation on the Tibetan Plateau, which is the source of most of its water. While glaciers neatly regulate the seasonal flow, the same can be achieved with dams. The real concern is with a significant reduction in annual precipitation.

I would be more worried about Toulmin's naivity with regard to the negotiations.

Kooiti MASUDA said...

I listened to Toulmin to check what she said about Himalayan glaciers. At 03:50 (of the video clip 11:31 long), she said "China has a strong interests themselves
.. in greenhouse gases." And listed two factors. The first is "Much of its urban population is withih 5 meters of sea level. So the sea level rise will impact.
..." Second, "China depends on a number of big rivers fed by the ice sheets in the Himalayas. ... Millions of people depend on the regular flow from the ice sheets ...." (My dictation may not be always correct.)

First, the term "ice sheets" is inappropriate. The glaciers around the Asian highlands are not like those of Greenland, though some glaciers are relatively flat and better called ice caps.

As I commented in the thread "Himalaya claim significantly used by IPCC vice chair in November 2009" started on 9 May 2010, "Millions" is not wrong if really millions, but exaggeration if it means hundreds of millions.

The numbers of population who depend on glacier meltwater in Asian large river basins (including Yellow and Yangtze Rivers) are estimated by the following paper.

W.W. Immerzeel, L.P.H. van Beek and M.F.P. Bierkens 2010: Climate change will affect the Asian water towers. Science 328:1382-1385. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/328/5984/1382 .

Immerzeel et al. did not discuss small inland basins in northern side of the Tibetan Plateau where the fraction of glacier meltwater in river runoff is large, however.

The fraction is 25% in Xinjiang province according to Table 72 (p. 163) of the following book. It cites the study of YANG Zhenniang published in 1991 in Chinese.

SHI Yafeng et al. eds., 2005; English edition 2008: Concise Glacier Inventory of China. Shanghai: Shanghai Popular Science Press. ISBN 978-7-5427-3117-3.

It seems to me that Toulmin followed the view of Chinese influential economists who are cautionary about the impact of climate change on water resources and that they take shrinking glaciers as a major chain of cause and effect. It may be an example of relevance of "perceived environment" as suggested by Stehr and von Storch.