Saturday, May 8, 2010

Himalaya claim significantly used by IPCC vice chair in November 2009

The ppt presentation Policy-relevance of the Working Group II Contribution to IPCC AR4 (Fourth Assessment Report) by Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (IPCC Vice-chair) "with the kind collaboration of Chris Field, IPCC WGII Co-chair, and the IPCC Secretariat" at a UNFCC conference in Barcelona, 3 November 2009, contains "cases studies on impacts", among them on page 5 an assessment of the Glacial retreat in the Himalaya

•receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming; in addition, high population density near these glaciers and consequent deforestation and land-use changeshave adversely affected these glaciers

•the total glacial area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 km2(or disappear entirely) by the year 2035

•the 15,000 Himalayan glaciers form a unique reservoir of water which in turn, is the lifeline of millions of people in South Asian countries

•it is likely that glacial melt will turn the big Asian river systems into seasonal rivers and affect economies in the region

The reason for having this desinformation still on the web may be an attempt for keeping the documents historically in order - the talk has seemingly given in this way, and the original, unchanged material is provided on the IPCC web-site. This reason would have to be applauded. However, it shows that the false claim of a consensus view in this matter was not just somewhere hidden in a technical document, but used prominently by leading IPCC persons, namely a vice chair of AR4, and - as it seems - the new chair of WG 2.

I have asked Chris Field for an explanation.


Werner Krauss said...

This ppt is so familiar. It is the ever same sing-along that didn't change since I heard it first in Amsterdam 2001 on a IGBP conference. Al Gore was often blamed for popularizing scientific data in a sensationalist manner, but in reality scientists brought up this kind of discourse and repeated it endlessly.
The spectacularly flawed Himalaya glacier data are a consequence of a routinized science business that long ceased to have contact with reality. Himalaya, Paris heat wave etc - it's an endless refrain.
Only recently Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister of environment, said in an interview that scientists told him that maybe there will never be again white Christmas. Guess what? I believe him that scientists told him this. Already in 2001, Martin Doering and I quoted a climate scientist who said this in our presentation 'Der Klimawissenschaftler als Prophet' on the 1. deutsche Klimatagung.

Werner Krauss said...

it's old, it's in German, but it is still not bad and is still a valid comment on ppt like the one by Ypersele / Field:

Krauss and Doering
'Der Klimawissenschaftler als Prophet. Die kulturelle Dimension des Klimas.'

Anonymous said...


You call it desinformation. That's a strong but relevant word.
In fact all the four points mentioned seem to be wrong. IPCC have only admitted to the 2035 error.
Maybe it's time to stop being so polite. We have been fed lies.

Jonas B1

P Gosselin said...

Amazing, isn't it, how hearsay is seized upon and used in this way. I'm sure as we dig deeper, we'll find more of this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for telling, and for asking about it.

Anonymous said...

It is also worth recalling that Geoffrey Boulton, supposedly an expert glaciologist and part of the 'independent' review of the climategate emails, has also been making similar false claims, see

Unknown said...

I think that the third point in the list is true as far as it is not exaggerated: that melt water from glaciers are crucial water resource for people as many as millions (6th power of 10). Glacier melt water is important as water resource more than its average proportion, because it buffers interannual shortage.

I often see popular writings originating in Europe or North America saying that glaciers around the Tibetan Plateau is water resource for billions (9th power of 10) of people, which is false. It is factually true that the river basins which have glaciers somewhere in the upper part together have billions of people (mainly in the lower part). But water from the glaciers is obviously a small part in the river runoff in the lower part. Note that the particular document from IPCC did not include such exaggeration.

IPCC AR4 WG2 actualy have, not only in the Asian chapter (chapter 10) but in the chapter of water resources (chapter 3), some misleading words. They mention many hundreds of millions (8th power of 10) of people in a few different ways. In my reading, these numbers actually mean either population who depend on melt water of snow and glaciers together (actually snow in most of cases), or population of a large region which include smaller regions where people depend on glacier melt water.

The fourth point of the list would be true if "the big Asian rivers" meant "Some upper tributaries of the big Asian rivers". Perhaps it was simplification, and the effect was huge exaggeration.

ghost said...

Of course, the error is bad...

but, I have a question: the error is at least 2 and half years old (date of the IPCC report publication). I assume it is older, as old as the original source. Hm, but honest brokers, septics, IPCC (at least some in the IPCC knew it before), and media "discovered" the error first in the end of 2009. Why so late? if it was used so often and so prominently as Prof von Storch is trying to show, why has nobody been interested in it? I mean: all glaciers gone in 2035 is HUGE. For me: it sounds like a catastrophe, giant glacier lakes, floods, some droughts maybe, etc. Almost nobody reported about, almost nobody investigated it. Personally, as a layman I was not interested into the WGII, most discussions were about "hockeysticks" and co, basically, WGI. I never heard the number before, consciously. I assume, it was a big error.

Could it be, climate science talk has become "duckspeek"? Talking numbers in any directions of the discussions without thinking what they mean? I think, I must point the finger to myself, too. Sometimes, the discussions were there just because of the discussion and taking sides. That's my moral of this story.

Unknown said...


I understand the situation of the scientific community as follows. Many scientists thought the Asian chaper not so useful and they did not read it. And those scientists who knew the errors considered that these items are marginal parts among the huge report anyway and that they may well ignored.

I myself did not notice the "2035" statements until critiques started to bash IPCC. After that I learned that journalists had occasionally used them. I did notice the issue of the population depending on the meltwater, as soon as AR4 WG2 was available, and told it to some people who worked for it, but I did not care it since then.

I was really surprised yesterday to know that the particular parts were used by IPCC officials seriously.

Deuce said...

To say this:
receding and thinning of Himalayan glaciers can be attributed primarily to the global warming;

Then conclude the same statement with this:
in addition, high population density near these glaciers and consequent deforestation and land-use changeshave adversely affected these glaciers

Is to say nothing at all. Land use has nothing to do with global warming. To throw them both together without quantifiying either is a clear attempt to manipulate a disingenuous conclusion. This is further aggravated by the follow up points which you are then supposed to attribute to the first manipulated conclusion. The fact that these predictions are fantastically false isn't even the worst offense. Any scientist could inadvertently turn 2350 into 2035. But the manipulative manner in which the first point is made is inexcusable and blatant scientific mischief from people who should be ashamed to call themselves scientists...

eduardo said...

@ 8

my interpretation is that actually nobody really believed those predictions, that is why nobody cared. As you pointed out, taken seriously, this prediction together with the reduction in agricultural yields in North Africa in an even shorter timescale, 2020, should have sounded very alarming. And yet they went almost unnoticed. Did anyone at IPCC or PIK show any signs of joy because the risk to the Asian or North African population turned to be not so acute as previously thought? Is there any better prove that all those putative impacts are just means to score political points, devoid of any real meaning?

Unknown said...

Re: eduardo (#11)

The outlook of agricultural production of North Africa by 2020 was not mentioned in the presentation of van Ypersele. (He referred to another part of the African chapter.)

IPCC AR4 says: "By 2020, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50%" (Synthesis report Section 3.3.2). The words "in some countries" and "up to" are important. The original study (Agoumi 2003) was about three North African countries. In it, "50%" appears as follows: "Decreasing rain-based agricultural yields with grain yields reduced by up to 50 per cent in periods of drought." (p. 4) and "deficient yields from rain-based agriculture to 50 per cent during the 2000-2020 period" (p. 5).
Unfortunately the paper did not describe the methodology enough for a reader to assess its quality, and the author remarked that their background knowledge is very limited. But, with proper qualification, I do not think that the outlook is biased towards alarmism.

Someone who quote the IPCC report omitted those carefully chosen qualification and communicated as if it meant the average outlook all over the continent. The result is huge exaggeration, probably not intended (or maybe intended by some, either to promote alarmism or to discredit IPCC as alarmism).

It is difficult to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. When we summarize many findings and communicate them, shortening of messages is inevitable. Perhaps we should have half-automated and half-human system to provide detailed information interactively when requested.

Unknown said...

Re: Deuce (#10)

The attribution of retreat of glaciers is a difficult issue. But I think that the first point in the list of Page 5 of van Ypersele's presentation is an honest expression of the state of scientific knowledge. (Note "can be" rather than "is".)

We should not consider that there is just one cause. Multiple causes are working together. It is likely that both climate and land use have some effects, and that climate is more important.

But the above-mentioned "climate" means local climate around each particular glacier. To attribute how much of local change to global change is another problem.

We cannot say how much of the retreat of each glacier is due to global warming for sure. There are many confounding factors. But the collective pattern that the majority (though not all) of the glaciers are retreating suggests that it is related to large-scale climate change.

Anonymous said...

"I have asked Chris Field for an explanation."

Any response?

Hans von Storch said...

Anonymous - no: no response by Chris Field so far. - HvS

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele said...

Dear Colleague, following your testimony at IAC, your criticism of my presentation made on behalf of IPCC on November 3 was mentioned to me half an hour ago, and I immediately requested the IPCC Secretariat to remove the slides related to the Himalayan glaciers from the presentation. I assume it will be done quickly. Thank you very much for your vigilance about these "Himalayan" slides which I only used on that occasion. I would have made the correction much earlier if you had simply sent me an e-mail to point the problem (address easy to find on the web).
It has NEVER been my intention to disinform anybody, or to exaggerate in any way. I am on the record for that (see the webcast of my recent conference in Bonn, look on, search the webcast of my June 7, 2010, noon presentation. By the way, I speak there of the African agriculture yield mistake as well, as you will be able to see.
Best regards,
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, IPCC Vice-chair

Hans von Storch said...

Dear Dr. van Ypersele - I spoke in my presentation at IAC in Montreal indeed about "disinformation", but this assertion did not refer to your ppt-presentation, but to the case of a diagram, which could be read as if there would be a demonstrable link between extreme weather and damages (slide #6 in my presentation). Unfortunately, the IPCC has not yet properly reacted to the complaint about this diagram (for further details, refer to Roger Pielke's blog).
I would recommend that you do NOT withdraw your presentation from the ipcc-webpage -you gave the talk, it seems. As such, it should remain where it is - as a document. Errors happen, and you should find out why nobody at IPCC warned you after the problem was known for a while.

I have indeed not addressed you directly, but I had written to Chris Field, who has decided not to respond to my inquiry, also today when I met him at the IAC meeting in person.

Hans Erren said...

Dear HvS,
I would welcome your opinion about you travelling all the way to Canada and not meeting Canadians McIntyre or McKitrick in Montreal at the IAC panel, because they were not invited.

oneuniverse said...

Dear Dr. von Storch,

You may be surprised to learn that the document has been edited in situ (modification date 16th June 2010) - the Himalayan case study on page 5 has been removed, and replaced with a case study of impacts of “Glacial Retreat in the Andes”.

There's no indication given that this was not the presentation given on 3rd November 2009, although the front page does say "Version 2" - I don't know if that was present on the original web document.