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MYTH #68: The IPCC was wrong about Himalayan glaciers


The IPCC falsely claimed the glaciers in the Himalayas could be gone by 2035.


Glaciers all over the world are losing ice — even in the Himalayas.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an international scientific body that reviews and assesses the most recent peer-reviewed climate change research produced worldwide. In its 2007 report, the IPCC warned that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035 or sooner. The IPCC has since acknowledged that this statement came from a questionable source. And recent research shows the ice cover in the Himalayas may be shrinking more slowly than previously thought.

Here's the key, however: The Himalayas ARE losing ice. And this dispute over the Himalayas in no way changes the reality of what’s happening on a global scale. Glaciers all over the world are losing about 150 billion tons of ice a year, providing a natural indicator that the world is warming.

Additional info from Skeptical Science 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made an error about the Himalayan glaciers. Section 10.6.2 of the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) states: “The likelihood of [the Himalayan glaciers] disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.” This statement did not come from peer-reviewed literature, nor did it meet the IPCC standards of evidence. 

The error has raised some criticisms — both legitimate and illegitimate — about the IPCC, the AR4, and climate science in general. 

Did the IPCC respond to this error quickly and diligently? The answer here is unfortunately no. According to a review by the InterAcademy Council’s review of the processes and procedures of the IPCC, the IPCC took more than a month to respond to the Himalayan glacier error, and even then did not explicitly acknowledge the error or issue a retraction. To make matters worse, it has been documented that the IPCC had responded more quickly to other supposed errors in the report. Though the IPCC has been recognized for its scientific contributions, there is certainly room for improvement in terms of communications. 

Is the AR4 terribly flawed? It is important to note that this is one error in a roughly 3,000-page technical document, an error percentage similar to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The 2035 claim was not included in the Technical Summary, the Summary for Policymakers, or the Synthesis Report. 

Does this error show the IPCC has an "alarmist" bias — a tendency to exaggerate the negative impacts of climate change? In fact, there are far more documented instances of the AR4 being too conservative, rather than too alarmist, on emissions scenarios, sea level rise, and Arctic sea-ice melt. 

Does this in any way undermine climate science in general? To claim this error undermines the basic conclusions of climate change is absurd. The error is part of Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, not Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis. Anthropogenic climate change is still supported by multiple lines of independent empirical evidence, and nearly every major national and international scientific body.

So what does the peer-reviewed science say about the Himalayan Glaciers? Many of the Himalayan glaciers are retreating at an accelerating rate and roughly 500 million people depend on the meltwater from these glaciers. 

The IPCC made an unfortunate error in a very long technical document. Moreover, the response to this error was far from exemplary. Highlighting this error to undermine climate science, however, is a classic example of cherry-picking — a dangerous game to play with 500 million livelihoods at stake. 

Adapted from © John Cook and Skeptical Science