January 19, 2010

On IPCC Inaccuracies and Inadequacies

Yes, IPCC is inaccurate but not just the way the media has been projecting it in relation to melting of Himalayan glaciers.

Joe Romm has a great post on his popular Climate Progress blog in which he counters recent criticism that IPCC overestimated the date of Himalayan melting. He accurately mirrors my feelings when he says:
It isn't news that the 2007 projections by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are not accurate. The real news is that the 99% of their "mistakes" are UNDERestimates of likely impacts.
Since the IPCC is said to be reviewing evidence regarding this issue, Joe suggests they review all scientific literature regarding sea level rise and ice melt. That would be a good idea but limiting it to only sea level rise and ice melting does not make much sense.

Those of us who have been tracking climate science closely know that if one considers all the evidence that has come to light over the last three years, much of the IPCC edifice would crumble. In fact latest scientific assessments of literature published over this period, such as, The Copenhagen Diagnosis (Nov 2009), Scientific Congress Climate Change (Mar 2009) and to some degree Climate Change Science Compendium (UNEP Sep 2009) have been critical of IPCC.

It's not just sea level rise and ice melt in the poles that have been underestimated in IPCC AR4 projections but its reports are found lacking in several other areas as well.

  • Emission growth scenarios - underestimated
  • Oceans' capacity as carbon sinks - overestimated 
  • Methane forcing - underestimated
  • Forcing of geological and geomorphological hazards - inadequate
  • Tipping elements and general irreversibility of climate change - inadequate
  • Emission reduction approach - inadequate

New research and evidence on each of these areas show IPCC projections and its approach to be either deeply conservative or largely inadequate. So yes, IPCC needs to re-analyse evidence regarding the extent of melting in Tibetean-Himalayan glaciers -- the mistake occurred as they included a paper that did not go through the peer-review process, something that is supposed to identify errors such as these.

However, this is more of an exception than the rule. Almost all of IPCC research is based on peer-reviewed research. And as Joe says, most of the time IPCC has made a mistake, it is an underestimate of impacts. The important point is that it is these mistakes, the underestimates, that are much more dangerous than any inaccuracy that turns out to be an overestimate because the former lull our policymakers into thinking they have more time when in fact the time to act is long gone.

1 Comments so far      

Blogger GauravShorey:

Hey Manu,

Your observations are correct. I have spoken with people who have worked on writing the IPCC reports, and they say that the meetings that are conducted before the actual report is released see tremendous pressure from the international corporate and governmental / political commmunity, which expects them to 'tone down' the findings of the report every time. The corporates and the politicos feel that if the true findings are released it may cause 'panic' among the common people! Can you believe that?
So your observations are absolutely correct.
In fact, last year at the DSDS, there was only one IPCC scientist (hard core scientist) who made it very clear that it was 'too late' to do anything, and that what he was saying was based on the actual findings of the IPCC which were always pressured into alteration.
Question is, what are we going to do about this?

22 January 2010 at 12:44:00 GMT+5:30 link  

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