29 March 2010

Don't hound the climate scientists

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One regrettable mistake about glaciers doesn't alter the vast evidence there is of climate change

To dismiss the implications of climate change based on an error about the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are melting is an act of astonishing intellectual legerdemain. Yet this is what some doubters of climate change are claiming. But the reality is that our understanding of climate change is based on a vast and remarkably sound body of science – and is something we distort and trivialise at our peril.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published four comprehensive assessments of climate change and several important special reports since its founding in 1988. The last such document, the fourth assessment report (AR4) from 2007, mobilised 450 scientists from all over the world to write the report. An additional 800 contributing authors gave specialised inputs and about 2,500 expert reviewers provided 90,000 comments.

In this mammoth task, which yielded a finished product of nearly 3,000 pages, there was a regrettable error indicating the Himalayan glaciers were likely to melt by the year 2035. This mistake has been acknowledged by the IPCC. Learning from this error, the IPCC has requested, in tandem with the United Nations' secretary general


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