walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
Published on: January 19, 2010
Nothing To See Here, Folks. Just Move Along…

The BBC reports that the Vice Chairman of the IPCC has just admitted the obvious: the IPCC’s terrifying prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 is wrong.

And not just a little bit wrong.  Totally, catastrophically, eye-poppingly, inexcusably and blatantly wrong.

Readers of this blog knew this was coming; the consequences have yet to unravel.

So far, the IPCC stands by its story: this is an isolated, meaningless error that in no way impugns the case for global warming. That may well be true; but it utterly undermines the case for the IPCC as a respectable and reliable body, and it pretty much ends the chance of meaningful climate action anytime soon.Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Photo by Frédéric Deleuze (UCL)

For the IPCC bureaucrats, the error was a detail:  “I don’t see how one mistake in a 3,000-page report can damage the credibility of the overall report,” said  Dr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the Vice Chairman of the IPCC.

This is pathetic.  As the BBC (which, unlike the U.S. media, has been following this story for more than a month) points out, the error was called to the attention of the panel more than once.

More, the prediction that the Himalayan glaciers would disappear in 25 years was perhaps the single most dramatic and explosive prediction in the entire report.  It meant that the rivers on which hundreds of millions of people depend for water and agriculture and industry in India, Pakistan and large swathes of China would disappear in a generation.

To make a prediction like that carelessly is inexcusably irresponsible.

Indian and Chinese political leaders will take note: the IPCC is ready to threaten their countries with hideous catastrophes in the immediate future with no evidence and no fact checking.

The U.S. media by and large is still ignoring this story; let’s see if a public admission of error reported by the BBC gets any attention.

show comments
  • Brian Macker

    The glaciers could disappear tomorrow and the rivers would still flow. Think about it a little bit.

    If the glaciers stopped melting they would contribute NO water to rivers on a yearly basis. Then were does all the water in the rivers come from? Snow and rain. Most of the water flowing off glaciers is the melting of snow that was deposited the prior winter.

    In winter same snowfall is also falling everywhere else on the entire mountain, valleys, hills, and planes surrounding the mountain. Far more snow falls on those areas than the comparatively small areas occupied by glaciers.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Correct; the rivers would flow — but the flow would diminish (if the glaciers were disappearing at the rate of 4% a year that would be a lot of runoff in excess of seasonal precipitation, and much more would be lost to floods. Not claiming to be a climate scientist I won’t attempt to work out the exact changes, but fear of the consequences of the vanishing glaciers played a significant part in creating concerns about climate change in Asia. Without that concern, the politics of climate change will be much tougher — and there will be less confidence in the process.

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  • Dirty American


    So using your assumptions of 4% (and their crazy 2035 date) will mean they get a bonus 4% water per year for 25 years, at which point they need to live on 4% less. Or, by magic we American could stop global warming tomorrow, they don’t get the bonus and have to start using 4% less tomorrow. They’d be screwed using their own assumptions.

    The politics of climate change is to blame Americans and transfer money from us to others. However it seems we Americans should be taxing them over the next 25 years for the extra 4% water we are providing them by keeping that glacial water flowing. That is if any redistribution (reparations) of the extra value should be done then it should go from the beneficiaries to those who are supposedly responsible.

    BTW, if it were cooling and the glaciers were advancing then they would have 8% less water now. Maybe even worse.

    Besides the people who should be concerned about this, the ones who should be complaining, both India and China, have already stated it was a bunch of baloney.

    In addition rising temperatures means more ocean evaporation, more humidity and therefore more rain and snow fall in the first place.

  • The Dead Hand

    Obviously Dr van Ypersele is a climate change denier.

  • Brian Macker

    Well this study of the Himalayas in Nepal states that “The most salient finding of this study is that the glaciers of the Nepal Himalaya do not appear to make a
    significant contribution to the total streamflow of the rivers of Nepal.”

    What the study found was that 4% of the studied area was covered by glacier and only ~4% of the runoff came from the glacier. But that is right around what would be expected just from annual percipitation that would fall on the glacier.

    The 4% in this case was a coincidence with your number and is NOT the amount due to melting.

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  • Russell C

    The plot thickens: IPCC Vice Chair Jean-Pascal van Yperserle was commissioned by Greenpeace to write a paper… after he had already been working for the IPCC. See: “Climate Science and Corruption”

  • Ceola Buckman

    Hello Ceola Buckman right here, that was indeed funny. Just wrote a very endless comment at however once I clicked on post my own comment don’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not composing all that words over again. Anyways, wanted to say wonderful blog!

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