A couple of years back, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. One of the important claims was that the world’s glaciers were melting at a rapid pace and that those in the Himalayas could melt by 2035. This was a very serious concern as it could have had long term and disastrous impact with both flooding and water scarcity predicted as possible happenings.

However, in the past few days, the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report. Also, the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with a scientist who has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and not supported by any formal research (Source: TimesofIndia).

While it is definitely a good news, it reflects one of the most serious failures in climate research. It also puts the Nobel prize winning institution, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in an embarrassing position as it was set up to lead and put together scientific evidence and advice on climate change. The IPCC report did not trace back the source of the claim. The WWF study that it referred to had borrowed the figure from the interview that was not based on any rigorous scientific evidence.

Glaciologists from the Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun based on their study of 10 years shows 15-20 metres recession which is not considered alarming. The research also pointed out that many were receding at a much slower rate of 5-7 metres per year and some weren’t receding at all.

Contraction and expansion of glaciers is also a part of natural geological process. Also, the Himalayan glaciers are hundreds of feet thick and could not melt fast enough to disappear by 2035 unless there was a huge global temperature rise.

However, it is a reality that the glaciers are melting. What is being debated that they are not wasting away at the rate suggested by the IPCC. What is most disturbing is the fact that in the context of an increasingly skeptic world, to an extent facilitated by strong industry lobby- automobiles, etc and to an extent by those resisting lifestyle changes, this gives another reason to continue with a business as usual approach. This is really worrisome as there is so much more to climate change that just melting of glaciers.

Do you think that the recent controversy about melting of the Himalayan glaciers, undermine the general risk perception about climate change?