Like all human endeavours, the IPCC is not perfect. Despite the enormous efforts devoted to producing its reports with the multiple levels of peer review, some errors will sneak through. Most of these will be minor and inconsequential, but sometimes they might be more substantive. As many people are aware (and as John Nieslen-Gammon outlined in a post last month and Rick Piltz goes over today), there is a statement in the second volume of the IPCC (WG2), concerning the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are receding that is not correct and not properly referenced.
The statement, in a chapter on climate impacts in Asia, was that the likelihood of the Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035″ was “very high” if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate (WG 2, Ch. 10, p493), and was referenced to a World Wildlife Fund 2005 report. Examining the drafts and comments (available here), indicates that the statement was barely commented in the reviews, and that the WWF (2005) reference seems to have been a last minute addition (it does not appear in the First- or Second- Order Drafts). This claim did not make it into the summary for policy makers, nor the overall synthesis report, and so cannot be described as a ‘central claim’ of the IPCC. However, the statement has had some press attention since the report particularly in the Indian press, at least according to Google News, even though it was not familiar to us before last month.
It is therefore obvious that this error should be corrected (via some kind of corrigendum to the WG2 report perhaps), but it is important to realise that this doesn’t mean that Himalayan glaciers are doing just fine. They aren’t, and there may be serious consequences for water resources as the retreat continues. See also this review paper (Ren et al, 2006) on a subset of these glaciers.
More generally, peer-review works to make the IPCC reports credible because many different eyes with different perspectives and knowledge look over the same text. This tends to make the resulting product reflect more than just the opinion of a single author. In this case, it appears that not enough people with relevant experience saw this text, or if they saw it, did not comment publicly. This might be related to the fact that this text was in the Working Group 2 report on impacts, which does not get the same amount of attention from the physical science community than does the higher profile WG 1 report (which is what people associated with RC generally look at). In WG1, the statements about continued glacier retreat are much more general and the rules on citation of non-peer reviewed literature was much more closely adhered to. However, in general, the science of climate impacts is less clear than the physical basis for climate change, and the literature is thinner, so there is necessarily more ambiguity in WG 2 statements.
In future reports (and the organisation for AR5 in 2013 is now underway), extra efforts will be needed to make sure that the links between WG1 and the other two reports are stronger, and that the physical science community should be encouraged to be more active in the other groups.
In summary, the measure of an organisation is not determined by the mere existence of errors, but in how it deals with them when they crop up. The current discussion about Himalayan glaciers is therefore a good opportunity for the IPCC to further improve their procedures and think more about what the IPCC should be doing in the times between the main reports.
From Real Climate, http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/ar ... ble-shock/
When it comes to predicting the consequences of climate change, it is literally a herculean task, plagued by uncertainties, as mentioned before, largely how we behave in coming decades. Effects of climate change are going to include, sea level rise, displaced peoples, changing weather patterns, changing conditions for food crops, changing conditions for fresh water supplies, animal and plant life on land and sea, and even the annulment of countries (Maldives).
To predict what the consequences of each of these impacts, plus others, globally and extend those predictions far into the future (100+ years) is just an impossibility. We know its going to be bad
how bad depends on our behavior, and studies do suggest it would be much better to mitigate climate change than adapt to it, although so late in the day, its going to be a mixture of the both.
You can argue with those studies, and perhaps you should, but your only going to find more uncertainty in each of the predictions, complete with error bars and while you might be looking for certainty and reliability in this, your not going to get it. Dealing with those uncertainties, calculating the costs of doing nothing compared to that of doing lots is what we have, uncertainty is at the very heart of it and that is just the way of it.
What also needs to be realized, is where the responsibilities of science start and end in this. Human science is trying to establish how climate science is working, and what possible scenarios are, it is doing this to the best of its ability. It is also its responsibility to warn governments of the consequences, complete with uncertainties.
Governments respond to this threat as they see fit, allocating resources as they decide and have to make their own choices in regard to risk and uncertainty. Science researches, warns, offers advice and recommendations. How we respond is 100% in the hands of our government and responsibility for such action lies with governments.
Human science is doing its job as we expect it to.
And because governments are mostly democratically elected these days, the people of the planet are ultimately responsible for their governments actions or inaction, fitting that we get what we deserve.