Michael McCarthy: How a single paragraph caused a storm

The main importance of the report is its insistence we need to start gathering more information

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Ridicule was heaped on the UN's climate science body, the IPCC, two years ago, when its latest report turned out to contain a forecast that all the glaciers in the Himalayas would probably have melted by 2035.

Rightly so, with the ridicule. And the ultra-defensive reaction of the IPCC chairman, Dr Raj Pachauri and produced Glaciergate (a feast of fun for climate sceptics).

But the nonsensical suggestion which crept in from non-peer reviewed work was one paragraph in a 938-page report published in 2007; was not included in the report's summary; and took two years to be noticed. And it does not mean that the great ice fields of the Himalayas are not being shrunk by the advance of a warming climate.

Just the opposite, according to the most authoritative account yet produced of the ice of the "third pole" – the Hindu Kush in the Himalayan region. The small amount of proper evidence we have suggests that the glaciers are indeed in retreat.

But the main importance of the three-volume report by the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development is not so much its account of melting, as its insistence that much more knowledge must be gathered of the region, and, above all, its establishing of an enormous baseline against which future change in the Himalayas might be measured. No one had an idea how many glaciers there were in the region. Now we do know: 54,000.

Let us hope that when we talk about Himalayan melting in the future, we can start to do so from a proper scientific basis.

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