A forecast by the United Nations climate science panel that Himalayan glaciers will melt by 2035 has become mired in controversy following revelations that it was not based on scientific studies. The chairman of the panel says the error arose because procedures were not followed properly.
The alarming prediction that the Himalayan glaciers are receding faster than those in any part of the world was made in a 2007 report by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC report said that the probability of the mass of ice "disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high."
The IPCC retracted that forecast in a statement earlier this week after British media reports revealed that the data was not gleaned from scientific evidence.
The chairman of the IPCC panel, Rajendra Pachauri, on Saturday called the forecast "a regrettable error," and says it arose because established procedures were not diligently followed. "The whole paragraph, I mean that entire section is wrong. That was a mistake," said Pachauri.
The doomsday prediction on the Himalayan glaciers was part of a larger report which has been instrumental in shaping the global debate on climate change.
The IPCC apparently sourced its forecast on a 2005 publication by the World Wildlife Fund. The WWF itself had picked it up from a 1999 magazine article based on a phone interview with an Indian scientist.
Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, earlier this week, said that Himalayan glaciers are receding but he said the report they will vanish by 2035 is not based on scientific evidence.
Last year, several scientists had expressed doubt about the possibility of the large Himalayan glaciers melting in a few decades. These glaciers are the largest body of ice outside the polar caps.
Pachauri however says that the controversy should not take away attention from the fact that Himalayan glaciers - like those in other parts of the world - are in fact retreating due to global warming. He says the error does not alter the broad picture of manmade climate change.
Pachauri has ruled out stepping down as head of the U.N. panel. He says the possibility of other mistakes in the report is minimal, or non existent. He is also promising to ensure that procedures laid down for collecting the U.N. panel's data are followed more strictly in the preparation of future reports.
"We will just exercise a level of surveillance that will clearly ensure that nothing like this happens again," said Pachauri. "This was a human error which should never have occurred, and we are going to do everything possible to see that it is never repeated."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for bringing climate change to the world's attention. But climate change skeptics say the credibility of the U.N. body has been damaged by the blunder, which media reports have termed "Climategate."