Glaciergate: British science chief wants honesty on climate change

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 18:59

London: After `Glaciergate` and errors in
Climate Change report spawned attacks, UN Climate Chief R K
Pachauri faced demands from Britain`s chief scientific adviser
for "more honest" disclosure of the uncertainty of predictions
about the rate of global warming.

John Beddington also said the impact of global warming
has been exaggerated by some scientists.

Another top British scientist Mike Hulme raised
questions whether Pachauri of India should continue to head
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the wake of an admission by IPCC that it grossly
overstated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were receding,
Beddington told `The Times` that climate scientists should be
less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global
warming.

He also condemned scientists who refused to publish the
data underpinning their reports.

Beddington said that public confidence in climate
science would be improved if there were more openness about
its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics
had been right on some hotly-disputed issues.

Pachauri`s `voodoo science` remark to slam India`s
Environment ministry over the Himalayan glacier issue drew
more flak from another scientist.

Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of
East Anglia, criticised Pachauri for his dismissive response
last November to research by an Indian group suggesting that
the UN body had overstated the threat to the glaciers.
Pachauri described it as "voodoo science".
"Pachauri’s choice of words has not been good. The
question of whether he is the right person to lead the IPCC is
for the 193 countries who make up its governing body. It’s a
political decision." Prof Hulme said.

Beddington said that the false claim in the IPCC’s 2007
report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a
wider problem with the way that some evidence was presented.

"I don’t think it’s healthy to dismiss proper
scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of
criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate
change prediction that can’t be changed," said.

"Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate.
We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There’s
definitely an issue there. If there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be
the level of skepticism. All of these predictions have to be
caveated by saying, There’s a level of uncertainty about
that."

Beddington said that particular caution was needed when
communicating predictions about climate change made with the
help of computer models.

"It’s unchallengeable that Carbon Dioxide traps heat and
warms the Earth and that burning fossil fuels shoves billions
of tones of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere. But where you
can get challenges is on the speed of change.

When you get into large-scale climate modeling there
are quite substantial uncertainties. On the rate of change and
the local effects, there are uncertainties both in terms of
empirical evidence and the climate models themselves."

He said that it was wrong for scientists to refuse to
disclose their data to their critics: "I think, wherever
possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that
source material is available for the whole scientific
community."

He added: "There is a danger that people can manipulate
the data, but the benefits from being open far outweigh that
danger."

PTI



First Published: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - 18:59

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