January 18, 2010 / 5:06 PM / 10 years ago

U.N. panel re-examines Himalayan glacier thaw report

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The U.N. panel of climate scientists said Monday it was reviewing a report containing a little-known projection that Himalayan glaciers might vanish by 2035, a finding trenchantly criticized by the Indian government.

The Siachen Glacier, north of Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Picture taken October 4, 2003.

The 2007 U.N. panel report says global warming could cause the Himalaya’s thousands of glaciers to vanish by 2035 if current warming rates continue.

“We are looking into the issue of the Himalayan glaciers, and will take a position on it in the next two or three days,” Rajendra Pachauri, head of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), told Reuters in an e-mail.

Other experts have said the 10 major Asian rivers the glaciers feed could go dry in the next five decades.

Hundreds of millions of people in India, Pakistan and China would be affected.

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Monday questioned the findings of the 2007 report.

“They are indeed receding and the rate is cause for great concern, Ramesh said of the glaciers, but he told reporters the 2035 forecast was “not based on an iota of scientific evidence.”

Other experts have said the 2035 projection was not based on peer-reviewed science. In London, The Times newspaper said the Indian scientist who first made the Himalayan thaw projection in 1999 now acknowledged it was “speculation.”

Flaws in IPCC reports can be damaging since the findings are a guide for government policy. The IPCC’s core finding in 2007 was that it was more than 90 percent sure that mankind is the main cause of global warming, mainly by using fossil fuels.

Ramesh said he had been accused of “voodoo science” in questioning the IPCC findings about the Himalayas in the past.

The IPCC’s 2007 report said: “Glaciers in the Himalayas are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.”

However, the report also said of the glaciers: “Its total area will likely shrink from the present 500,000 to 100,000 sq km (193,000 to 38,600 sq miles) by the year 2035.”

At the Copenhagen climate summit last month, Pachauri, an Indian citizen, strongly defended the IPCC’s core findings after a scandal over emails hacked from the University of East Anglia in England.

In the email scandal, climate change skeptics accused researchers of colluding to suppress others’ data.

Ramesh had said in November that a paper commissioned by the Indian government had found no conclusive evidence to link the retreat of Himalayan glaciers to climate change.

He said many of India’s 9,500 Himalayan glaciers are shrinking, but some are shrinking at a slower rate or even increasing.

Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Oslo; Editing by Paul Tait

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