Govt also erred on glacier claims

Govt also erred on glacier claims

New Delhi: It may have gone on an offensive against a controversial report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Indian glaciers disappearing by 2035, but till August, the ministry of environment and forests believed that Himalayan glaciers would disappear in the next 50 years.

The State of Environment Report 2009, a report put out by the Union government that is meant to be an up-to-date official view on environmental issues says that “...Himalayan glaciers could disappear in the next 50 years".

Union minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails seeking comment.

IPCC reported in 2007 that global warming was rapidly melting Himalayan glaciers and at the current rate, these would disappear by 2035.

In November, the environment ministry publicized a report by a former deputy director general of the Geological Survey of India, V.K. Raina, that disputed IPCC’s report.

In January, IPCC’s glacier claim was found to be faulty and based not on science but on a typo, and also used out of context as reported by Mint on 20 January.

IPCC subsequently retracted its claim on glaciers. A few days before it did so, Ramesh told PTI he was “vindicated".

The State of Environment Report, the third of its kind, is meant to guide policymakers and serve as a compendium of information on India’s environmental resources, according to the report’s preface.

The statements on the disappearing glaciers in the report appear flimsily sourced.

Development Alternatives (DA), a non-profit organization that prepared the report on behalf of the ministry, attributes it to a report by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (Icimod), an intergovernmental research organization based in Kathmandu.

The centre’s director-general Andreas Schild, however, denied publishing anything claiming that Himalayan glaciers would melt in 50 years. Neelam Rana, an environment scientist with DA, who worked on the section involving glaciers, said she sourced the statement from a Reuters news report.

The news report, dated 4 June 2007, coverage of a climate change conference organized by Icimod, quotes Surendra Shrestha, regional director at the United Nations Environment Programme for Asia and the Pacific as saying: “If the temperature continues to rise as it is, there will be no snow and ice in the Himalayas in 50 years."

A senior DA official said the State of Environment Report 2009 wasn’t meant as a scientific document and that it had been vetted by the environment ministry.

“Scientific rigour was not the most important criterion. We’ve done our best to check the veracity of our data, but including perceptions of stakeholders was a key part of the exercise," said George Varughese, president, DA.

The date by which the glaciers would melt didn’t really matter, said an executive at The Energy Research Institute (Teri), who referred to the State of Environment Report’s glacier claim in an article that appeared in the Financial Chronicle on 26 January.

“I didn’t know about this (the report’s claim) till a few days ago... As I’ve stated in the column, the dates don’t really matter. The overall point still remains that the Himalayan glaciers will melt rapidly, if nothing is done about greenhouse gas emissions," said Leena Srivastava, an executive director at Teri.

Teri chief R.K. Pachauri is also the head of IPCC.