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Can you read this map Mr Ramesh?

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Surface temperature change map

This map shows the 10-year average (2000-2009) temperature anomaly relative to the 1951-1980 mean. The largest temperature increases are in the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. (Image credit: NASA/GISS)

Scientific jingoism has reached a new peak with India’s minister for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh, announcing that his ministry will provide new funding for climate research done by Indians for India, which in effect is a nationalistic science agenda. Ramesh – whose penchant for making sweeping and irresponsible statements is matched only by his ability to reckon all events as PR opportunities – seems to not realise or not care that climate change is not a region-specific phenomenon. His ministry’s carefully timed attacks on climate science has reached a new pitch with India’s mainstream english dailies now broadcasting a daily barrage of reports sceptical of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Fourth Assessment Report and on what Ramesh is now calling “western science”!

There has been evidence aplenty of the growing impacts of climate change throughout this decade of 2000-2009 and this evidence has been seen, and reported on, as affecting all sectors so important to our daily lives: agriculture, water resources and health. This month alone, there are two news reports on AlertNet Reuters that tell us so explicitly.

‘India’s northern nomads hit by changing weather’ tells us about how the nomads of the high Ladakh mountain ranges (in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) have been herding sheep, goats and yak for generations. But now hundreds are now being forced to abandon their traditional way of life as wide variations in winter snowfall threaten their livestock. Researchers in the region say that climate change is alternately bringing unusually heavy snow that prevents livestock from reaching fodder and, more often, very little snow, which leads to drought and changes in traditional pastures. A researcher with the World Wildlife Fund based in Leh said that grasses have started to die out due to less level of snowfall in the region, a continuing phenomenon for a decade or so, which now has become alarming.

Surface temperature change map India

Surface temperature change map India

‘Cold wave kills scores, destroys crops across South Asia’ tells us about a cold wave across parts of South Asia has killed scores of people – mostly children and the elderly – in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, both bordering Nepal, as well as New Delhi have been amongst the worst affected areas with temperatures falling as low as 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). In Bangladesh, low temperatures coupled with fog and cold winds in northern and southwest parts of the country have killed over 40 people and resulted in over 3,400 being hospitalised, according to the United Nations. In Nepal, weather officials said the southern plains bordering India were reeling below normal temperatures for more than two weeks causing cold waves in the region.

Global land ocean temperature index

Earth's surface temperatures have increased since 1880. The last decade has brought the temperatures to the highest levels ever recorded. The graph shows global annual surface temperatures relative to 1951-1980 mean temperatures. As shown by the red line, long-term trends are more apparent when temperatures are averaged over a five year period. (Image credit: NASA/GISS)

Reports such as these only support what careful research has been saying loudly for all the last decade. 2009 was tied for the second warmest year in the modern record, a new NASA analysis of global surface temperature shows. The analysis, conducted by the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), USA, also shows that in the Southern Hemisphere, 2009 was the warmest year since modern records began in 1880. January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s. What’s significant about the GISS method is that it builds in the importance of anomalies – such as the severe cold weather in South Asia – to arrive at its findings.

The image of a map with this post is one that can be generated by anyone visiting the GISS website. It shows the planet’s surface temperature change from 1959 to 2009. Where India is concerend, the two temperature change bands that cover the sub-continent are 0.5-1ºC and 1-2ºC. It’s plain to see that the Himalaya also lie across both these temperature change bands. The absurd, ill-timed, motivated and arrogant attack by Ramesh’s ministry (and its media servants) on the evidence that glaciers in the Himalaya are in danger of melting ignores the big picture that this map presents: climate change is taking place in the region. The question is: can they read this map?

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India’s misplaced glacier row

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India’s central government is making triumphant noises about what it sees as a vindication of its stand concerning Himalayan glaciers. The central Ministry of Environment and Forests had refuted the widely held scientific view that the glaciers of the Himalaya were shrinking, posing a grave – if not catastrophic – threat to the water security of millions downstream.

The mainstream English press in India (a majority of whose readers are urban salaried, self-employed or professional) has been toeing the central government line on the matter and has placed on front pages the story: “IPCC admits ‘Himalayan’ blunder” said Business Standard; “IPCC expresses regret over glacier melting conclusion” said The Hindu; and “West uses ‘glacier theory’ to flog India on climate change” said The Times of India.

What has the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) actually said?

Here is the full statement (dated 20 January 2010) made by the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the IPCC, and the Co-Chairs of the IPCC Working Groups.

“The Synthesis Report, the concluding document of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (page 49) stated: ‘Climate change is expected to exacerbate current stresses on water resources from population growth and economic and land-use change, including urbanisation. On a regional scale, mountain snow pack, glaciers and small ice caps play a crucial role in freshwater availability. Widespread mass losses from glaciers and reductions in snow cover over recent decades are projected to accelerate throughout the 21st century, reducing water availability, hydropower potential, and changing seasonality of flows in regions supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges (e.g. Hindu-Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one-sixth of the world population currently lives.’ ”

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)“This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment.”

“It has, however, recently come to our attention that a paragraph in the 938-page Working Group II contribution to the underlying assessment refers to poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers. In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly.”

“The Chair, Vice-Chairs, and Co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance. This episode demonstrates that the quality of the assessment depends on absolute adherence to the IPCC standards, including thorough review of ‘the quality and validity of each source before incorporating results from the source into an IPCC Report’. We reaffirm our strong commitment to ensuring this level of performance.”

The text in question is the second paragraph in section 10.6.2 of the Working Group II contribution and a repeat of part of the paragraph in Box TS.6. of the Working Group II Technical Summary of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. The quoted text in the fourth para is verbatim from Annex 2 of Appendix A to the Principles Governing IPCC Work.

What makes the episode ugly is that this is a central government, and a ministry, which has right through 2008 and 2009 worked extra hard to push all aspects of economic growth measured by GDP. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has steadily diluted legislation protecting environment and natural resources, given opportunities to industry to sidetrack checks and balances relating to clearances (especially in forest areas) and which has gone to great lengths to cobble together a scientific-cum-economic consensus to show that GDP growth at 9% a year for the next generation will not harm the global environment nor add very much to global emissions. The hypocrisies in pressurising the IPCC into this corner are staggering. The pity is that India’s scientific community – in which true independence is rare – will do little to help the citizen understand more.