23 september 2013

IPCC warns on Himalayan melting glaciers

By Pilita Clark, Environment Correspondent, Financial Times, September 23, 2013

The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting so fast they will affect the water supplies of a population twice that of the US within 22 years, the head of the world’s leading authority on climate change has warned.

“That’s something to be concerned about,” said Rachendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which this week starts releasing its first extensive report in six years on how the global climate is changing.

This is the panel’s first big study since it was mired in controversy four years ago over a mistaken suggestion in its last assessment in 2007 that the Himalayan glaciers could disappear as early as 2035, a date it admitted was “poorly substantiated”.

Mr Pachauri faced calls to resign at the time but on the eve of the new report’s release, he said the error should not overshadow the looming risks posed by the retreating glaciers, which feed water into rivers supplying some of south Asia’s most densely populated regions.

“Everything humanly possible has been brought to bear on this report to see that we don’t have any errors,” he told the Financial Times in an interview.

“That [glacier] error of course was highlighted round the world, and we apologised for it,” he said. “It doesn’t detract from the fact that the glaciers are melting across the globe, including the Himalayas.

“The mistake we made was using that figure of 2035, but that doesn’t in any way reduce the implications of glacier melt across the entire Himalayan range and that’s something to be concerned about, as it was then.”

While the glaciers may not vanish by 2035, he added, the pace at which they are melting is bound to affect vast numbers of people depending on them for water.

“Even before 2035 it’s going to start showing up in terms of changes in water flows, which affect, as we had estimated, 500m people in south Asia and 250m people in China,” he said.

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