From all accounts, the repeated attacks by sections of the British media and climate skeptics on Dr R K Pachauri and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which he heads, appear to be an orchestrated move to discredit him and the body which is the most authoritative source of scientific knowledge on global warming.
First, there was the so-called 'Climategate' scandal, where e-mails of University of East Anglia scientists in the UK, who contributed to the IPCC reports, were leaked. These showed that certain findings, which went against the conventional wisdom that the earth is warming, were sought to be suppressed. However inept these attempts at withholding certain facts were, they certainly don't detract from the overall findings of the IPCC that the earth's average temperatures are rising. Only very recently, NASA has shown that the last decade was the warmest in recorded history.
The timing of these leaks just before the UN Copenhagen summit can only confirm suspicions that it was intended to derail the proceedings. During the Copenhagen summit, as The Telegraph reported, Pachauri was handed a letter by two prominent climate skeptics when he was delivering a lecture at Copenhagen University. "One was Stephen Fielding, the Australian Senator who sparked the revolt which recently led to the defeat of his government's 'cap-and-trade' scheme. The other, from Britain, was Lord Monckton, a longtime critic of the IPCC's science, who has recently played a key part in stiffening opposition to a cap and trade bill in the US Senateâ¦ The letterâ¦ was circulated to all the 192 national conference delegations, calling on them to dismiss Pachauri as IPCC chairman because of recent revelations of his conflicting interests."
TERI has responded to these accusations by pointing out: "The Center for Public Integrity in the US recently brought out a report that more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2340 lobbyists to influence federal policies on climate change in the past year, registering an increase of more than 300 per cent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just 5 years. Lobbyists in the UK led by long term climate skeptics like Lord Monckton have mounted similar efforts." The media, not only in the UK but even here, pays undue attention to such unsubstantiated attacks, often without being able to distinguish between fact and fiction.
Next, The Telegraph attempted to accuse Pachauri of corruption by showing that he was receiving hefty fees from various companies, universities and other institutions - some of which represent the fossil fuel industry. TERI responded in detail in a letter to the newspaper, showing how all such fees went directly into its coffers, not into the Director General's personal account.
The newspaper also alleged a nexus between TERI and the Tatas, since it was originally the Tata Energy Research Institute. As its name suggests, its original brief was to examine various dimensions of the energy problem, but has since branched into many more directions. The newspaper sought to imply that TERI was turning a blind eye to several environment-unfriendly activities of the Tatas, but the connection between the two has long ceased to exist after initial funding. Specifically, it criticised him for being associated with environment-unfriendly companies. For example, it said, "In 2005, he set up GloriOil, a Texas firm specialising in technology which allows the last remaining reserves to be extracted from oilfields otherwise at the end of their useful life."
The Telegraph also alleged a nexus between TERI and the Tatas, since it was originally the Tata Energy Research Institute. But the connection between the two has long ceased to exist after initial funding.
The very fact that one of the world's leading climate skeptics, Richard North - interviewed on Times Now - has tried to establish that he lives a lavish lifestyle, wearing $1000 suits and living in one of India's poshest colonies in New Delhi, only shows how personal these accusations were. How on earth North had access to his tailor or wardrobe to find out how much his suits cost defies imagination. In any case, this is hardly extravagant even by Indian standards. As for a home in Golf Links, that can't be construed as living it up, considering that many professionals made their homes there and in other similar colonies some three decades ago, while real estate values in the capital have only escalated in recent years.
There is no question that the citation of 2035 in the 2007 IPCC assessment report as the year by which Himalayan glaciers would vanish was plainly wrong, a mistake compounded by careless drafting by the scientific team assigned to conduct checks on such findings. However, it has been acknowledged as such, and it is an error in a 3000-page document. It hardly negates the main finding by the IPCC - and countless other scientific bodies - that glaciers in the Himalayas are in dire straits and contracting at a higher rate than previously.
Yvo de Boer, who heads the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is spearheading the negotiations towards a binding climate treaty, said: "The credibility of the IPCC depends on the thoroughness with which its procedures are adhered to. The procedures have been violated in this case. That must not be allowed to happen again because the credibility of climate change policy can only be based on credible science. Nobody is denying that the Himalayan glaciers are disappearing fast as a result of climate change. What is happening now is comparable with the Titanic sinking more slowly than expected. But that does not alter the inevitable consequences, unless rigorous action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is taken."
The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), based in Kathmandu, which is a reputable scientific institution, has added: "At present, ICIMOD is conducting research on critical glacial lakes and is promoting the organisation of mass balance measurements in the region. Based on the analyses we have been doing, we can state that the majority of glaciers in the region are in a general condition of retreat, although with some regional differences; that small glaciers below 5000 metres above sea level will probably disappear by the end of the century, whereas larger glaciers well above this level will still exist but be smaller; and that deglaciation could have serious impacts on the hydrological regime of the downstream river basins.
"Further, it is important to compare and summarise observations from a number of glaciers in different areas, of different size, and at different altitudes to draw clear scientifically justified conclusions about the changes that are occurring."
The scientist in the eye of the storm, Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain, whose remarks to a New Scientist journalist, Fred Pearce, in 1999 formed the basis of the 2035 date, accompanied participants of the International Federation of Environmental Journalists congress to a field trip to Leh last November to study the impact on glaciers of global warming. He made it clear that it was only in recent years that Indian glaciologists, of whom he is one of the leading, have been obtaining sophisticated and expensive equipment which permits them to measure how glaciers have contracted over time.
More often than not, this requires trained mountaineers to help these team position their equipment on steep mountainsides. To compound the problem, due to security and diplomatic reasons, it is difficult to collaborate with Chinese and Pakistani glaciologists, although India shares the Himalayan ecosystem with these and other neighbouring countries.
Only recently, it was reported that global warming had taken a toll of the climate patterns in the Kashmir valley which has been experiencing a decline in snowfall and rise in temperature, according to weather scientists. Analysing the snow accumulation in Pir Panjal and Shamshawari regions of the valley during the winters of 2004-05 to 2006-07, scientists had shown that the seasonal snow cover has reduced while the maximum temperature was increasing steadily. "This decreasing trend in areal extent of snow cover, rise in maximum temperature and decreasing trend in total snowfall may be the indicators of global warming or climate change," reported senior scientist H S Negi of the Defence Research and Development Organisation's Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment, in the Journal of Earth System Sciences.
This month, InterPress Service reported from Srinagar that the declining snow cover and receding glaciers in Jammu and Kashmir could trigger renewed hostilities between India and Pakistan, according to warning by experts. The two countries share the Indus River, one of the longest rivers in the world. The river rises in southwestern Tibet and flows northwest through the Himalayas. It crosses into the disputed Kashmir region, mending its way to the Indian and Pakistani-administered areas of the territory. In all, some 1.3 billion people depend on the melt from the Himalayas to feed the rivers downstream throughout South Asia.
Summing up the debate in the liberal UK newspaper, The Guardian, Robin McKie writes: "We should not be blinded by a single error, on one page of one volume of a mammoth three-volume report, they [some scientists] argue. And don't forget that this mistake was highlighted not by deniers but by scientists themselves. 'Glaciergate' actually shows we can police ourselves, say researchers. And while the glacier claims exaggerate the impact of climate change, other parts of the 2007 IPCC report clearly underplay the risks. 'We should also remember the overwhelming evidence still shows global warming is real and manmade,' adds Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change. ..
"In any case, there is more to this issue than making sure the IPCC is fit for purpose in the 21st century. We should also be concerned about the sharing of the burden of proof when debating global warming. At present, scientists are being asked, often in the most offensive terms by hostile, ideologically motivated groups, some funded by rich industrial lobbyists, to justify every conclusion they make about our overheating world.
"Can they [deniers] demonstrate - with the same confidence and transparency employed by scientists working for the IPCC - that the danger of doing nothing is negligible and that greenhouse gases pose no risk to the planet? Could their arguments withstand the same rigorous examination that took place during Glaciergate? The answer to these questions is a straightforward 'no'. At no time have deniers ever put together a case - that inaction poses no threat to civilisation - that could withstand proper scientific peer review."