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India questions Western data linking climate change, Himalayan melt

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By Rama Lakshmi
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 22, 2009

NEW DELHI -- As countries around the world prepare to flex their negotiating muscles at next month's climate-change summit in Copenhagen, India has begun to question the Western model of computing global warming statistics.

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Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh released a report last week that says there is no conclusive evidence that climate change has caused the melting of the Himalayan glaciers. The report says that not all of the glaciers are receding at alarming rates and that a few are even advancing.

The report, an analysis of data from the past four decades, is part of India's efforts to produce a body of indigenous research assessments on the subject.

"So far, we have been depending on research conducted by the West on what is happening to our glaciers and environment," he said after releasing the report, which was prepared by a former scientist with the Geological Survey of India and included a disclaimer that it did not necessarily reflect the government's view.

"There is an urgent need to have our own studies by our scientists," he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.N. body, has said that the Himalayan glaciers are receding "faster than in any other part of the world" and are likely to disappear by 2035 if current rates of depletion continue. The panel's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, dismissed the Indian report as "schoolboy science" that has yet to be authenticated by peer review, news services reported.

Ramesh has said that much of the information derived from Western sources is "biased." He announced that India would set up 15 new weather stations to study long-term temperature data and would work with the Indian Space Research Organization for satellite mapping of glaciers.

But many Indian environmentalists said they were confused by the report and the timing of its release, just weeks before the global climate meeting.

"Climate change is an intensely political matter, and the science is contentious. It is very important that Indian scientific institutions get their act together. Local changes cannot always be caught by global scientific models," said Sunita Narain, director of New Delhi's Center for Science and Environment. "But I am unable to understand why the minister released the glacier report now. And if it is not climate change that is causing the glaciers to recede, then what is causing it?"

The report does not answer that question. However, it says the Himalayan glaciers do not exhibit "an abnormal annual retreat of the order that some glaciers in Alaska and Greenland" are reported to have shown.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, which seeks to develop a framework to slow global warming, India has said that the heaviest burden should fall on the nations that caused the problem and can afford the changes.

India, which has become the world's fifth-largest producer of greenhouse gases in recent years, has offered modest domestic goals for emission cuts. The efforts would not be open to international verification.


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