The scientist behind the bogus claim in a Nobel Prize-winning UN report that Himalayan glaciers will have melted by 2035 last night admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders.
Dr Murari Lal also said he was well aware the statement, in the 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research.
In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, Dr Lal, the co-ordinating lead author of the reportâ€™s chapter on Asia, said: â€˜It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.
â€˜It had importance for the region, so we thought we should put it in.â€™
Dr Lalâ€™s admission will only add to the mounting furore over the melting glaciers assertion, which the IPCC was last week forced to withdraw because it has no scientific foundation.
According to the IPCCâ€™s statement of principles, its role is â€˜to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis, scientific, technical and socio-economic information â€“ IPCC reports should be neutral with respect to policyâ€™.
The claim that Himalayan glaciers are set to disappear by 2035 rests on two 1999 magazine interviews with glaciologist Syed Hasnain, which were then recycled without any further investigation in a 2005 report by the environmental campaign group WWF.
It was this report that Dr Lal and his team cited as their source.
The WWF article also contained a basic error in its arithmetic. A claim that one glacier was retreating at the alarming rate of 134 metres a year should in fact have said 23 metres â€“ the authors had divided the total loss measured over 121 years by 21, not 121.
Last Friday, the WWF website posted a humiliating statement recognising the claim as â€˜unsoundâ€™, and saying it â€˜regrets any confusion causedâ€™.
Dr Lal said: â€˜We knew the WWF report with the 2035 date was â€œgrey literatureâ€ [material not published in a peer-reviewed journal]. But it was never picked up by any of the authors in our working group, nor by any of the more than 500 external reviewers, by the governments to which it was sent, or by the final IPCC review editors.â€™
In fact, the 2035 melting date seems to have been plucked from thin air.
Professor Graham Cogley, a glacier expert at Trent University in Canada, who began to raise doubts in scientific circles last year, said the claim multiplies the rate at which glaciers have been seen to melt by a factor of about 25.
â€˜My educated guess is that there will be somewhat less ice in 2035 than there is now,â€™ he said.
â€˜But there is no way the glaciers will be close to disappearing. It doesnâ€™t seem to me that exaggerating the problemâ€™s seriousness is going to help solve it.â€™
One of the problems bedevilling Himalayan glacier research is a lack of reliable data. But an authoritative report published last November by the Indian government said: â€˜Himalayan glaciers have not in any way exhibited, especially in recent years, an abnormal annual retreat.â€™
When this report was issued, Raj Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, denounced it as â€˜voodoo scienceâ€™.