Dhaka (AFP) April 22, 2010
Scientists in Bangladesh posed a fresh challenge to the UN's top climate change panel Thursday, saying its doomsday forecasts for the country in the body's landmark 2007 report were overblown.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), already under fire for errors in the 2007 report, had said a one-metre (three-foot) rise in sea levels would flood 17 percent of Bangladesh and create 20 million refugees by 2050.
The warning helped create a widespread consensus that the low-lying country was on the "front line" of climate change, but a new study argues the IPCC ignored the role sediment plays in countering sea level rises.
IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri defended his organisation's Bangladesh predictions Thursday, warning that "on the basis of one study one cannot jump to conclusions".
"The IPCC looks at a range of publications before we take a balanced view on what's likely to happen," he told AFP by telephone.
But the IPCC's prediction did not take into account the one billion tonnes of sediment carried by Himalayan rivers into Bangladesh every year, the study funded by the Asian Development Bank said.
"Sediments have been shaping Bangladesh's coast for thousands of years," said Maminul Haque Sarker, director of the Dhaka-based Center for Environment and Geographic Information Services (CEGIS), who led research for the study.
Previous "studies on the effects of climate change in Bangladesh, including those quoted by the IPCC, did not consider the role of sediment in the growth and adjustment process of the country's coast and rivers," he told AFP.
Even if sea levels rise a maximum one metre in line with the IPCC's 2007 predictions, the new study indicates most of Bangladesh's coastline will remain intact, said Sarker.
"Based on the findings of the study, it appears that most of Bangladesh's coastline, notably the Meghna estuary, which is one of the largest in the world, would rise at the same pace as the sea level growth," he said.
"The study shows that the inundation and flooding pattern of Bangladesh will change due to the sea level rise, but it will be less than what has been predicted," by the IPCC and others, he said.
"The biggest challenge will be to find how we can best manage these sediment deposits, and utilise them to help Bangladesh fight the effects of climate change."
CEGIS's past predictions of the number of people likely to be made homeless every year by the two main Himalayan rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, have proved to be 70 percent accurate, according to their own assessments.
The IPCC is made up of several thousand scientists tasked with vetting scientific knowledge on climate change and its impacts.
But its reputation was damaged by a warning in its seminal 2007 report that global warming could melt Himalayan glaciers by 2035, an assessment that has been widely discredited and fuelled scepticism about climate change.
According to Pachauri, the glacier mistakes should not be allowed to detract from the fact that the IPCC's conclusions overall are "robust and they are reliable".
"One single error doesn't take anything away from the major findings of the report. The fact is that the glaciers are melting," he said.
"The science is evolving. In a number of parts of the world there isn't enough research, so we welcome this study."
Atiq Rahman, a Dhaka-based member of the panel, admitted to AFP that the panel's research on Bangladesh had "not taken into account the role the sediment plays in shaping Bangladesh's coast and estuaries."
"The next IPCC assessment will take it into account," he said, adding that climate change could still cause a lot of damage in Bangladesh if the "rate of sea-level rise is faster than the level of sedimentation".
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