The World Wildlife Fund has issued a statement on the results of the organization’s inquiry into statements about Himalayan glaciers and the climate change threat in the Amazon attributed to WWF in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change impacts assessment report. The statement indicates steps WWF will take to ensure that the scientific community and the public can more easily distinguish between WWF’s voluminous peer-reviewed scientific reports and their general communications products, and to ensure their scientific publications continue to meet the highest standards for accuracy, and notes the broader context of the strong scientific basis for understanding climate change.

Read the full Statement from WWF Regarding the IPCC and the Strength of our Science on the WWF Climate Blog.

From the statement, on the recent controversy about citations to WWF publications in the 2007 IPCC assesssment report:

The 2007 IPCC climate change study cited WWF reports as the source for the following claims regarding climate change:

•  The Himalayan glaciers could melt completely by the year 2035
•  Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation

Upon further review, we have determined that the information about the Himalayas was inaccurate and that we erred by including it in one of our reports.  In regards to the Amazon, we have determined that our statements were accurate and fully supported by several published studies.  In both instances, however, WWF fell short in including sufficient citations for the source of the information.

Specific details about the role played by WWF as a source for the IPCC report are provided in the full statement.

The statement includes the following, which is a corrective to the rampant snarkiness we’ve been seeing on various “skeptic” blogs, where ignorant denialists have been touting the misguided idea that WWF should be characterized as a non-scientific political organization:

For nearly five decades, WWF has been a leader in conducting robust, peer-reviewed conservation research and analysis.  Today, WWF scientists are working in more than 100 countries around the world, conducting leading edge research that continues to expand our knowledge and understanding of our planet and the species which inhabit it. …

As the world’s leading science-based conservation organization, WWF is widely recognized for its leadership in conducting, analyzing and reporting the latest research around the world.  Many of our scientists are internationally recognized leaders in their fields of expertise.

WWF has scores of scientists working around the world, publishing their research in international peer-reviewed journals, advising governments and other partners, and putting science to work for conservation.  Just within our central Conservation Science Program, based in the U.S., there are 20 practicing scientists, 10 with PhDs, who produce an average of 20 peer-reviewed papers each year in journals such as Science, Nature, PNAS, Bioscience, PLoS Biology, Ecology Letters, Conservation Biology.  On average, our research is cited by other scientists more than 600 times per year.  WWF scientists also sit on editorial boards of several top journals and are trusted as reviewers of papers for Science, Nature and PNAS.

In the broader context:

Both the Himalayan and Amazon references illustrate lapses in the writing and review process and are more a reflection of improper citation of sources than an indication of any fundamental issues with the accuracy of the science.  In the case of the Himalayan glaciers, the essential point is that their mass is decreasing as are most other glaciers around the world. In regards to the Amazon case, the fact is that a very large portion of the Amazonian forest is at risk from the drier conditions that are likely to be more common as climate rapidly changes – and if deforestation continues. 

It is important to keep in mind that our current understanding of climate science is based on decades of research by thousands of scientists and volumes of peer-reviewed studies. These errors, while regrettable, are relatively minor in scope in comparison to the strong scientific basis for our understanding of climate change, which is recognized by virtually every country on the planet.

Earlier CSW posts:
February 5: Questions to an IPCC co-chair on ensuring the credibility of IPCC leadership and communications

January 21: Worldwide glacier melt a real concern; Himalaya controversy leaves questions about IPCC leadership

January 19: IPCC slips on the ice with statement about Himalayan glaciers.

See also the excellent analysis in Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media: Anatomy of IPCC’s Mistake on Himalayan Glaciers and the year 2035