Kate Mackenzie IPCC Amazon rainforest dispute bites the dust

The Sunday Times has published a correction of its report from January that a claim in an IPCC report that 40 per cent of the Amazon could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall was not based on peer-reviewed science. From the correction:

In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change.

The World Wildlife Fund issued its own refutation of the report several months ago. WWF was also the source of the now-notorious claim quoted by the IPCC that Himalayan glaciers could be completely melted by 2035. Back in February, the organisation conceded that its Himalayas claim was indeed inaccurate. But at the same time, it said the Amazonian claim was correct and was sourced to a peer-reviewed publication; WWF had simply failed to cite that source.

The Sunday Times correction also apologised to a scientist quoted in the story, Simon Lewis, who filed a complaint to the UK’s Press Complaints Commission. It accepted that, rather than casting doubt on the scientific merit of the claims published by the WWF and IPCC, he was merely concerned that their failure to provide correct citation would leave them open to criticism.

Lewis told the New York Times by email that he welcomed the correction, but added:

“If reporting is misleading then many scientists will disengage, which will mean that the public get more opinion and less careful scientific assessments.”

Reports that the Amazon claim was unfounded were of course picked up by climate sceptics. But they probably won’t be that convinced by this retraction; several sceptic posts linked it to a subsequent study reported in Science Daily, showing that the Amazon rainforest was more resilient to drought than thought, based on its response to a 2005 drought.

Update: Simon Lewis has contacted us to say that this later report, on the 2005 drought, doesn’t contradict the IPAM findings represented in the IPCC report, either. Indeed a press release from Boston University, where the more recent study originates, does not include the comments ‘the way the WWF calculated this 40% was quite wrong’. It does however say that the Boston study’s findings suggest the Amazon rainforest is not so sensitive to change in rainfall as the IPCC suggests. But two posts by scientists on RealClimate find some shortcomings in the way that conclusion was reached.

Related links:

Skeptical science on the Amazon rainforest claims
Why is the public cooling on climate change? FT Energy Source
Himalayan glaciers: Another climategate? Not quite - FT Energy Source