UN climate panel admits Dutch sea level flaw

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The UN panel of climate experts overstated how much of the Netherlands is below sea level, according to a preliminary report on Saturday (13 February), admitting yet another flaw after a row last month over Himalayan glacier melt.

A background note by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said a 2007 report wrongly stated that 55% of the country was below sea level since the figure included areas above sea level, prone to flooding along rivers.

The United Nations has said errors in the 2007 report of about 3,000 pages do not affect the core conclusions that human activities, led by burning fossil fuels, are warming the globe.

"The sea level statistic was used for background information only, and the updated information remains consistent with the overall conclusions," the IPCC note dated 12 February said.

Sceptics say errors have exposed sloppiness and over-reliance on "grey literature" outside leading scientific journals. The panel's reports are a main guide for governments seeking to work out costly policies to combat global warming.

The 2007 report included the sentence: "The Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea level rise and river flooding because 55% of its territory is below sea level."

"A preliminary analysis suggests that the sentence discussed should end with: 'because 55% of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding'," the IPCC note said.

The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, the original source of the incorrect data, said on 5 February that just 26% of the country is below sea level and 29% susceptible to river flooding.

The IPCC said the error was widespread. It quoted a report from the Dutch Ministry of Transport saying "about 60%" of the country is below sea level, and a European Commission study saying "about half".

The panel expressed regret last month after admitting that the 2007 report exaggerated the pace of melt of the Himalayan glaciers, which feed rivers from China to India in dry seasons, in a sentence that said they could all vanish by 2035 (EURACTIV 26/01/10).

The 2035 figure did not come from a scientific journal.

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading climate change research body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The organisation publishes reports assessing the latest scientific information on climate change, which are widely used by governments as a basis for policymaking.

The IPCC has recently come under the spotlight for claiming in its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report that Himalayan glaciers are in danger of disappearing by 2035. The Indian government questioned this assumption in a report published last year (EURACTIV 16/12/09), the findings of which IPPC chairman Rajendra Pachauri dismissed as "voodoo science".

Nevertheless, on 20 January 2010, the IPCC was forced to issue a statement admitting to having made a mistake regarding the rate at which Himalayan glaciers are disappearing.

"In drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly," the statement said. "The chair, vice-chairs and co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance."

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):Homepage

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