Mistakes in U.N. report fueled skeptics’ claims
THE HAGUE, Netherlands – A leading Dutch environmental agency, taking the blame for one of the glaring errors that undermined the credibility of a seminal U.N. report on climate change, said Monday it has discovered more small mistakes and urged the panel to be more careful.
But the review by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency claimed that none of the errors affected the fundamental conclusion by a U.N. panel of scientists that global warming caused by humans already is happening and is threatening the lives and well-being of millions of people.
Mistakes discovered in the 3,000-page report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last year fed into an atmosphere of skepticism over the reliability of climate scientists who have been warning for many years that human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases could have catastrophic consequences, including rising sea levels, drought and the extinction of nearly one-third of the Earth’s species.
The underlying IPCC conclusions remain valid, said Maarten Hajer, the Dutch agency’s director. The IPCC report is not a house of cards that collapses with one error, but is more like a puzzle with many pieces that need to fit together. “So the errors do not affect the whole construction,” he said.
But he said the boiled-down version of the full IPCC report, a synthesis meant as a guideline for policymakers, included conclusions drawn from “expert judgments” that were not always clearly sourced or transparent.
With some conclusions, “we can’t say it’s plainly wrong. We don’t know,” and can’t tell from the supporting text, Hajer said. The IPCC should “be careful making generalizations.”
The IPCC welcomed the agency’s findings, which it said confirmed the IPCC’s conclusion that “continued climate change will pose serious challenges to human well-being and sustainable development.”
The Dutch agency accepted responsibility for one mistake by the IPCC when it reported in 2005 that 55 percent of the Netherlands is below sea level, when only 26 percent is. The report should have said 55 percent is prone to flooding, including river flooding.
The error happened when a long report was compressed into a short one, and two figures were meshed into one. “Something was lost, and it wasn’t spotted,” Hajer said.