A leading Dutch environmental agency is taking the blame for one of the glaring errors that undermined the credibility of a United Nations report on climate change, which gave ammunition to global warming skeptics who say the threat of an environmental breakdown is just hype. But the agency said mistakes aside, global warming is still a real threat.
The 3,000-page report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said 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.
But just before the huge climate change summit in Copenhagen last December, mistakes were found in the report that put scientists on the defensive. Perhaps because of the controversy surrounding the report and its errors, the summit was not seen as successful in coming up with ways to curb global warming.
In its review, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency owns up to one mistake, and even found several more. The Associated Press writes:
-- 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 second previously reported error claimed the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035, which the Dutch agency partly traced to a report on the likely shrinking of glaciers by the year 2350.
-- The original report said global warming will put 75 million to 250 million Africans at risk of severe water shortages in the next 10 years, but a recalculation showed that range should be 90 million to 220 million, the agency said.
Despite the errors, the agency said the underlying conclusions of the report remain valid. Maarten Hajer, the Dutch agency's director, said 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 at a news conference.
But he said a summary of the full report, meant as a guideline for policymakers, included conclusions drawn from "expert judgments" that were not always clearly sourced or transparent.
The IPCC said in a statement that it welcomes 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."