U.N. climate panel reviews Dutch sea level glitch

OSLO (Reuters) - The U.N.’s panel of climate experts said on Friday it was reviewing whether it wrongly said that more than half of the Netherlands is below sea level in a new glitch after exaggerating the thaw of Himalayan glaciers.

A road sign is seen in front of the Kharola glacier some 200km (125 miles), west of Lhasa Tibet Autonomous Region November 25, 2009. REUTERS/Nir Elias

“We are looking into it,” said Brenda Abrar-Milani, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based Secretariat of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

A 2007 report stretching to about 3,000 pages includes the sentence that “the Netherlands is an example of a country highly susceptible to both sea-level rise and river flooding because 55 percent of its territory is below sea level.”

But the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, which supplied the data, said on Friday that it should have read that “55 percent of the Netherlands is at risk of flooding.”

Only 26 percent of the country is below sea level and 29 percent susceptible to river flooding, such as along the Meuse and Waal rivers well above sea level, it said in a statement.

“The Netherlands is sensitive to climate change. Sea level rise as well as peak river discharges require precautionary measures. The incorrect wording in the IPCC report does not affect this conclusion,” it said.


Earlier, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) defended the panel, saying that an error linked to the Himalayas did not affect overall conclusions that global warming is caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels.

The panel “remains without doubt the best and most solid foundation” for assessing climate change, said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, which sponsors the IPCC.

Steiner said criticisms of the IPCC and its chairman Rajendra Pachauri had reached “almost witch-hunting proportions in some quarters” as that some wrongly dismissed “climate change as a hoax on a par with the Y2K computer bug.”

Steiner said it was right to expose errors and re-check sources and also right that the panel had acknowledged a need for tougher controls.

“But let us also put aside a myth that the science of climate change is holed below the water line and is sinking fast on a sea of falsehoods,” he wrote in the article, distributed by international non-profit group Project Syndicate.

Steiner said a “typographical error” was at the root of the error in the report that projected that the Himalayas could all melt by 2035. One original source had spoken of the world’s glaciers melting by 2350, not 2035.

“The IPCC is as fallible as the human beings that comprise it,” he wrote.

The Himalayan error -- and exposure of poor checks and reliance on “grey literature” outside peer-reviewed journals -- has damaged the IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President and climate campaigner Al Gore.

The IPCC concluded in 2007 that it is more than 90 percent certain that mankind is the main cause of global warming by burning fossil fuels. climate change could cause more droughts, floods, disease, species extinctions and rising sea levels.

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Editing by Robin Pomeroy