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See Inside May 2010

IPCC Errors Prompt a Review on Climate Science Data

African crop yields wither, along with the Amazon rain forest; Himalayan glaciers disappear by 2035. These are the erroneous predictions ascribed to the most recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—a document reviewed by some 2,500 scientists and other experts as well as vetted by officials from more than 190 countries. So do the few errors in a report exceeding 3,000 pages merit a revision of IPCC processes?

That question will face a panel to be assembled by the InterAcademy Council (IAC) in Amsterdam, a composite board of many of the world’s national scientific bodies, including the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. “This will be an independent review,” says physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, president of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and IAC co-chair, about the evaluation requested by the U.N. and the IPCC. “We are ready to take on the important task of assuring nations around the world that they will receive sound climate advice.”

The IAC hopes to have the panel’s report by August. The U.N. will provide financial support for travel and meeting expenses, but the work of the review will be done for free. The panel will definitely not go through “the vast amount of data in climate science,” Dijkgraaf explains. “What it will do is see what the procedures are and how they can be improved. How can we avoid, perhaps, that certain types of errors are not made?”

Dijkgraaf should know. After all, one of the IPCC errors came as a result of information provided directly by the Dutch government about the percentage of the Netherlands that lies below sea level and is therefore vulnerable to flooding from rising seas. The government corrected the percentage in a subsequent statement, from 55 to 26 percent of the country as lying below sea level.

The panel will also determine how the IPCC treats the multiplicity of opinions within various domains of climate science, such as oceanographers who disagree on the rate of sea-level rise. “We were specifically asked in our review to analyze how the IPCC deals with diverse scientific perspectives,” Dijkgraaf says. “Any science goes through periodic outside review. It only strengthens the science.”

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