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Just when the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change thought it could put mistakes of the fourth assessment report behind it and carry on with its work, fresh instances of alleged manipulations have emerged. The UN climate change panel has admitted that its 2007 report wrongly stated that 55% of the Netherlands lies below the sea level.

This is the second time that IPCC has had to admit to an error in the 2007 assessment report. Even as IPCC is dealing with its admission of a second error, allegations have been made that IPCC’s claim of unequivocal rise in temperature may have been manipulated.

This error is part of the same working group II report which contained the erroneous claim that global warming could melt Himalayan glaciers by 2035.

Earlier this year, the Dutch government had asked IPCC to explain the figure of 55% used in the 2007 report. They pointed out that only 26% of the Netherlands is below sea level. However, it would appear that the 55% figure includes 29% of the country which is prone to flooding. This includes land along the rivers above sea level.

IPCC in its note says that the 55% figure referred to the portion of the Netherlands which was “at risk of being flooded”. The panel maintained that irrespective of the higher figure used in the report, the conclusions continued to be tenable.

“The sea-level statistic was used for background information only, and the updated information remains consistent with the overall conclusions,” an IPCC note states. Further, the UN panel stated that the figure had been used in successive publications to mean “either the area below the highest sea-level reached during storms, or the total area of the country that is prone to flooding from the sea and rivers.”

Nonetheless, the panel accepted its mistake: “Therefore, a preliminary analysis suggests that the sentence discussed should end with: Because 55% of The Netherlands is at risk of flooding.”

For the troubled UN panel there appears to be no respite. Some researchers have alleged widespread and systematic tampering of data suggesting to a grossly overstated case for global warming. A report co-written by Anthony Watts, an American meteorologist and climate sceptic, shows photographs of weather stations near heat-generating equipment which could be distorting their readings. Some stations are located next to air-conditioning units or on waste-treatment plants or waste incinerator.

IPCC used data from the weather stations to back up claims that greenhouse gases had already caused a 0.7 degree centigrade rise in temperature, and gave warnings that further warming of up to 6C by 2100. Mr Watts study though not peer reviewed is backed by Professor John Christy, a former lead author on IPCC who specialises in atmospheric science at the University of Alabama, Huntsville.

This latest spate of admission of error and allegations could well help strengthen the claims of climate sceptics. IPCC, the definitive climate change panel, has been under attack since December, with the email leaks from the University of East Anglia, followed by faulty conclusions on the Himalayan glaciers, and now misrepresentation on the Netherlands.

The allegations of error range from typos in key dates to sloppy sourcing. This current round of mistakes is likely strengthen the claims of climate sceptics and force environmentalists back to square one and focus on proving that climate change is a threat, instead of the considering ways to deal with and stop it.

Economic Times of India, 16 February 2010