Science report: Low-down on the IPCC errors

A few months ago, we had “Climategate,” the leak of climate scientists’ emails.  And now, on the heels of Climategate, we get “Glaciergate,” “Amazongate,” “Seagate,” and more…  Yikes!  What’s this all about!?!?

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the Nobel-prize winning UN body of thousands of scientists (as well as what we at ACE base most of our content on) has come under attack.

This is definitely a matter of concern, because if the IPCC, as the foundation of the current best climate science out there, isn’t right, then the whole argument that people are causing climate change and that we should DO SOMETHING about it gets called into question.

Okay – let’s take a look at what all the hype is about…


There have been a few errors found in the 2007 IPCC report (read on to find out what they are…), but they are pretty small, especially compared with the mountain of other data and evidence in the full report.  Most of the science in the IPCC comes from published science papers, which means it was independently checked out well before it became part of the IPCC.

Just for a sense of perspective, here are some stats:

-            2 errors found in the report

-            over 1000 pages in each section

-            18,000 scientific references / citations

-            450 lead authors

-            over 800 contributing authors

-            3 stages of review

-            more than 2,500 reviewers

-            submitted about 90,000 comments, all of which are in the public record (see here).

Wow!  This is a hefty bit of research.  It’s probably one of the biggest synthesis efforts ever done, on any subject!

So, what’s all the fuss about?

Here are the 2 actual errors found in the report:


One place in the report said that 80% of Himalayan glaciers could be gone by 2035.  This was cited to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), but was not true.  These glaciers should be around for a couple hundred more years – yay!

(Also worth noting that other sections of the report actually used more accurate numbers for things like calculating sea level rise, so this error didn’t impact any of the other conclusions of the report.)


This said that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level, but it’s actually 26%.  55% is below high-water level during a storm.  Oops!  Again, this mistake didn’t impact any other information in the report, though.

The revelation of these two mistakes has led to a big flurry in the media over several other IPCC “errors” – which have all turned out not to be errors after all.  The most publicized one is “Amazongate,” where one reporter accused the IPCC of being wrong when they said, “Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation.”

This fact was also cited to a WWF report that didn’t contain that statistic.  Turns out that it is TRUE that this much of the Amazon is really sensitive to rainfall, but that the wrong papers were cited.  The authors who published the studies actually wrote to the reporter before he published his story about this, but it got published without the scientists’ comments anyway.  (You can read the full blow-by-blow here or here.)

Phew!  LOTS of smoke over a pretty tiny fire.

Ironically enough, what many IPCC scientists believe is the REAL problem with the IPCC is that it’s too conservative in its results and it underestimated some of its findings – particularly sea level rise.  (Read more about this at RealClimate here.)

Despite all this brouhaha (Wow!  I can’t believe that just spell-checked!), these small errors really don’t at all undermine the big picture of whether people, by burning fossil fuels, are the ones responsible for climate change.

This primary conclusion of the IPCC, that it is very likely that people are the cause of most of climate change, still stands totally solid and intact and valid.

And, with that conclusion, comes the question that we still haven’t answered yet:

What are we going to do about it??


  • Julie

    See above link to see what the non alarmist say (you should see both sides): please visit above site.
    It is off Senator Imhofe's website. As a concerned parent of a child who was told/shown the acespace program that Global warming is for sure and based on all facts…I am not to thrilled with this “educational” site that also leads to political agendas. Kids beware of who is using you to sway votes. Research yourself many sources.
    You may also be alarmed that the maker of this website is an exec from BP, but on their green side which stands to gain finacially if they get tax money to fund them (your money).
    Why would an educational site link you to political sites??? (so funding is approved for them).
    Why would an educational site funded by a bp exec not discuss emailing legislators for the gulf oil cleanup and demand action on that (I see alot of coal issues and prom dresses..Why not oil ??–b/c the funder/ founder works for bp!)
    Kids, question people who don't show you all sides…All for recycling and alt power (a good thing) but
    this site has another agenda. Teachers- be weary as well showing this at your school…

  • Greensarahmc

    Rebecca– Once again thanks for sharing.

  • Swatkins626

    Your 'research' is lacking in several facts. A.C.E. receives bi-partisan political support. A.C.E. has hundreds of businesses and individuals that contribute financially to the mission of providing students with the most up-to-date information on climate change. The A.C.E. presentation presents a great deal of information about the relationship between dependency on fossil fuels and global warming…. Encouraging students to decrease their demand for fossil fuels like oil could eventually prevent disasters like the recent tragedy in the Gulf Region as one person at a time we strive to find ways to be less oil-dependent. Finally, the scientific evidence for climate change IS overwhelming. Its unfortunate that you feel threatened by your high school student's empowerment to think for his or her self.

  • Guest

    Sorry-don’t use my kid for your agenda- there should be NO LINKS to legislators with a form letter-I don’t think public schools can or should have this shown due to that as well. The topic is not settled as far as Global warming-I am ALL FOR protection of the earth, I am not for using data that has been “tweaked” (“hide the decline” CRU emails) , and while there may be many donors now-the original funder/founder stands to gain with emails to legislators from 14 yr olds with the form letter (and the legislators won’t know it’s a teen). We need to protect our earth, and I am all for education. I am not the only one who feels this way. Here is the link to the CRU emails showing deceit:(on gvt website)

    Link to senate report with more info:

    I agree kids should be able to think for themself and be shown all info-including normal
    changes from cooling/warming/cooling/etc. -exactly my point. No scare tactics required.