14 December, 2009

The CRU-Hack affair will end with transparent science

An independent review of CRU’s scientific production will be undertaken to clear any remaining doubts about the reliability of its findings. The critical data banks will be rebuilt transparently and independently.

Sergio Abranches

UK climate scientists, although worried about the potential for negative effects on the credibility of their work, have no doubt about the quality of the science done at CRU. Their confidence on the scientific outcomes notwithstanding, they are taking several important steps to ensure that the credibility of climate change science is not harmed by the affair. CRU’s work will be subject to a thorough independent review to clear any suspicion of fraudulent behavior.

Richard Betts, Met Office’s Head of Climate Change, told me yesterday they will rebuilt CRU’s data bank from the scratch on a transparent and verifiable way, to eliminate any objection to the data’s validity. He says these procedures are to make science clearer and still more credible, despite their total confidence on the integrity of scientific procedures and quality of its findings. The Met Office is UK’s top climate research institution.

Years of email files, many of them an exchange of opinion between climate scientists about their work and colleagues, were recently stolen from CRU, East Anglia University Climate Research Unit, and were uploaded to the WEB. The hack affair, as the case is known, led to a barrage of allegations of fraud and criticisms by climate change deniers.

I’ve talked to numerous climate scientists since the story came out, and found not a single one who would accept the idea that the findings on global warming are anything but solid and clear.

CRU is not the only research institution that provides data to UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), not even the world’s most important climate research center. Independent review of publications and independent replication of data analysis prevent fraud to a very large extent, they all say.

Nevertheless, there is a growing concern that the political repercussions and the media extensive coverage of the case, in many instances giving wide space to the uproar of the so-called skeptics, might harm climate science and climate change politics at a very delicate moment.

COP15 is moving on the brink. There’s never been as good an opportunity as the Copenhagen summit to seal a sound deal on global warming mitigation and adaptation. The level of interest, pressure, and support is unprecedented. It shows in the numbers. Media coverage has never been so wide, the largest multinational army ever present at a COP, journalists from TV, newspapers, radio, web sites, writers, videographers, photographers, takes over the media center and all press briefings, plenaries, and side events. The range of NGOs and specialized institutions presenting research, studies, documents, films, and bringing distinguished personalities, Nobel prize winners as different as Wangari Maathai and Elinor Ostrom, celebrities, and renowned scientists to add their voices to the demand for an ambitious deal, has no precedent in the history of climate change summits. The number of heads of state who will be in Copenhagen for the closing summit will be the largest ever since the Rio 92 summit.

Yet many of the gridlocks that have been blocking a climate change deal for years remain in place. Last Friday the so-called technical phase of the meeting closed with several issues still unresolved. COP15 president Connie Hedegaard immediately started informal consultations with the ministers, initiating the political phase ahead of schedule in an attempt to expedite the analysis of these gridlocks. An informal consultation among ministers held on Saturday led to the decision to use the two documents that were tabled by the Chairs of the two main Working Groups, on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and on the Climate Convention (AWG-LCA) as a basis for the final resolution. On Sunday a second informal consultation – people nicknamed “pre-COP” – decided to focus on measurable, reportable and verifiable commitments and finance. The two core issues gridlocking the deal. Today another informal consultation will be held by the president, prior to the first COP15 plenary of ministers.

Scientists want to make sure that doubts about the science of climate change are not used as an excuse for political objections to a deal. They’ve brought new simulations based on different sets of data showing that we are really running out of time. To have a 50-50 per cent chance of keeping global warming within the 2oC, emissions will have to peak in five years. The science remains clear and time is getting shorter everyday. The talks have stalled today. President Connie Hedgaard is trying to get them moving again in a series of informal consultations.

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