Expert reaction to the launch of the Climate Change Emails inquiry

Last year saw the start of the ‘Climategate’ email controversy, in which it was claimed that top climate scientists from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia had behaved inappropriately.

Since then, an official enquiry has been launched to look into the issue, and our colleagues at the UK SMC gathered comment from UK experts on the subject.

Professor Robert A. Spicer, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the Open University, said:

“Whatever the inquiry finds, we must not lose site of the fact that the UEA data set is just one among many that demonstrate the fact that the overall global average temperature is rising and that greenhouse gas concentrations are now higher than anything seen before in human history.  This is something to be deeply concerned about.

“I am often asked if I ‘believe in global warming’ as if the topic were a religion.  It is not a case of belief, it is a case of evaluating evidence and the evidence is overwhelming that warming is happening at an alarming rate.

“Some people may choose to deny the collective work of thousands of researchers around the world in order to promote their own agendas, but this does not change the facts of basic physics and an abundance of observation.  Climate change will not go away if we choose to ignore it.  At some point large numbers of people will suffer through lack of collective action, and at least when that happens my conscience will be clear.

“Regarding the IPCC, yes some avoidable errors have been made, but again this does not negate the vast majority of the data.  After all the IPCC merely collates and distils data, it does not make the observations itself.  If anything the need for consensus, and the reliance on climate models that are inherently anchored in the present and therefore conservative, suggest the IPCC predictions are likely to underestimate the degree of future change.  The future is likely to offer far more possibilities for economic social and political instability, driven by climate change, than most people realise.”

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science, said:

“The terms of reference for the independent review are clear, the proposed work plan looks thorough, and the members of the Review team have both authority and credibility.  The main challenge for the Review team is to carry out a rigorous investigation while still being able to publish their results in a timely manner.  It is now almost three months since the emails appeared on the web, and many people have already had access to them and read about them in the media and on blogs.  Many people will have already made their own interpretations about what they show.  In particular, some commentators have already taken on the role of judge and jury, pronouncing on the guilt of those involved and calling for their resignations.  The Review team need to be fair to all concerned, but they may ultimately have difficulty persuading people to accept a verdict that does not match the conclusions that many people have already reached themselves.”