The Press editorial:
For those concerned about climate change and trying to persuade politicians and populations that something must be done about it, these are not good times.
First, there was the hacking of emails from one of the world centres for climate research, at the University of East Anglia, some of which show scientists behaving in ways that fall far short of the candour and integrity expected of top researchers.
Then there was the disappointment of Copenhagen, where an attempt to agree on a legally binding accord that would give the world something to succeed the Kyoto Protocol was sunk, primarily by the machinations of China and India.
And since then it has emerged that two rather startling predictions of climate-change disaster turn out to rest on nothing more substantial than a magazine interview and an article by non-scientific members of a pressure group.
And the combination of these events means that there will be no reductions in emissions in the foreseeable future. As I calculated a few weeks ago, China’s growth in emissions alone massively out-strips any reductions the rest of the world might make.
For all their headline-grabbing appeal, the glacier and the Amazonian rainforest stories are, so far as the science is concerned, insignificant. Far graver, from this point of view, are the underhand practices of particular climate researchers revealed in the leaked emails. Both stories do, however, severely damage public trust that the IPCC operates according to the most rigorous standards.
There is a mass of evidence that suggests that man-made climate change is a problem and that political action will need to be taken to avert severe consequences for the globe. But that evidence, like all scientific evidence, must be properly weighed and must be subject to challenge. That is necessary not only to get good science but also to get the public consensus required for any action that may need to be taken.
What is interesting is that no one in the IPCC seems to have realised the damage done by the e-mails and the false claims. They keep repeating the mantra that it doesn’t undermine the basic linkage – and while they may be right scientifically, they are wrong politically.
These articles about the failings of the IPCC are not on obscure blogs or Page 23 of newspapers. They are appearing almost daily on front pages around the world. Even liberal newspapers such as the Guardian have devoted considerable space to the problems in the IPCC reports.
Business as normal will not work for the IPCC. Too much damage has occurred. There needs to be some resignations and some sort of announcement of additional fact checking if they want their next report to have influence.