On November 20, thousands of e-mails and other files stolen from the University of East Anglia’s climate-research unit were posted on the Internet. The documents suggest that the university’s data included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report was manipulated to suppress conflicting evidence.
Since then, the public response from the scientific community has been minimal. But two of Canada’s prominent climate-change experts have taken the scandal head-on.
University of Manitoba climate scientist David Barber dismissed allegations that the United Nations body’s report rested on the work of UEA. He described this as “nonsense”.
“We don’t make decisions as a civilization based on four people,” Barber told the Georgia Straight. “The whole concept [of the IPCC] is to synthesize research results from all over the planet, in all the different facets of climate change.”
Barber, who specializes in Arctic sea ice, explained that UEA’s primary contribution to the IPCC was a general circulation model for global temperatures. But many other groups have performed similar studies. Furthermore, Barber said, temperature readings for those studies are taken around the world. The IPCC then synthesizes all of that information and combines it with observational data on things like sea ice, permafrost, ocean acidification, and so on.
The research performed at UEA was “just one little piece”, Barber said. “If this is true, and they did cook the numbers for this one data set”¦what about all the other ones?”
Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria and a lead author of three IPCC assessment reports, described the whole situation as “ridiculous”. He noted that although skeptics of human-caused climate change decry UEA’s data as manipulated, they continue to cite it as evidence of a decade-long period of global cooling.
“They don’t actually care whether anything they’re doing is consistent,” Weaver said.
He explained that there are three research centres widely cited for their work on temperature records: UEA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Of the three, it is only UEA’s numbers that describe 1998 as the warmest year on record. NOAA’s and NASA’s figures indicate that 2005 held the highest average global temperature ever recorded.
“You can’t, on the one hand, say, ”˜This data record is absolute shite,’ ” Weaver emphasized, “and on the other, say that the planet has been cooling for 10 years.”
He decried the time the world has spent talking about a conspiracy allegedly involving tens of thousands of scientists, and emphasized the importance of the upcoming climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“This is our last chance, as a world, to deal with this problem,” Weaver said. “If we do not come out of Copenhagen with a strong, binding agreement, we can kiss two degrees goodbye.”
You can follow Travis Lupick on Twitter at twitter.com/tlupick.