Negotiators and top scientists at United Nations climate talks on Monday slammed the theft of emails from experts at a British university as a bid to discredit overwhelming opinion about man-made global warming.
At ceremonies opening the 12-day negotiations, the head of the UN’s Nobel-winning panel of scientists branded the so-called “Climategate” affair as a suspected attempt to tarnish his organisation.
“Given the wide-ranging nature of change that is likely to be taken in hand, some naturally find it inconvenient to accept its inevitability,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chairperson of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts, perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC.”
Pachauri proudly defended the IPCC’s reputation as an arena for weighing scientific evidence fairly, neutrally and objectively.
The emails, hacked last month, have been seized on by climate sceptics as evidence that scientists distorted data to dramatise the threat of global warming.
Some of the thousands of messages, purloined from scientists at Britain’s East Anglia, a top centre for climate research, expressed frustration at the scientists’ inability to explain what they described as a temporary slowdown in warming.
They also discussed ways to counter the campaigns of climate naysayers.
The affair, dubbed “Climategate”, has provoked a firestorm of controversy, especially in the United States.
“It has sucked up all the oxygen,” said James Overland, an Arctic specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in Copenhagen Monday to open a US-sponsored science centre.
“It just happens to be the topic of the moment,” said Jonathan Pershing, deputy head of the US delegation at the December 7 to 18 UN talks.
“It is a misrepresentation of the robustness of science. What we end with is that our understanding of the issues is not different … I look at this and I think to myself, it’s opportunistic.”
Major oil exporter Saudi Arabia, though, said the affair had “definitely shaken” confidence in climate scientists and demanded an international investigation, rather than an internal probe by the IPCC.
“The level of trust is definitely shaken, especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement that … is going to mean sacrifices for our economies,” said Mohammed al-Sabban, the kingdom’s top climate negotiator.
Sabban called for an “independent” international investigation, saying that the UN climate science body was unqualified to carry it out.
The IPCC co-won the 2007 Nobel Peace prize for its series of massive reports on global warming.
Its landmark publication, the Fourth Assessment Report, declared that the evidence of warming was “unequivocal” and damage to glaciers, snowfall and changing seasons were among the signs that climate change was already on the march.
The alarm triggered by this report helped drive a two-year process towards Copenhagen, which is tasked with forging a deal to reduce carbon emissions and help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change.
In remarks to Agence France-Presse, Pachauri said he did not believe that the affair would sway the opinion of people who had carefully weighed the evidence for or against climate change.
“I think people are informed enough to realise that the Fourth Assessment Report is completely objective, totally unbiased and solid in its scientific assessment.
“The only debate is who is behind it, I think we should catch the culprits,” he said. — AFP