ClimateGate Overshadows Climate Change At Copenhagen

| Tue Dec. 8, 2009 11:49 AM EST

The past decade has been the warmest on record, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization. But in the early days of the Copenhagen summit, climate change is in danger of being overshadowed by the so-called ClimateGate affair.

Climate skeptics and dirty energy front groups falsely claim that a decade's worth of emails stolen from the a climate research unit at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom are a smoking gun proving that scientists have colluded to make the case for global warming appear stronger than it really is. In fact, nothing in the messages challenges the finding by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—the premier body of climate scientists organized by the United Nations—that the evidence of climate change is "unequivocal." Yet ClimateGate seems to be the main topic of interest for many of the 5,000 journalists here. I've been quizzed about it on several television programs, and yesterday I spotted British climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton dishing on the affair to a gaggle of avid journalists. Scientists and leaders at the summit are being bombarded with questions about the "controversy." 

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The new data from the World Meteorological Organization suggests that the decade of 2000 to 2009 "is very likely to be the warmest on record, warmer than the 1990s, than the 1980s and so on," according to Michel Jarraud, the agency's secretary-general. This year is expected to be the fifth-warmest year on record. However, the IPCC cautions that studies of temperature increases over short periods should not on their own be taken as definiteive proof of climate change, because there is so much climate variability within the course of a decade. What's most important is the body of evidence of a long-term, incremental warming trend, Thomas F. Stocker, co-chair of the IPCC working group that studies the science of climate change, told Mother Jones on Tuesday. 

IPCC chief Rajendra Pachauri directly addressed the ClimateGate issue in his opening address. The case for climate change is "based on measurements made by many independent institutions worldwide that demonstrate significant changes on land, in the atmosphere, the oceans and in the ice- covered areas of the earth," he said. This research has been subject to "extensive and repeated review by experts as well as governments." He concluded: "The internal consistency from the multiple lines of evidence strongly supports the work of the scientific community, including those individuals singled out in these e-mail exchanges."

Bottom line: The planet is getting hot, fast, and world leaders need to do something about it. The ClimateGate flap could prove a dangerous distraction from that task.

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