The Impact of "Climategate"

One of the most prominent media frenzies surrounding the COP 15 is the so-called “Climategate” scandal. Here is a brief assessment of its impact on Copenhagen.

Has the incident affected the mood of the COP?

Those in Copenhagen for this conference are nearly all here with an agenda and set views on climate change. To believe that the delegates, climate activists, or deniers present have altered their views on climate change as a result of the leaked e-mails would be misguided. Aside from comments made by a Saudi delegate suggesting that anthropogenic climate change may be a myth, there is no indication that any countries participating have modified their respective stances on a climate change treaty. If there is no comprehensive agreement reached by the end of the COP, it is very unlikely to be a result of this “scandal”.

Nonetheless, public opinion on climate change has undoubtedly been impacted. This will probably make ratification by national parliaments a more complicated matter if a treaty is produced in the near future.

**The IPCC response in person

I attended a side-event put on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) yesterday, where many of the bigwigs of the organization (Pachauri, Stocker, Barros, Field, etc…) were participants in a panel. The event was meant to address the progress of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC, due sometime in 2014, but it was predictably sidetracked into a Q&A session on “climategate” for the first 30 minutes.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the organization, continued to stand by all the scientists involved, claiming that “the only issue is to find out who is behind this” (referring to the stealing of e-mail records). He responded defensively to many questions posed by journalists, affirming that there was no need for an investigation looking into wrongdoings by Phil Jones and the rest of his Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia.

While it is understandably difficult to turn his back on a colleague, Pachauri is holding a position that only weakens the legitimacy of the IPCC. Despite the incident finding its source in the illegal retrieval of private e-mails, the fact is that Jones is likely to have engaged in fraudulent behavior. Continuing to deny the possibility of fraud is tantamount to accepting flawed science. The IPCC has been the single most important institution in bringing climate change to the forefront of international debates, and this is only because it was founded as an organization committed to objectivity.

Calling all recent climate science into question as a result of this seemingly isolated incident is ludicrous. Phil Jones is only one of 450 lead authors of the Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 by the IPCC, and the reasoning that leads one to believe that 1 bad climate scientist is equivalent to 450 of them is unjustified. Still, it is essential that Pachauri launch an investigation into potential transgressions within his organization to demonstrate that the IPCC is dedicated to good science, and not science with an agenda. His current attitude is certainly not helping.

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