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Countdown to Copenhagen

Keith Kloor

On the eve of a historic climate change summit, there are swirling political and scientific currents. India joins the U.S. and China in pledging to reduce its carbon emissions.

While Roger Pielke Jr. argues that India’s announcement is nothing to get excited about, Bradford Plumer at The New Republic suggests otherwise:

“What’s most interesting here is that you’re starting to see, essentially, a race to the top. After Obama announced two weeks ago that the United States would commit to a reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions at Copenhagen, China quickly followed with its own pledge. That, in turn, led to Indian officials telling journalists that their country doesn’t want to be viewed as the laggard in climate talks. (India’s been gaining a reputation, fairly or no, as a major obstacle.) Peer pressure seems to work.”

No amount of peer pressure will likely sway the fiercely independent James Hansen from his conviction that the Copenhagen summit should fail, which is what he told The Guardian in an interview:

“I would rather it [the conference] not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it’s a disaster track. The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation.”

Is Al Gore starting to have his own doubts too? The former U.S. Vice President tells The Times that Copenhagen targets are insufficient to stave off climate catastrophe.

“Even a final treaty will have to set the stage for other tougher reductions at a later date. We have already overshot the safe levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Are we doing enough? The answer is obviously no — 450 [parts per million] is not the right target. But it is presently seen as beyond the capacity of governments around the world. We are stretching the capacity of governments even to hit a 450 target.”

Nonetheless, Gore says Copenhagen is probably the only route to ultimately achieving that 350 target:

“We are gambling with the future of human civilisation in accepting odds that by any definition make our present course reckless . . . But it’s still the most likely path to success.”

Meanwhile, fallout continues from the stolen emails at East Anglia University’s climate unit. As the AP reports, the university said it will conduct its own internal review,

“to determine whether there is any evidence of the manipulation or suppression of data which is at odds with acceptable scientific practice.”

Additionally, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), says that claims of scientific impropriety warrant a UN investigation: As reported in The Telegraph, he told BBC Radio:

‘’We will certainly go into the whole lot and then we will take a position on it. We certainly don’t want to brush anything under the carpet. This is a serious issue and we will look into it in detail.’’

In the meantime, the highly respected American Meteorological Society (AMA) has released a statement on the affair, saying that nothing in the emails suggest that the scientific consensus on climate has been weakened:

“For climate change research, the body of research in the literature is very large and the dependence on any one set of research results to the comprehensive understanding of the climate system is very, very small. Even if some of the charges of improper behavior in this particular case turn out to be true — which is not yet clearly the case — the impact on the science of climate change would be very limited.”

The AMA statement coincides with a Nature editorial, which also declares:

“In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values.”

That may be so, but the public perception of climate science is still taking a huge hit, science journalist Sheril Kirshenbaum argues over at Discover magazine:

“Once ‘ClimateGate’ made the The Daily Show, it became abundantly clear to me that the CRU email hack has had a very negative impact on the credibility of climate science.”

Kirshenbaum specifically points to this acerbic commentary by The Daily Show’s host, Jon Stewart, who chides the climate scientists involved in the scandal.

Finally, in a stunt that rivals the underwater meeting in October held by members of the Maldives government, the Guardian reports:

“Nepal’s cabinet met on Mount Everest today to highlight the threat of global warming to the glaciers and mountains of the Himalayas.”

The Prime Minister of Nepal, outfitted in a thick parka and woolen hat, said the event was sending

“a message to the world to minimise the negative impact of climate change on Mount Everest and other Himalayan mountains.”


  1. Report this comment

    Michael Hammer said:

    Reaslising accountability principles in policy oriented research, such as transparency, including on climate change, is important. But it won’t be helped by people using accountability mechanisms, i.e. ways to exact such accountability that do not fit the sphere of communications and interaction of the epistemological community in question. Conducting a highy mediatised political debate about complex data, scientific methodology and messages between scientists will always fail to get to the issues at stake because there is no common ground for judging what went wrong or right. Politicians, media and scientists have to understand their differences on this to cooperate more productively. Otherwise it is only those who seek to undermine the role of evidence in policy making who will win.

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