The theft and release of the University of East Anglia emails is nothing more than a “recreational distraction” to the Copenhagen climate summit, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachauri said at a news conference today.
Yet immediately after he said it, another senior IPCC member said he believed that his colleagues have, from the very beginning, underestimated the potential effect of the email story on public understanding of climate science - and public support for action in Copenhagen.
Pachauri (or “Pachy,” as he seems to be known among his friends) had called a news conference on the “Scientific Basis” for climate change. It wound up being a review of the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, a reiteration of news that “the warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”
The question (which I posed and which Pachauri did not answer) was whether the UNFCCC or the IPCC would have felt such a conference was necessary had the emails not been used so effectively to call the science into question.
Pachauri rose specifically and forcefully to the defence of the IPCC. He and his co-presenters described the process of review thre number of scientists, the range of different sources and the extent of the review. The IPCC fielded and either incorporated or responded to 20,000 reviewer comments, after which the entire Summary for Policy Makers was subjected to word-by-word review and acceptance by all the governments that are party to the convention - including such would-be denier nations as Saudi Arabia.
“To devise an ogranization today to come up with something to meet the needs of the world, you would invent something that is clearly identical to what the IPCC is,” Pachauri concluded.
Yet the emails have been used effectively and repeatedly to undermine public confidence, and that effort is likely to redouble, especially if those assembled here in Copenhagen actually come to an agreement. The Senate Republican letter demanding an independent investigation, for example, must be considered as a shot across the bow. The Senate minority won’t just quibble about any concessions that President Barack Obama makes here this week, they will deny the necessity to have even attended the conference. (Another bow shot: Sarah Palin says Barack Obama should boycott Copenhagen climate talks).
So, regardless of how sincerely Pachauri has said that the science is sound and the opportunity for denial over, the argument - the email-fueled argument - is just starting to heat up.