Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Colleague defends 'ClimateGate' professor

Laptop keyboard (Image: PA)

A colleague of the UK professor at the centre of the climate e-mails row says "sceptics" have embarked on a "tabloid-style character assassination".

Professor Andrew Watson rallied to the defence of climate scientist Phil Jones, whose e-mail exchanges prompted claims that data had been manipulated.

There was no evidence of attempting to mislead people, Professor Watson added.

The University of East Anglia has commissioned an independent inquiry into the affair.

"Despite the best efforts of the sceptics, there is no instance in these e-mails that anyone has found so far - and there are millions of people looking - that suggests the scientists manipulated their fundamental data," Professor Watson, from the university's School of Environmental Sciences, stated.

19 Nov - Rumours appear on blogs that a hacker had obtained emails from CRU computers
20 Nov - UEA confirms emails and documents from CRU had appeared illegally on the internet
23 Nov - Climate "sceptics" say the e-mails show that data is being manipulated and call for an inquiry
1 Dec - Man at centre of row, Professor Phil Jones, stands down while inquiry is conducted
3 Dec - Saudi chief negotiator says row proves climate change is not caused by humans
3 Dec - UEA commission Sir Muir Russell, a former civil servant, to chair an independent inquiry
4 Dec - Head of UN climate science body says matter cannot be swept "under the carpet"

The row broke out last month when hundreds of messages between scientists at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) and their peers around the world were put on the internet along with other documents.

Some observers allege that one of e-mails suggested CRU head Professor Phil Jones wanted certain papers excluded from the UN's next major assessment of climate science.

Professor Jones, who has stood aside from his job pending the results of an internal review, strenuously denies this was his intention and says other e-mails have been taken out of context.

Critics of the scientific consensus have claimed that the e-mails undermine the case that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing global warming, and have dubbed the issue "ClimateGate".

Professor Watson added: "The climate sceptics would have us believe the e-mails invalidate the CRU data set, but they don't.

"They would have us believe that the warming that has occurred during the 20th Century is a construct entirely in the minds of a few climate scientists.

"But this point of view surely has some difficulty in explaining why Arctic sea ice is declining so rapidly, mountain glaciers around the world are retreating so rapidly, and Spring is coming much earlier now than it did 50 years ago."

'Serious issue'

Earlier, the head of the UN's climate science body said the issue should be investigated.

Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said the matter could not be swept "under the carpet".

"We will certainly go into the whole lot and then we will take a position on it," he said.

Saudi Arabia's lead climate negotiator told BBC News that the e-mail row will have a "huge impact" on next week's UN climate summit in Copenhagen.

Mohammad Al-Sabban said that he expected it to derail the single biggest objective of the summit - to agree limitations on greenhouse gas emissions.

"It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change," he suggested.

However, the UK's Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, said the idea that the e-mail row would derail the Copenhagen summit was "nonsense".


"One string of e-mails does not undermine the global science on climate change," he told BBC News.

"There will be people who want to use it to say that this somehow casts doubt on Copenhagen or the scientific evidence; frankly, I think that is nonsense and I think we need to resist listening to those siren voices."

The University of East Anglia has commissioned an independent review into how the e-mails ended up on the internet, in addition to a police investigation into how the material was obtained.

The review will cover a number of areas, including whether there is evidence of suppression or manipulation of data, and make recommendations about the management of its data.

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