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Copenhagen and carbon: Does Cambridge have the answer?
Skidoos at work in Antarctica
Skidoos at work at a British Antarctic Survey station

In the light of 'ClimateGate', Cambridge Scientists have confirmed the dangers of global warming.

The British Antarctic Survey's Athena Dinar said: "Climate change is one of the biggest issues facing society today and society needs to address it now."

If ice sheets in the southern hemisphere continue to deteriorate, northern countries could be the first affected.

The consequences of global warming will be addressed at the UN climate summit.


On Tuesday 17 November, a file including over 1000 e-mails either sent from, or sent to, members of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, was downloaded on the RealClimate website.

Ice melting in the Antarctic
Over 90 per cent of the world's ice is in Antarctica, and it's melting

The file also contained meteorological station data used for research by CRU into the rate of the Earth's warming over the past 150 years.

Some of the correspondence seemed to suggest that climate change was not entirely the fault of mankind.

The hacking of this material is now being investigated, but the scientific community has, for the most part, rallied to contradict this implication.

It has been suggested that phrases were cherry-picked from the e-mails and taken out of context. The correspondence was also published to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen (COP15).

Scientists who have read the e-mails maintain that they contain no evidence of a cover-up, a conspiracy or the falsification of data.

Meanwhile, the summit gets under way and will see representatives from 192 countries coming together for two weeks to discuss global warming and its consequences.


Based in Cambridge, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has been leading research into the effects warmer climates are having not only on that continent, but the knock-on effects for the rest of the world.

Athena Dinar, who has recently visited the Antarctic peninsular as part of a BAS expedition, told BBC Cambridgeshire that the temperature there had increased by three degrees in the last 50 years.

"The consequences of that are that the glaciers are retreating - 85 per cent of the glaciers have retreated there and we're seeing ice shelves collapsing.

"Antarctica has 90 per cent of the world's ice and 70 per cent of the world's fresh water. If that starts melting, it is going to have a devastating consequence for society."

She also pointed out that melting ice in the southern hemisphere will affect countries in the north, first. Here in East Anglia, we are below sea level. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

Seeing REDD

Rebecca Willers, who manages Shepreth Wildlife Park in the south of the county has just returned from a fact-finding trip to Indonesia.

Female emperor penguin in Antarctica
A female emperor penguin enjoying the chill in Antarctica

The park has an enviable reputation for its breeding programmes and the work it does with Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the Cambridge-based conservation organisation.

Together, they hope that COP15 will make a real difference to the future of the forests in North Sumatra.

Delegates in Copenhagen will look at instigating 'carbon credits' in an attempt to make these woodlands a more valuable resource.

The Redd initiative (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) advocates making these carbon credits available for the west to buy, based on the value of trees in developing countries.

"Trees take in carbon emissions and therefore the national parks are owned by the government. But they're a big strain on their finances, so if you can make trees worth something then they'll be more inclined to protect them," Willers explained.

"While I was out there, there was a scientist actually calculating the carbon-reducing effects of the trees. He was saying if you have this many trees, and they're this big, and this species, then they'll actually take in this much carbon emission.

"But the issue is, how much is a carbon credit worth, and that's what's up for discussion at the moment.

"It's very exciting and the important thing is that it's something that puts value on a forest - that tree is worth more as a living tree than it is cut down."

Members of FFI are attending the climate summit in Copenhagen to lobby for more countries to take advantage of REDD's carbon credits.

Acid rain

Bob Spicer is a professor of earth science at the Open University. He has been studying climate change - from a geological perspective - for 30 years, and says that if anything, the projections for the next 50 to 100 years are likely to underestimate the degree of change.

Deforestation in Sumatra
Deforestation has made Indonesia the third largest emitter of carbon

Talking about the leaked CRU e-mails, he said: "There is no evidence that the results are rigged in any way.

"There are thousands - millions - of data points - pieces of information collated from all over the world. They come not only from the CRU, but also the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the US and NASA. All of the data are consistent in saying that there is an upward rise.

He is in no doubt at all that human activity has a significant effect on the climate. He explained that removing sulphur from flue gases to reduce acid rain in the 1970s had a major impact on the world's temperatures.

"Sulphur, when it gets into the atmosphere, actually has a cooling effect and as soon as we took the sulphur out, we saw warming - due to carbon dioxide - increase dramatically."

Although he won't go as far as to say that all scientists agree with him, he told us: "Something like 99 per cent of scientists who seriously work on this - and are not in the pay of the fossil fuels industries, for example - are all in agreement that there is a huge increase in carbon dioxide since the industrial revolution.

"Up until then there were at least 800,000 years of more or less level carbon dioxide. In the last 300 years we've just taken that through the roof to the extent that the level of greenhouse gases is now higher than we've seen in the last 20 million years."

The United Nations Climate Change Summit 2009 takes place in Copenhagen from 7 December until 18 December.

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