Climate change conspiracies: Stolen emails used to ridicule global warming

Climate sceptics are blamed for disrupting crucial negotiations, say scientists.

A A A

Russian computer hackers are suspected of being behind the stolen emails used by climate sceptics to discredit the science of global warming in advance of tomorrow's Copenhagen climate negotiations, the United Nations' deputy climate chief said yesterday.

"This was not a job for amateurs," said Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), referring to the theft of the emails from the Climatic Research Unit of the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The allegation comes amid a series of rows that have overshadowed the start of the Copenhagen talks, where 192 nations will attempt to negotiate a new and comprehensive treaty to counter the advance of global warming, and hold the coming rise in temperatures to C, which is regarded as the limit of what the world can safely cope with.

The conference, described by the economist Lord Stern last week as "the most important international meeting since the Second World War", is being attended by more than 100 heads of state and government.

But expectations have nosedived in recent weeks, with the outcome predicted to be little more than a political statement of intent.

Professor van Ypersele said the timing of the "Climategate" row, in the final build-up to the Copenhagen negotiations, showed that it has been deliberately engineered.

The first website posting of the emails came from a Russian computer, he added: "It's a scandal. It was probably ordered, maybe by Russian hackers receiving money for doing it."

Some of the messages stolen from the research unit's files, which date back 13 years, appear to show the head of the unit, Professor Phil Jones, obstructing attempts by climate change sceptics to obtain information.

The most damaging, from 1999, refers to his attempt to "hide the decline" shown in a record of temperatures indicated by tree-ring growth after 1960, when that diverged from the actual observed air temperatures.

With Professor Jones temporarily standing down from his position while an inquiry is carried out, the old "hide the decline" phrase has been seized on by the sceptics to imply that current world temperatures are declining. This is rejected by the scientific community, with 2009 likely to be at least the fifth hottest year ever recorded. The 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1997.

But climate sceptics, seeking anything to break the scientific consensus, have seen the stolen emails as manna from heaven. On Friday, Saudi Arabia's leading climate negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, said the emails suggested climate change does not have a human cause. He said the issue would have a "huge impact" on the negotiations.

Tempers are getting frayed. Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Climate Change, has branded senior Tory politicians Lord Lawson and David Davis as "climate saboteurs". And Gordon Brown referred on Friday to "behind-the-times, anti-science, flat-Earth climate sceptics". This week the Met Office will begin releasing of climate data records in a bid to draw a line under the matter.

It also emerged yesterday that computer hackers have repeatedly tried to steal files from a prominent climate change expert in Canada. Professor Andrew Weaver, a climatologist at the University of Victoria, said: "One of the sad realities of being a scientist working in this area is you get targeted. I have had no end of nasty emails and phone calls." His office has been broken into twice and hackers have tried to break into his computer system several times during the past year. "They were trying to find any dirt they could, as they have done in the UK," said Professor Weaver, a member of the IPCC. "If they can't find 'dirt', they manufacture it from out-of-context emails or skewed statistics," he added.

Despite years spent by scientists warning of the consequences of climate change, numerous summits and massive public pressure from a growing army of campaigners, global emissions of carbon dioxide are growing so fast that the earth is on a course for a 6C increase by the end of the century, which would be disastrous for humans.

Professor Bob Watson, former head of the IPCC and Defra's chief scientific adviser, warned that a 6C rise is a realistic possibility: "If we stayed on the road of the last decade or two, we would be much more on the high emissions scenario of the IPCC and that plausibly could take us up by 6C."

He dismissed Britain's goal of getting a C deal as a pipe dream: "I think unless we've got incredibly strong action almost immediately, it is going to get close to virtually impossible to meet a C target. We cannot stop climate change. Our challenge now is to what degree we can limit it."

The eve of the summit saw Britain's biggest protest against climate change yesterday, with an estimated 40,000 taking part in "The Wave", a march organised by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition – representing 11 million people from 100 organisations. The marchers rallied at Parliament and demanded that the Prime Minister commit to cutting emissions by 40 per cent by 2020 and to push for a deal that will see rich nations provide a $150bn annual pot to help poor countries move to low-carbon economies.

Rich and poor nations remain divided over the carbon cuts required and the funding that developing countries need to help them cope with global warming. Once again there are arguments about the commitment of leading Western nations: an impressive-sounding US offer of 17 per cent cuts was criticised this weekend as a fraction of the 40 per cent cuts from 1990 levels that scientists claim will give humanity a chance.

On Friday, President Obama announced he would attend the last two days of the conference.

The conference at a glance

Aims

To come up with a treaty to cut carbon emissions and decide mutually agreed targets; develop low-carbon economies; preserve what is left of earth's forests; and fund costs of preparing for climate change.

Ambitions

To have a 50/50 chance of stopping temperatures from rising beyond C will require all emissions to start dropping by 2015 and a 40 per cent cut in emissions, against 1990 levels, by 2020.

Obstacles

Money – developing countries want richer nations to give billions in climate change aid annually.

Emissions – developed countries reluctant to make big cuts unless developing countries do too.

Next steps

Any climate agreement will have to be formalised in a legal treaty before being adopted by the world's national governments in a complicated process that could take years.

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss