Can we trust the evidence? The IPCC - a case study

Sunday 31 October, 12.30pm until 1.30pm, Lecture Theatre 1

In late 2009, a number of emails were leaked from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, which critics claimed demonstrated researchers at CRU had tried to suppress the work of others that contradicted their own. With CRU being a world-leading research centre and with much of its work and its scientists being involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this struck a blow to confidence in the IPCC just before crucial climate talks in Copenhagen. Some insist the CRU was exonerated by the Muir Russell inquiry, but doubts remain. With climate change and our potential responses to it having become a hotly contested political issue, and with many different groups having their own stakes and interests in the matter, the impartiality of the IPCC has now been called into question by both sides.

‘Climategate’ was quickly followed by more scandals – claims made in IPCC reports about the retreat of glaciers in the Himalayas and about increased tolls from natural disasters were all brought into question. Particular criticism fell on the use of ‘grey literature’ – quoting studies in the report that had not been peer-reviewed. Claims were also made that Rajendra Pachuari, the chair of the IPCC, had conflicting interests in his role as advisor on environment and energy to a number of organisations and companies. Some critics have accused the IPCC of exaggerating its projections for temperature and sea-level rises, while others have accused it of being too conservative in its estimates.

Has what was intended to be an impartial assessment of climate change and its impact become inextricably entangled in political arguments? Without strong political vision or moral authority to justify their policy decisions, has the IPCC become the politician’s only source of authority with which to act? Does ‘The Science’ end all debate? When science and politics become so deeply entwined, must we ask ourselves – can we trust the evidence?

Listen to session audio:


Tony Gilland
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas

Oliver Morton
energy and environment editor, The Economist; author Eating the Sun: how plants power the planet

Fred Pearce
freelance journalist; environment consultant, New Scientist; author, The Climate Files: the battle for the truth about global warming and Peoplequake

Craig Fairnington
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; university finance and accommodation officer

Produced by
Craig Fairnington associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; university finance and accommodation officer
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