Copenhagen opens to controversy

Leaked e-mails from climate scientists reopened the debate over global warming science that was once thought closed.

epa01956904 People walk by the gigantic earth globe on the town square in Copenhagen, Denmark, 06 December 2009, on the eve of the opening of the United Nations Climate Conference 2009. 100 heads of state or government will participate in the UN led Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen from 07 to 18 December 2009.  EPA/Mikkel Moeller Joergensen *** Local Caption ***  01956904.jpg *** Local Caption ***  01956904.jpg
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Leaked e-mails from climate scientists reopened the debate over global warming science that was once thought closed, as thousands of delegates began a summit in Copenhagen yesterday aiming to forge agreement on fighting climate change. Saudi Arabia, which has long expressed reservation about any new agreement that would cut use of fossil fuels, told the gathering of 192 nations that confidence in the link between carbon dioxide and global warming had been "shaken" by leaked e-mails showing scientists discussing the presentation of their work to the public.

"The level of trust is definitely shaken, especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement that - is going to mean sacrifices for our economies," Mohammed al Sabban, the country's leading negotiator, told the conference. Supporters of a new climate treaty were quick to dismiss concerns that the controversy could disrupt an "unequivocal" conclusion on the explanation for global warming or derail the talks, saying momentum was on their side at the two-week conference to achieve a groundbreaking agreement among all major economies to reduce emissions.

Negotiators aim to reach a wide-ranging agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol, which was initially adopted in 1997. A new treaty would mandate deep cuts in emissions from industrialised countries, slow pollution growth in developing states, and provide climate aid to help poorer countries install clean technology and adapt to the environmental effects of global warming. Industrialised countries had brought historic promises to the conference but had to raise their emissions cuts even further, said Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which is overseeing the talks.

"World leaders are calling for an agreement that offers serious emission limitation goals and that captures the provision of significant financial and technological support to developing countries," Mr de Boer said. "At the same time, Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action that begins the day the conference ends." In a major boost to the US government's pledge to cut emissions, the country's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was expected to rule late yesterday that carbon dioxide was a pollutant that can be directly regulated by the agency without the approval of Congress.

A pledge by Barack Obama, the US president, to cut US emissions by 17 per cent by 2020 from 2005 levels had been in doubt because a law has yet to be approved by the Senate. Analysts said the EPA move, if enacted, would strengthen the credibility of Mr Obama's promise. But even as officials voiced optimism at the prospects of a treaty to fight climate change, controversy over the science explaining that phenomenon continued to play out in the public debate.

The e-mails, stolen from the University of East Anglia and posted online two weeks ago, show leading climate researchers discussing how best to present their research findings to convince people of the threat of climate change. They also show the researchers singling out individuals and publications they consider climate change "deniers". Mr al Sabban called for an "independent" investigation and attacked the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a high-profile group assigned by the UN to assemble a consensus view on the science of climate change.

"The IPCC, which is the authority accused, is not going to be able to conduct the investigation," Mr al Sabban said. "In light of recent information - the scientific scandal has assumed huge proportion." The IPCC announced a review of the e-mails last week and the University of East Anglia said it would also investigate the allegations of academic dishonesty. The IPCC is "transparent and objective", said Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC.

The group's report is "based on measurements made by many independent institutions worldwide that demonstrate significant changes on land, in the atmosphere, the oceans and in the ice-covered areas of the earth", Mr Pachauri said. The study was subject to "extensive and repeated review by experts, as well as governments", with 2,500 reviewers, he said. * with agencies

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