Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Lord Oxburgh, the climate science peer, ‘has a conflict of interest’

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

A member of the House of Lords appointed to investigate the veracity of climate science has close links to businesses that stand to make billions of pounds from low-carbon technology.
Lord Oxburgh is to chair a scientific assessment panel that will examine the published science of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
The CRU has been accused of manipulating and suppressing data to overstate the dangers from climate change. Professor Phil Jones, its director, has stood down from his post while a separate inquiry, chaired by Sir Muir Russell, takes place into the leaking of e-mails sent by him and his colleagues.
Climate sceptics questioned whether Lord Oxburgh, chairman of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association and the wind energy company Falck Renewables, was truly independent because he led organisations that depended on climate change being seen as an urgent problem.

Andrew Montford, a climate-change sceptic who writes the widely-read Bishop Hill blog, said that Lord Oxburgh had a “direct financial interest in the outcome” of his inquiry.
Lord Oxburgh has said that he believes the need to tackle climate change will make capturing carbon from power plants “a worldwide industry of the same scale as the international oil industry today”.
The CCS Association has stated that carbon capture could become a “trillion dollar industry” by 2050, but this would happen only if governments made reducing emissions a top political priority. In an interview in 2007, Lord Oxburgh said that the threat from global warming was so severe that “it may be that we shall need . . . regulations which impose very severe penalties on people who emit more than specified amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere”.
The university appointed Lord Oxburgh, a geologist and former chairman of the Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, after consulting the Royal Society, of which he is a fellow.
Professor Trevor Davies, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research, said that the university had been aware of Lord Oxburgh’s business interests but believed that he would lead the panel of six scientists “in an utterly objective way”. The panel will meet in Norwich next month.
He added: “We all have an interest in seeing alternatives to fossil fuel energy sources. This is going to be an issue for us all in future regardless of climate change.
“The choice of scientists is sure to be the subject of discussion, and experience would suggest that it is impossible to find a group of eminent scientists to look at this issue who are acceptable to every interest group which has expressed a view in the last few months. Similarly it is unlikely that a group of people who have the necessary experience to assess the science, but have formed no view of their own on global warming, could be found.”
He said the scientists has been selected because they had “the right mix of skills to understand the complex nature of climate research and the discipline-based expertise to scrutinise CRU’s research”.
Lord Oxburgh, a former chairman of Shell UK, said: “The shadow hanging over climate change and science more generally at present makes it a matter of urgency that we get on with this assessment. We will undertake this work and report as soon as possible.”
The university expects his report to be published before the summer.
The panel members are: Huw Davies, Professor of Physics at the Institute for Atmospheric & Climate Science at ETH Zürich; Kerry Emanuel, Professor of Meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Professor Lisa Graumlich, Director of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona; David Hand, Professor of Statistics in the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College, London; Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics at the University of Cambridge; and Michael Kelly, Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge. They will be given access to CRU’s original data and be able to interview its scientists.
Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “I strongly support the choice of chair and panel members — all world class — and the terms of reference. This should lead to a critical evaluation of the quality of the CRU science.”