Editorial: Lets move on from the UK Met Office statistics saga and get back to the task in hand of fighting climate change

We’re still on course to catastrophic climate change.

By Anders Lorenzen

One certainty in the world of climate science is that climate sceptics are constantly looking for gaps in how climate science is being reported in order to exploit them and fundamentally question whether climate change is actually happening.

This is exactly what happened in the run up to the 2009 COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) emails were hacked at The University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Climate Research Unit, and subsequently leaked for all to see online. Climate sceptics claimed that the hacked data proved key statistics had been manipulated and climate change was a conspiracy by scientists. ‘Climategate’ was quickly seized upon by mainstream media and proved to be a considerable distraction during COP15, where it was given enormous airtime and diverted attention from discussing solutions to climate change.

A similar unhelpful distraction could be brewing this year if we’re not careful. On 24th of December 2012, the UK Met Office released a statement explaining that their new ‘experimental’ climate prediction computer model had estimated that the predicted warming of the planet between now and 2017, might amount to 0.43C and not the 0.54C they had previously predicted: a drop in just 0.11C or one tenth of a degree Celsius. Climate sceptics seized upon this news and took the opportunity to declare that climate change is waning. The result was the outcome of more accurate modeling rather than a change in circumstances so this was an absurd conclusion to make.

These latest minute Met Office predictions ultimately don’t change the momentous challenge we’re up against; staying within a two degree temperature change and avoiding climate catastrophe – scientists do agree on this. It’s important not to confuse people with ambiguous statistics, especially after the record breaking year of extreme weather events 2012 was.

Predicting temperature change is a delicate business – as technology improves, forecasting will become more accurate and reliable, but this does not change the fundamentals of our challenge. Its absurd to argue that climate change has stopped, which is exactly what the Daily Mail has done in this instance by arguing that there would have been no temperature rise on our planet’s surface for nearly two decades. Carbon Brief have done a great job of rebuffing these claims by arguing that the downwards predictions does not mean that global warming has finished and highlighting examples why this is not the case.

Regardless, the Met Office should learn from this incident and seriously consider how and when they communicate announcements like this in future – these are highly sensitive and important details which should be communicated in a way that cannot be misunderstood or abused. Releasing news like that on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve in the Western world, could easily be perceived as burying ‘bad’ news on a busy news day – a red rag to the climate sceptic bulls.

Our focus must at all time be on debating and researching new technologies and efforts to tackle climate change – repeated debates about whether climate change is happening or not are extremely unhelpful and distracting at this critical point in time. The argument should be long gone now!
Sub edited by Kirstie Wielandt

This was cross posted with Huffington Post.

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Categories: IPCC

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