Fresh leak of scientists' emails ahead of climate change summit

The University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit has found itself back in the spotlight with the leak of over 5,000 emails seemingly to and from its academic staff.

November 22, 2011

An anonymous group, calling itself “FOIA”, posted a link to the files earlier today on four well-known climate change websites popular with sceptics.

The previous leak, which occurred in November 2009, was released by an unknown group on the eve of the United Nation’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

This time, an explanation of sorts has been included with the emails and documents.

Juxtaposing headlines such as “Over 2.5 billion people live on less than $2 a day” and “Nations must invest $37 trillion in energy technologies by 2030 to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at sustainable levels”, the group behind the leak asserts that “decisions should be based on all the information we can get, not on hiding the decline”.

It goes on to state that it has not released a further 220,000 emails it has obtained, and adds that it has no plans to release them in the future.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Centre at Penn State University, whose correspondence is believed to be included in the leaked material, told The Guardian that the leak was “truly pathetic”.

“They look like mine [my emails] but I hardly see anything that appears damning at all, despite them having been taken out of context,” he said.

“I guess they [the group that leaked the material] had very little left to work with, having culled in the first round the emails that could most easily be taken out of context to try to make me look bad.”

Professor Mann blamed the release on people linked to the “fossil fuel industry”.

He said the “smear and innuendo” tactics being employed against climate scientists were “right out of the tried-and-true playbook of climate change denial”.

The original leak led to three inquiries on the content of the emails. Although the scientists were criticised for a “bunker mentality”, both they and UEA were cleared of any impropriety by all three inquiries.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics, noted the timing of the leak ahead of next week’s climate change summit in South Africa.

“The selective presentation of old email messages is clearly designed to mislead the public and politicians about the strength of the evidence for man-made climate change, in the hope that governments will stop their efforts to reach an agreement on international action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Dismissing the idea that the emails cast any doubt on the existence and causes of climate change, he said: “These emails, like the last batch, show that climate researchers are human and prone to the same rivalries and disputes that occur in many professions.”

In a statement, UEA criticises the leak as a “carefully-timed attempt to reignite controversy” and says that quotes taken from the emails are being presented “completely out of context”.

“While we have had only a limited opportunity to look at this latest post of 5,000 emails, we have no evidence of a recent breach of our systems.

“If genuine, (the sheer volume of material makes it impossible to confirm at present that they are all genuine) these emails have the appearance of having been held back after the theft of data and emails in 2009 to be released at a time designed to cause maximum disruption to the imminent international climate talks.”

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