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Climate scientists dismiss IPCC “leak” linking warming to cosmic rays




Conclusions drawn from a draft of the next IPCC climate science report by sceptics have left scientists bemused.


An unfinished version of the fifth IPCC assessment report (AR5) was leaked last night by climate sceptic blogger Alec Rawls.

Claims were then made by a number of commentators that cosmic rays were responsible for climate change.

Subsequent paragraphs dealing with the theory that increased solar magnetic activity was deflecting cloud forming cosmic radiation past earth, concluded that it was highly unlikely to have an impact.

"It beggars belief to see how people, apparently without relevant knowledge, could make up such nonsense and get the blogosphere buzzing," IPCC author Dr Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute told RTCC.

Klein points out claims of a leak are baseless, given that the draft is available to anyone who registers as a reviewer, and says he is disappointed with the attention the claim generated.

But he does admit that transparency has its drawbacks, and that making drafts entirely open to the public would not be a wise move.

"First, IPCC chapter author teams need time to assess all relevant literature for its specific chapter, and to link with other chapters. This requires various iterations. It means that draft chapters are almost always incomplete and possibly inconsistent. Draft chapters are work in progress and, when made available to the public, could lead to confusion and misinformation," he said.

"Second, anybody who considers themselves to be an expert, and that includes sceptics, can sign up to be a reviewer of the draft chapters. This is done in good faith, and the more experts provide genuine review comments, the better the IPCC chapters will be. This means that draft chapters are by no means secret, and therefore to suggest there has been a 'leak' is silly," he said.

Cosmic rays

The lead author of the chapter published, Professor Steve Sherwood,  told ABC in Australia that the conclusions drawn by the blogger responsible - that Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) cause climate change - are way off the mark.

"Oh that's completely ridiculous," Sherwood told ABC's PM programme. "I'm sure you could go and read those paragraphs yourself and the summary of it and see that we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible."

UK climate scientist Professor Chris Rapley is confident the public will draw their own conclusions from attempts to distort the science.

"People have to decide who they believe. Personally I do not find it at all convincing that the quotes from AR5 undermine the case for man-made climate change; in fact the opposite, the leaked material appears to lend more support than ever to the science," he told RTCC.

"My feeling is that journalists and the public won't be fooled by this. What we all need is careful evaluation of the evidence to support prudent actions for a better future," he added.


The publication of AR5, expected in September 2013, will build on the work of its predecessor, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Its release will come at a crucial time for the climate with a number organisations including the IEA predicting a deadline for substantial action before the end of the decade.

The UN climate change negotiations are also at a crucial juncture with just three years left to formulate a global deal on emissions reductions. The next IPCC could inject some urgency into the negotiations.

"The last roll of the dice for climate change sceptics is an appeal to cosmic rays from outer space," said Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the London School of Economics' Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

"It's a wacky theory, the evidence is pretty weak and if Alec Rawls had been honest enough to print the end of the section that he selectively quoted it is clear that the conclusion that the evidence is weak and it is unlikely to be an explanation if climate change."

Rawls registered as a reviewer of AR5 and as such had access to the draft, but in registering, had agreed not to publish the unfinished work.

"The IPCC operates on a system, as most of the scientific community does, an honour system that the review process is meant to be confidential. It shows they [sceptics] are not willing to sign up to the same high standards of behaviour that the rest of the scientific community practice. It's a disgrace," Ward who is also a reviewer of the next report, told RTCC.

Ward also called on the IPCC to immediately debunk the claims of sceptics regarding the science, rather than focusing on process and how the information was made public in the short term.

Klein acknowledges that this might have to be a consideration in the longer term.

"The IPCC should do a better job at explaining its procedures, and why those procedures exist, and stick to them to the letter. Hopefully that would help to restore trust in the IPCC, and next time a draft becomes public, there's no need for bloggers or other media to make such a fuss of it," said Klein.

The IPCC has issued a statement in response to the release of the unfinished report.

"These drafts were provided in confidence to reviewers and are not for distribution. It is regrettable that one out of many hundreds of reviewers broke the terms of the review and posted the drafts."



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