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Will clash of science and politics undermine Copenhagen summit?

Climategate emails could have huge impact on summit, says Saudi Arabia’s lead climate negotiator. Others say the controversial leaked emails provide an opportunity to educate the public about climate science.

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Political pressure to reduce uncertainty

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Politicians say, “ ‘We need to reduce the uncertainty,’ and I think that’s contributed to a certain mind-set where [climate scientists] try to reduce the uncertainty” when they talk about their research, Judith Curry, chair of the school of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Georgia Tech, told the Washington Post. “I’m a little bit worried about that political pressure.”

But if scientists faced political pressure to produce results that would support the global warming theory, what will happen now as the debate is cresting on the eve of the Copenhagen summit?

“Those opposing action will throw everything including the kitchen sink into the debate,” Princeton University atmospheric scientist Michael Oppenheimer told Scientific American. “Do I think it will have a significant effect on the judgment of lawmakers or public opinion? No, I don’t, but you never know with these things.”

With public support for the global warming theory waning (though a majority of Americans still believe action is needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions), the controversial emails are providing fodder for skeptics who want to undermine a deal in Copenhagen.

What impact on Copenhagen?

Mohammad Al-Sabban, Saudi Arabia’s top climate negotiator, told the BBC that climategate will have a “huge impact” on the summit, pointing out that his government -- which has a strong interest in the future of fossil fuels -- will only accept “no-cost” proposals since “it appears … that there is no relationship between human activities and climate change.”

But Joseph Romm of the Energy Collective tells the BBC that since the dustup is being “lapped up mostly by people who never understood or believed the science to begin with [it’s a good chance for the] too reticent, too-insular scientific community to explain climate science to the broader public.”

The Financial Times says the infamous emails, in fact, strengthen the case for action against global warming, but also sees it as a warning to scientists to refrain from trying to sway the political debate.

“Although the dividing line between research and campaigning can be hard to distinguish, scientists must try to respect it,” the FT editorializes. “Their value rests above all in the ability to provide evidence as objectively as possible. Politicians, businesses, and environmental groups can then pick up the scientific evidence and base policies on it.”

See also:

'Climategate': leaked emails push scientists toward transparency

Storm continues to swirl around Climategate, as multiple investigations get under way