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.