The Meteorological Office is blocking public scrutiny of the central role played by its top climate scientist in a highly controversial report by the beleaguered United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Professor John Mitchell, the Met Office’s Director of Climate Science, shared responsibility for the most worrying headline in the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning IPCC report – that the Earth is now hotter than at any time in the past 1,300 years.
And he approved the inclusion in the report of the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, showing centuries of level or declining temperatures until a steep 20th Century rise.
By the time the 2007 report was being written, the graph had been heavily criticised by climate sceptics who had shown it minimised the ‘medieval warm period’ around 1000AD, when the Vikings established farming settlements in Greenland.
In fact, according to some scientists, the planet was then as warm, or even warmer, than it is today.
Early drafts of the report were fiercely contested by official IPCC reviewers, who cited other scientific papers stating that the 1,300-year claim and the graph were inaccurate.
But the final version, approved by Prof Mitchell, the relevant chapter’s review editor, swept aside these concerns.
Now, the Met Office is refusing to disclose Prof Mitchell’s working papers and correspondence with his IPCC colleagues in response to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act.
The block has been endorsed in writing by Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth – whose department has responsibility for the Met Office.
Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that the Met Office’s stonewalling was part of a co-ordinated, legally questionable strategy by climate change academics linked with the IPCC to block access to outsiders.
Last month, the Information Commissioner ruled that scientists from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia – the source of the leaked ‘Warmergate’ emails – acted unlawfully in refusing FOI requests to share their data.
Some of the FOI requests made to them came from the same person who has made requests to the Met Office.
He is David Holland, an electrical engineer familiar with advanced statistics who has written several papers questioning orthodox thinking on global warming.
The Met Office’s first response to Mr Holland was a claim that Prof Mitchell’s records had been ‘deleted’ from its computers.
Later, officials admitted they did exist after all, but could not be disclosed because they were ‘personal’, and had nothing to do with the professor’s Met Office job.
Finally, they conceded that this too was misleading because Prof Mitchell had been paid by the Met Office for his IPCC work and had received Government expenses to travel to IPCC meetings.
The Met Office had even boasted of his role in a Press release when the report first came out.
But disclosure, they added, was still rejected on the grounds it would ‘inhibit the free and frank provision of advice or the free and frank provision of views’.
It would also ‘prejudice Britain’s relationship with an international organisation’ and thus be contrary to UK interests.
In a written response justifying the refusal dated August 20, 2008, Mr Ainsworth – then MoD Minister of State – used exactly the same language.
Mr Holland also filed a request for the papers kept by Sir Brian Hoskins of Reading University, who was the review editor of a different chapter of the IPCC report.
When this too was refused, Mr Holland used the Data Protection Act to obtain a copy of an email from Sir Brian to the university’s information officer.
The email, dated July 17, 2008 – when Mr Holland was also trying to get material from the Met Office and the CRU – provides clear evidence of a co-ordinated effort to hide data. Sir Brian wrote:
‘I have made enquiries and found that both the Met Office/MOD and UEA are resisting the FOI requests made by Holland. The latter are very relevant to us, as UK universities should speak with the same voice on this. I gather that they are using academic freedom as their reason.’
At the CRU, as the Warmergate emails reveal, its director, Dr Phil Jones (who is currently suspended), wrote to an American colleague:
‘[We are] still getting FOI requests as well as Reading. All our FOI officers have been in discussions and are now using the same exceptions – not to respond.’
Last night Benny Peiser, director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, said the affair further undermined the credibility of the IPCC and those associated with it. He said:
‘It’s of critical importance that data such as this should be open. More importantly, the questions being raised about the hockey stick mean that we may have to reassess the climate history of the past 2,000 years.
‘The attempt to make the medieval warm period disappear is being seriously weakened, and the claim that now is the warmest time for 1,300 years is no longer based on reliable evidence.’
Despite repeated requests, the MoD and Met Office failed to comment.