Did UK Government Keep Cold Winter Warning Secret In Run-Up To UN Climate Conference?

Source: GWPF

by Dr. Benny Peiser

London, 6 January: The Global Warming Policy Foundation has called on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the winter advice the Government received by the Met Office and the renewed failure of both the Government and local authorities to prepare the UK transport system for the third severe winter in a row.

In a letter to the Chair of the Transport Committee, Louise Ellman, MP, the GWPF stresses that “Lessons have to be learned well in advance of the start of next year’s winter so that we are much better prepared if it is severe again.”

In recent days, the Met Office has stated that it apparently warned the Cabinet Office in late October that the start of the winter would be exceptionally cold. It would appear that the extreme weather warning was kept secret from the public.

According to media reports, the Cabinet Office has been unwilling to confirm whether or not it failed to pass on the Met Office warning to local and road authorities, airports and water companies.

“Not only is the lack of Government preparedness a cause for concern, but we wonder whether there may be another reason for keeping the cold warning under wraps, a motive that the Met Office and the Cabinet Office may have shared: Not to undermine the then forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun,” said Dr Benny Peiser, the GWPF director.

It will be important to establish whether the Met Office consulted with government officials about their Cancun strategy and what effect this may have had on the handling of the ‘secret’ cold winter warning.

In light of the renewed failure to prepare the UK and its transport system for a prolonged and harsh winter, the GWPF has listed 19 questions that need to be addressed in order to avoid future debacles.

The full letter is attached below.

Louise Ellman, MP

Chair, Transport Select Committee

House of Commons

London SW1A 0AA

5 January 2011

Dear Mrs Ellman

Transport System’s Winter Fiasco

I am writing to you on behalf of the Global Warming Policy Foundation regarding the transport system’s ill-preparedness in face of this year’s record cold winter.

The GWPF is calling on the Transport Committee to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the winter advice the Government received by the Met Office and the renewed failure of both the Government and local authorities to prepare the UK transport system for the third severe winter in a row.

This year’s winter fiasco has severely damaged the British economy – and its international reputation – as a result of the country’s ill-preparedness.

It would appear that the Met Office provided the government with contradictory winter advice and we need to find out what went wrong. Lessons have to be learned well in advance of the start of next year’s winter so that we are much better prepared if it is severe again.

Last summer, the Department of Transport carried out a study of the resilience of Britain’s transport infrastructure in the light of the two previous severe winters.

When the Quarmby Report (The Resilience of England’s Transport Systems in Winter) was published in late October, it entirely relied on the Met Office’s assurance that the chance of a severe winter and heavy snow would be relatively small and that the effect of climate change had further reduced the probability of severe winters in the UK; see also Transport chaos not an annual issue, say official report. Investment in more equipment may not be economical given rarity of British snow, says RAC Foundation chairman

In recent days, the Met Office has stated that it apparently changed its original advice in October and actually warned the Cabinet Office that the start of winter would be exceptionally cold. It would appear that the Met Office’s cold warning was kept secret from the public.

According to media reports, the Cabinet Office has been unwilling to confirm whether or not it failed to pass on the Met Office warning to local and road authorities, airports and water companies.

Not only is the lack of Government preparedness a cause for concern, but we wonder whether there may be another reason for keeping the cold warning under wraps, a motive that the Met Office and the Cabinet Office may have shared: Not to undermine the then forthcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Cancun.

Throughout October and November, the Met Office repeatedly pushed and published their key message in the run-up to the UN climate summit – that 2010 would probably turn out to be the hottest year on record, culminating in these Cancun-timed media reports: Cancun climate change summit: 2010 was hottest year on record.

The Met Office was represented at the UN Climate Summit in Cancun by key scientists who briefed news media about their key message; see Scientific evidence is Met Office focus at Cancun

It will be important to establish whether the Met Office consulted with government officials about the UK’s Cancun strategy and what effect this may have had on the handling of the ‘secret’ cold winter warning.

The transport minister Philip Hammond has asked the government’s chief scientific adviser whether the last three cold winters may signal a ‘step change’ in weather in the UK.

The Met Office appears to deny this possibility. In its submission to the Quarmby Report, the Met Office claims that the chances of a harsh winter are receding steadily. Yet, the Met Office models were contradicted by Sir David King, the former government’s chief scientific adviser, who has publicly warned that the government should plan for more cold winters in the next few years.

It is evident that Sir David King has serious doubts about the reliability of the Met Office’s computer models. This manifest contradiction is further undermining the credibility of the Met Office which makes it all the more important to properly investigate the underlying problem of its erroneous winter projections and government advice over the last three years.

In light of the renewed failure to prepare the UK and its transport system for a prolonged and harsh winter, the following questions need to be addressed in order to avoid future debacles:

1. Why did the Met Office publish on its website estimates in late October showing a 60 per cent to 80 per cent chance of warmer-than-average temperatures this winter? What was the scientific basis of this probabilistic estimate?

2. Why did the Met Office provide the government with a secret forecast about a exceptionally cold start of the winter, at the same time it was publishing an opposite forecast to the public?

3. Did the government conspire to keep the Met Office forecast secret in the run-up to the Cancun climate summit?

4. Did the Cabinet Office fail to take appropriate action in response to the forecast and inform the relevant authorities to prepare the country, to keep the highways clear, to prepare airports?

5. Why did the government let its Winter Fuel Allowance budget be used up with only a fraction of the winter gone?

6. On what scientific basis did the Met Office tell the Cabinet Office that there were early indications of an exceptionally cold start to winter?

7. Why did the Met Office confirm to the news media on 27 October that its probability map showed significant warming in the months ahead?

8. Has the late October prediction by the Met Office that this winter would be mild affected planning for this winter? If so, what is the best estimate of how much this has cost the country?

9. In 2009, the Met Office predicted a 65% chance that the winter of 2009/10 would be milder than normal. Has the Met Office subsequently explained what went wrong with its computer modelling?

10. What is the statistical and scientific basis for the Met Office’s estimate of a 1-in-20 chance of a severe winter?

11. Has the Met Office changed its view, or its calculations, following the harsh winters of 2008, 2009 and 2010?

12. Is the Met Office right to be confident that the severe winters of the last three years are not related?

13. Which severe weather alerts were issued by the Met Office and when?

14. Although the Met Office stopped sending its 3-month forecasts to the media, it would appear that this service is still available to paying customers, the Government and Local Authorities for winter planning. What was their advice, in September/October, for the start of winter 2010?

15. Has the Met Office been the subject of any complaints from its paying customers regarding the quality of its advice?

16. Is it appropriate that the chairman of the Met Office is a member, or a former member of climate pressure groups or carbon trading groups?

17. Should senior Met Office staff (technically employed by the MoD) make public comments advocating political action they see necessary to tackle climate change?

18. Has the government evaluated different meteorological service providers and has it ensured that it is using the most accurate forecaster?

19. What plans has the government to privatise the Met Office?

In view of the high level of public interest in this matter, we shall be releasing the text of this letter to the press.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Benny Peiser

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