Information Tribunal decides on the IPCC Zero-Order Drafts

On 1 May 2015, the UK’s First-Tier Tribunal unanimously dismissed David Holland’s appeal for copies of the Zero-Order Draft (ZOD) of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) made under Freedom of Information legislation. Their decision is available here. They considered Holland’s appeal to be “entirely without merit”.

Guest post by Tim Osborn, University of East Anglia (UEA)
Note that this post is slightly outside the usual topics discussed on this blog, but it is relevant to the climate science community. The Comments will be moderated. – Ed

This Tribunal decision might just bring to a close the long history of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for IPCC-related materials held by UK scientific institutions. These began more than 7 years ago with an FOI request to UEA (actually, most requests were handled under the Environmental Information Regulations – the EIR – which, though closely related to the FOI Act, have some distinct legal rules). There are some interesting aspects of the Tribunal’s decision that I highlight towards the end of this post, but first I’ll look at how this request developed from earlier cases.

Key starting points are that (1) the IPCC’s principles require the assessment process to be open and transparent, (2) this is achieved via the broad-ranging review of two formal drafts (drafts and reviews that are subsequently made public), and (3) the IPCC considers ‘pre-decisional’ material such as the ZOD to be provided in confidence and not for public distribution. The IPCC’s Working Groups are not formally required to produce a ZOD, it is simply an informal stage that they have often (though not always) chosen to implement to help ensure that the first formal draft is as good as possible.

More detail on these starting points. The IPCC’s principles require the process to be “objective, open and transparent” and this is achieved through the writing and formal review of two drafts (First- and Second-Order Drafts, FOD and SOD) prior to completion of the final assessment report. These drafts are available for expert review, though anyone may self-declare their expertise, so it is open to a wide range of reviewers. These drafts, the review comments, and the authors’ responses are publicly released. For AR4 Working Group I (WGI), they are available here (click “Drafts and Review Materials”), while for the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) they are here.

In 2011, David Holland made multiple requests (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here) to UK universities and other institutions (such as the Met Office) for the ZOD of the IPCC’s AR5 together with a list of its reviewers and their comments on it. His requests covered much more material than this, some of which was already in the public domain and some of which was released (e.g. by UEA).

All institutions withheld the ZOD, considering it exempt under EIR exceptions. For example, the University of Bristol noted:

“A number of documents held are currently in draft form and are under review. The release of material which is still in the course of completion could reveal a misleading picture to the public as work on these documents continues. It could be argued that disclosure would not be in the public interest as the draft reports are incomplete and may be missing important explanatory or contextual information that would aid public understanding.

The ZOD in particular is a pre-decisional document that allows experts to contribute freely and frankly in a confidential setting. The ZOD will contribute to the WGI AR5 First Order Draft which will be submitted for formal expert review in mid-December 2011 and finalised in September 2013.”

Even when EIR exceptions clearly apply, the public interest must be carefully weighed to see if it favours disclosure despite the exceptions or whether the public interest is best met by withholding the documents. For example, the University of Reading reasoned:

“having taken into consideration the general public interest grounds favouring disclosure, such as promoting transparency, accountability and participation in debates around climate change, it finds that this exception should be maintained. It takes this view because public debate should be informed by robust information, not obfuscated by draft data that is neither finished nor verified. Established mechanisms for providing such information, such as the review process whereby drafts undergo a rigorous editorial process to ensure the quality of the information, already exist. These processes provide transparency in the process that serves the public interest.”

Bristol also noted the importance for a private space within which authors could have a free and frank exchange of ideas:

“The ability of expert reviewers to exchange free and frank comments at an early stage of the drafting process is important”

The University of Oxford agreed:

“AR5 will be a more valuable and reliable document if the scientists responsible for its preparation are able to develop their thinking without the inhibiting effects associated with publicity, particularly during the early and preliminary stages of drafting.”

Holland then made lengthy arguments for internal reviews of these decisions, relying on a number of poorly made and seemingly contradictory arguments. He noted that the ZOD is an informal review and that the IPCC’s procedures did not require them to be released, yet claimed that the IPCC’s rules for releasing formal drafts should be applied. He noted Sir John Houghton’s view that the credibility of the IPCC process and conclusions was strengthened because drafts are made available, yet didn’t acknowledge that Houghton’s comments could only apply to the formal FOD and SOD because ZODs had never been made publicly available.

The institutions involved reviewed their decisions and all upheld their original decisions to withhold the AR5 ZOD and related materials. They were satisfied that the public interest in allowing public scrutiny and accountability of the IPCC’s assessments was adequately met by the formal FOD and SOD reviews and their subsequent public release.

Not satisfied, Holland subsequently focussed his efforts on appealing only the Met Office’s decision, first to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and then to the First-Tier Information Tribunal. Both appeals were refused (in August 2012 and July 2013).

The 2013 Tribunal case considered 400 pages of written material as well as an oral hearing involving Holland, Peter Stott from the Met Office and legal counsel. Even when FOI exemptions or EIR exceptions apply to a request, applying them in practice can be costly in time and money – something that those (e.g. here) who blithely point to these exemptions to dismiss the burden that information laws lay on universities would do well to consider.

The 2013 Tribunal considered two key issues: would disclosure of the AR5 ZOD hamper the effectiveness of those carrying out the assessment and would relations between the IPCC and UK authors be harmed if the AR5 ZOD was disclosed in violation of the IPCC’s clear position that it should not be. In the end, their decision to dismiss Holland’s appeal was determined mostly by the public interest in ensuring that UK scientists can maintain good relationships with the IPCC and a “safe space” in which to develop their views without being held to account for views that are still being developed.

However, the 2013 Tribunal offered an interesting view: that the public interest in favour of non-disclosure would weaken over time and especially once the IPCC’s AR5 was published (the Tribunal’s decision was published two months before the final WGI AR5 report was accepted by the IPCC). The Tribunal suggested that their decision might have been different after publication of the final report and questioned why the IPCC would not publish the ZOD along with the FOD and SOD at that time. This view seems to arise from the 2013 Tribunal’s incomplete understanding of the nature of the ZOD (i.e. that it is an informal stage that the Working Groups choose to produce simply to assist with the overall assessment task they have been set) and that it doesn’t have comparable standing to the formal FOD and SOD documents.

Though the Tribunal found against Holland’s appeal, their suggestion that the public interest for withholding the ZOD would weaken after the report was published encouraged him to make a new request, this time for the AR4 ZOD. AR4 had been published 6 years previously, in 2007. The Met Office declined this request for similar reasons, despite Holland pointing to the 2013 Tribunal’s view of a weakening public interest in non-disclosure. They noted that the Tribunal did not order future disclosure of information.

Holland appealed to the ICO, who dismissed his appeal in June 2014. The ICO took into account the 2013 Tribunal’s view, but felt that the Tribunal had an incomplete understanding of the nature of the ZOD (the IPCC had disputed the 2013 Tribunal’s statements concerning the status of the ZODs and the reasoning for not publishing them along with the FOD and SOD).

Holland appealed this decision to the First-Tier Tribunal and it is their decision that has recently been published (1 May 2015). There were again lengthy written submissions and an oral hearing.

Despite the 2013 Tribunal’s view that the public interest in favour of non-disclosure diminishes over time, the decision rests on the balance of this public interest with the public interest for disclosure. What Holland had not considered – but the new Tribunal did – was that this too weakens over time:

“When the [AR4] ZODs were requested in 2013 they were at least 7 years old. Not only were they superceded by the successive drafts of AR4 leading to the published AR4 itself; but AR4 was about to be superceded by AR5 containing an analysis of all the work published subsequent to AR4. Science had moved forward during that time, the ZODs were by the time they were requested rough out of date drafts of no value in informing anyone of what the state of climate science is in 2013.”

Not only that, but Holland seemed to accept this:

“The publication of the ZODs is a distraction with no value in promoting public understanding. In his oral submissions Mr Holland seemed to accept that: “there is nothing in the information…I don’t expect to get anything…I don’t think there’ll be a lot.”

The Tribunal, in contrast to the earlier one, were satisfied that the IPCC were indeed clear about their expectations for the ZOD and dismissed a number of Holland’s related arguments about the IPCC’s rules and whether the co-chairs of the IPCC’s WGI have legitimacy to carry out their IPCC roles effectively.

Indeed, the Tribunal seem to be somewhat impatient with Holland and his arguments:

“He alleged illegitimate conduct and conspiracy by scientists and that the claimed confidentiality had been “cooked up” recently. He quoted detailed extracts of communications from the co-chairs of IPCC WG1 describing them as “fabricated” and “posturing threats”. He argued that a decision of the 33rd session of IPCC relating to confidentiality was illegitimate.”


“Although Mr Holland strenuously denied it, the EIR and the Aarhus Convention from which they derive make explicit provision for the possibility of the withholding of environmental information where harm to international relations would result.”


“In weighing the competing public interests in disclosure and non-disclosure the tribunal considered that the claims of Mr Holland were over-stated. Although he attempted to argue for misconduct he was unable to produce any coherent evidence or argument for it.”


“In oral argument Mr Holland stated that he was “not concerned about the science; it’s the conclusions drawn from the science”. In the light of this it was perhaps surprising that he cast doubt on Arrhenius original work on the absorption of infra-red radiation by atmospheric carbon dioxide (carried out in 1896) stating that he had discovered by reading an article on google that Arrhenius’s methodology could not have worked. He appeared unaware of subsequent developments in physics relevant to Arrhenius’s research into the behaviour of gases.”

Contrast this with their opinion of the Met Office’s Peter Stott:

“The Tribunal was satisfied that Dr Stott gave fair and considered evidence. He was an impressive and reliable witness.”

Although appeals can be made to an upper tribunal, there may be no grounds for appeal and there is a time limit. It seems likely that this decision will bring to a close this and related cases (e.g. Holland’s request for the ZOD of the 2001 Third Assessment Report).

Finally, because the IPCC considers other informal drafts and communications between its authors to be in the same category as ZODs, the decision is also pertinent to requests for such IPCC-related materials that stretch back to 2008. The implication is that the material covered by those requests may have been exempt from disclosure, thus resolving a prominent issue in the controversy that followed the hacking of our emails in 2009.

Guest post by Tim Osborn, University of East Anglia (UEA).

About Ed Hawkins

Climate scientist in the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading. IPCC AR5 Contributing Author. Can be found on twitter too: @ed_hawkins

30 thoughts on “Information Tribunal decides on the IPCC Zero-Order Drafts

  1. Ed I really don’t see the point of this. The strength of this blog is the focus on science where folk can have conversations in a “convivial atmosphere.” There are plenty of other places to go for those with a policy axe to grind. Just a thought.

    1. Stephen,

      Ed can give his own view on this, but my point of view (and the reason why I asked Ed if he’d be willing to post my post) is that climate science FOI cases have had important impacts on public perception and on some individual scientists involved, and some of the issues have arisen because of lack of clarity over how the FOI (and related EIR) rules ought to be applied. Therefore recent cases that have at last begun to clarify these rules should be of interest to the climate science community and, I believe, deserve to be communicated more broadly. A number of interlinked cases mean that it can be difficult (for someone who hasn’t followed these things as closely as I have) to see the common threads and draw out the important lessons from them, hence the need for an article on this.

      I am aware that this is a rather different topic than Ed’s climate-lab-book usually carries, but it is because of the possibility for convivial conversations about this (sometimes controversial) topic that I hoped it could be posted here. I’m not trying to grind an axe, I’m trying to inform the community of scientists who are subject to UK FOI/EIR.

      1. Hi Stephen,
        I agree that this a slightly different topic to usual, but as Tim said, many of us have been asked for emails or documents under FOI (including me) and so this is highly relevant to the community. There is no particular policy axe grinding, but Tim’s post is helpful to put discussions about openness and transparency into context. I did debate about whether this was an appropriate forum and I do not expect many posts such as this. I appreciate your comments about the convivial atmosphere here when discussing the science.

      2. Tim,

        When I used the expression ” policy axe to grind” I didn’t have your own post in mind but rather the response it would garner from those that, as it were “relish the politics of climate science” above the science per se.
        That said everything is “convivial” 🙂
        So far.
        H/T Homer Simpson

  2. I find the idea releasing Zeroth Order Drafts after an assessment report has been published will be harmful rather peculiar. Zeroth Order Drafts for the Fifth Assessment Reports have been available since before the report was published. I’m not aware of any harm caused by that. If there was any, I’d imagine this post would cite it as proof such draft documents shouldn’t be released. Instead, it fails to even discuss the fact we have a test case where we can examine the effect of releasing Zeroth Order Drafts.

    Can anyone point to harm caused by me having read Zeroth Order Drafts of half a dozen chapters of the latest assessment report before the report was even published? If not, can anyone explain why we should believe there would be harm in other cases when there wasn’t harm in this case?

    1. Brandon — an interesting point. I’m not arguing for a particular view in this post (though I do have a view about it) but was instead reporting what the tribunals had decided and why. I assume that the ‘test case’ you mention (was harm done by the leaking of some AR5 ZODs?) would have been considered by the tribunal if David Holland used it this to support his argument. I haven’t seen the 100s of pages of document bundles submitted, so I don’t know if he did raise it.

      I don’t know quite how you would measure the harm done in the test case, even if it is real, and anyway would ‘harm’ arising from deliberate release be different than from leaking the documents if part of the ‘harm’ is in how the IPCC wishes to engage with UK-based authors? So the ‘test case’ is not a good test for that.

      1. I can’t see what the difference between an intentional release of the Zeroth Order Drafts and in response to FOI requests and leaks of them would have to do with this. In either case, the effect is the same – anyone participating in the creation of the Zeroth Order Drafts would be (or should be) aware the drafts may not be kept confidential after the fact. Whether that’s intentional or not doesn’t seem like it would matter to them.

        I don’t know whether or not that came up in this case. But honestly, I don’t even know what harm is supposed to come from releasing these drafts. Would reviewers really be hindered in their ability to write these drafts if they knew the drafts might be made public years later? I can’t see why. It’s not like there’s anything in what’s been leaked that would cause anyone problems. I can’t imagine there’s anything in the rest that would.

        1. The difference between intentional and leaked release is mostly to do with the potential impact on the IPCC’s working relationship with UK-based scientists. The IPCC have developed policies and procedures for how it wants to carry out its scientific assessments that provide transparency and wide-ranging external review, etc., including the post-publication release of the FOD and SOD stages but excluding other informal stages that the IPCC’s Working Groups might choose to use (such as producing a ZOD and having it informally reviewed to guide authors towards producing a FOD that hopefully doesn’t have glaring errors or omissions).

          If the ZOD is intentionally released by UK-based authors, this challenges the authority of the IPCC to carry out its assessments according to the procedures that it has designed. Leaking of the ZODs by unknown person(s) doesn’t directly challenge this, and thus wouldn’t impact on the IPCC’s working relationship with UK-based authors.

          Having said that, if the information tribunal had decided that the IPCC’s procedures were not sufficiently open and transparent (via the FOD and SOD stages), I expect that they would have required release of the ZOD anyway.

  3. Scientists need to think very carefully about the effects on their own credibility of resisting FOI/EIR requests. At one level it hardly matters whether they lose the appeal (as UEA/CRU did in the case of my request) or win it (as happened here): in either case it makes them look like they have something to hide. It’s particularly odd in cases where the document is already widely, albeit informally, available.

    I am currently involved in two bodies that regularly receive FOI requests, and used to be involved with a third. In all cases my advice has been to release documents which we hold unless there are compelling reasons to withold them, even if the release is not required. So in one case we sent a letter stating that we were exempt from the requirement to release the requested data, but here’s a copy anyway.

    I am slightly surprised by this ruling: the earlier rulings certainly suggested that a request for early ZODs would be successful. But this ruling seems to shut that possibility down pretty comprehensively.

    1. Jonathan, you’re right, it isn’t all about the outcome. The perception of having something to hide even when there is nothing to hide needs to be considered, as we learnt the hard way at CRU/UEA. But there are cases where the information is exempt from disclosure and the reasons not to release are strong, such as research results in course of completion. And where does it stop? What about the other intermediate IPCC drafts? And every email? That’s overly intrusive and risks discouraging authors from participating in the IPCC — there is ample evidence of misusing such information for, as the Muir-Russell report put it, highly personalized critiques of individuals.

      Back to this particular case, I too was surprised about the outcome given the earlier tribunal ruling — but I had noticed at the time that the earlier tribunal had erred in considering the ZODs to have the same status as the formal drafts, which they don’t. The new ruling also considers the public interest in releasing them and finds it to be limited. After all they are simply informal and often incomplete drafts created for the sole purpose of ensuring that the first formal drafts (FODs) are good enough for external review and, eventually, public disclosure. If we raise the ZODs to have the same status as the formal drafts, then we may end up writing “minus-one-order-drafts” to help get the ZODs up to scratch for public disclosure!

  4. Release of *any* documents in a public-funded process that has a severe impact on public policy should not be objected to by scientists, on the public purse.

    The documents may expose methodological deficiencies or subversion of rules to shut out dissenting voices in the drafting of the report. How is the public to discover this?


    1. Hi Shub,
      In this example, both the FOD and SOD are publicly available, as are all the comments from all the reviewers (and anyone could be a reviewer), and the responses to all those comments. It is already possible for you to look for deficiencies or subversion in those documents as that is where the discussions happen about what should appear in the final reports. Has anyone found any? The process for AR5 was very open and transparent.

      1. Actually, yes. There were rather severe deficiencies in the Working Group II, Chapter 10. The chapter underwent significant changes after the last round of external review. One section was rewritten quite severely (after being moved from Chapter 19), and another section was written entirely from scratch. None of these changes were submitted for outside review. Instead, their first appearance was in the Final Government Draft. Both of these sections wound up heavily favoring the work of a Lead Author of the chapter (work which happens to be quite flawed).

        It’s a pretty severe case of the IPCC process being subverted. The fact the IPCC makes as much documentation available as it does makes it easy to prove what happened. You just won’t hear much about it because the people who’d normally trumpet stories about IPCC wrongdoings don’t like the fact the person responsible for it was Richard Tol, and his changes downplayed the severity of global warming. Apparently that doesn’t fit the narrative. It’s still a really severe problem though.

        It’s difficult to take remarks about the IPCC review process seriously when Lead Authors of chapters can rewrite entire sections after the last round of reviews so they can make their chapter say whatever they want without any external oversight.

        1. Brandon,
          I’m not familiar with that chapter of WGII, but what you describe is a weakness of the IPCC process, though not one that would be solved by release of ZODs.

          Writing the IPCC reports is not the same as writing a new paper, where the revision-review cycle proceeds until either the reviewers are satisfied that there are no major flaws or the authors have convinced an editor that remaining reviewer criticisms aren’t valid or significant. This open-ended process isn’t easily adaptable to producing a report to a prescribed timetable and because it is an assessment of published science it starts from a base of material that has already been through the revision-review cycle prior to publication.

          How the weakness in the process that you describe can be handled is with the strong involvement of multiple chapter authors in overseeing and evaluating the revisions that are made, especially in the final post-review revision, to prevent a single author from dominating the process. And the review editors have a role here too, which was strengthened in AR5 but I think it needs further strengthening for AR6.

          From my experience (some chapters of WGI in AR5 and, to a much more limited extent, AR4), this is how it worked in WGI.

          1. I agree this has nothing to do with releasing the Zeroth Order Drafts. I only brought it up because Ed Hawkins asked if there were any examples.

            Ultimately, the problem is after the last round of external reviews, the documents have to be revised to address those reviews. That gives a stage where the documents can be changed without any external oversight. That undercuts the narrative people try to create about the IPCC reports being extensively reviewed. That problem can be mitigated by chapter authors trying to make sure the changes they make after the last round reviews are limited and nature and only made to address reviewer comments, but there is (as far as I know) no structural way to ensure that happens. In this case, the changes made had nothing to do with any reviewer remarks, and had they been subjected to external review, they would have been criticized by a number of external reviewers.

            I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. Personally, I think the idea chapter authors can write entirely new sections based almost entirely upon their own work and slip them into the IPCC report absent any external oversight is a serious problem. However, when I contacted the IPCC about this, I was informed that is not considered an error or mistake – it is just a part of the IPCC drafting process. I think that speaks poorly of the review process. It certainly calls into question claims of the report being reviewed by thousands of experts.

          2. > It’s difficult to take remarks about the IPCC review process seriously when Lead Authors of chapters can rewrite entire sections after the last round of reviews so they can make their chapter say whatever they want without any external oversight.

            It’s easier to take remarks about the IPCC review process seriously when we consider that, in the end, it is the authors who are responsible for authoring the document.

            The risk of a domineering author comes with the idea that authors are authors. The risk needs to be taken seriously when it happens, not because of the review process. When all an author has to do is to type what reviewers said, it’s not authoring anymore.

            I would not mind an authorless process, BTW.


            > How the weakness in the process that you describe can be handled is with the strong involvement of multiple chapter authors in overseeing and evaluating the revisions that are made, especially in the final post-review revision, to prevent a single author from dominating the process.

            Editors should be involved too. By “editors” I am referring to those who recruit the authors and are responsible for the production of the report.


            > And the review editors have a role here too, which was strengthened in AR5 but I think it needs further strengthening for AR6.

            What do you suggest, Tim?

          3. Brandon — that is a weakness in the process that ought to be avoided by other authors and review editors preventing it from happening, but also the TSU staff would usually pick up some significant new deviation from the previous draft. I’m not aware that it has happened in any other instances, and I’ve not even read the Tol chapter so I cannot say much of use other than to agree that, if it happened in the way you describe, then it is a problem and the IPCC should be concerned about how to avoid it happening again.

          4. Willard — re. strengthening the role of review editors (REs)? Since we can’t repeat the edit-review cycle additional times, the REs could oversee the revision process at an earlier stage — pulling out the key challenges that the reviewers have made, working iteratively with the authors in agreeing what a suitable response to these challenges is, and then the authors subsequently make the agreed changes (with further checking that the changes are consistent with what’s been agreed). Coming in earlier in the process would strengthen the RE’s role compared with, say, waiting for the author to make most of the revisions and vetting them at that point.

      2. Ed: Perhaps you have forgotten that the SAR was modified after the scientific peer-review process to include the highly-publicized assertion that a “discernible human influence” on climate had been detected. Lots has been written, some inaccurately, about this subject. IMO, the title and content of much of Section 8.6 (p438-9) of the report, “When Will an Anthropogenic Effect on Climate be Identified?”, strongly suggests that the scientific writing team was not expected to claim a “discernible human influence”. The last paragraph (which I assume – but can’t prove at the moment – was drafted by Santer alone after the plenary session) does make this claim. Some links that can help you form your own opinion about this subject are included below:

        A lot has changed in the last two decades since this incident.

  5. It just adds to the gathering body of evidence, that the IPCC was formed & produces for entirely political purposes, with attempts to hide these behind a veneer of science of varying quality.

    [If you want to make such statements please provide evidence that there are political purposes, because I can assure you I saw none from inside the AR5 process – Ed]

  6. FOI(A) requests impose a significant burden upon the receivers. How much time is available to a particular person if bombarded with an organized set of requests, or even innumerable requests from a single person. Sitting with IT folk and lawyers each day is not a good use of time.

    Jones and Shub might not enjoy the experience.

    Brandon, Eli takes it you are referring to Richard Tol’s contribution?

    1. Eli,
      time burden has indeed been an important issue, sometimes overlooked. From my experience the burden isn’t only from multiple requests but can also be from an individual requests where the law exempts that type of information/document from release unless the ‘public interest’ says otherwise. The university then requires much background information so they can assess the reasons for release, the reasons against, and from there to decide where the balance lies. Even if it is clear that the public interest is in non-disclosure, a case can be pursued through internal review, appeal to ICO, and appeal to the courts (i.e. the information tribunal), each requiring a somewhat different set of information because some new perspective is introduced in each stage.

      That is where the recent case I describe in this post may help, being a precedent that could be referred to in future similar cases and perhaps reduce the burden.

      1. Presumably if transparency is complete for every stage of the process then the FOI requests disappear. If scientists want to be part of the IPCC process then there’ll be no future time wasting because everything, from day one, is sitting on a server somewhere. There is no problem with emails being read out of context if you know its all on the public record.

        I worked for biotechs as part of my careers it was known from the start that every raw data file, every note in a lab book and every company email I received or sent had the potential to be scrutinized as part of an audit, legal process or whatever. It seems to a simple man like me as a simple situation to work with.

  7. As mentioned above I deal with FOI requests regularly. The time burden is frequently exaggerated by people wishing to excuse their own desire to hide things. In most cases a significant burden arises only when the body decides to deny the request, and frequently that decision is either wrong in principle or simply perverse.

    In the case of my own request answering it would have taken a few minutes (I asked for a specific attachment to an email: the file I requested already existed in the form I wanted it, and everybody involved knew precisely how to locate it). CRU wasted an enormous amount of their own time in making up wholly imaginary (and mutually contradictory) reasons why they couldn’t send me data which they had already emailed on request to another academic.

    It’s clear from some of the leaked emails that CRU/UEA knew they were likely to have to send me the data in the end, and any time wasted by their decision to spin the process out was entirely their own fault. One senior figure at CRU also wasted time emailing his friends and relations in an attempt to dig up dirt on me, and in discussing methods by which he could conspire to have me threatened by senior staff at my own university, following tactics he had previously used against two other academics.

    All this was in flagrant breach of both FOI legislation (which required CRU/UEA to assist me in making my request, not to hinder me, and certainly not to threaten me) and of Data Protection law (which required them to keep my request confidential). While I have received a private admission of wrong doing by UEA there has never been any public acknowledgment of their deeply inappropriate behaviour. Frankly my sympathy for the difficulties CRU/UEA have got themselves into is very limited indeed.

  8. My general point here would be that the consensus in climate science has become an important ‘thing’ in its own right. It is almost its own line of evidence for the existence of a serious problem and the need for drastic action. The TINA (there is no alternative) aspect to climate science in part stems from the existence of this consensus. The fact that contrarian/minority voices are often vilified stems from the apparent strength of this consensus. The IPCC report seems to be at the heart of the process of consensus building. It would seem from what you say that the ZOD already represents the basic architecture of the report. For transparency sake it seems very worthwhile to open up the process of concensus building to scrutiny that would have to include ZOD and pre-ZOD.

  9. There’s an interesting recent article on FOI costs in the Press Gazette: Cost to central Government of complying with FoI 50 times less than external comms budget.

    central Government departments spend less than £6m a year answering FoI questions … less than 2 per cent of the estimated £289m the Government Communication Service said it would spend on external communications activities in 2014/15

    Dia Chakravarty, political director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, adds

    If authorities are truly concerned about keeping FOI-related cost down then they can simply make public spending more transparent so that a lot of the information is freely available without having to file FoI requests.

    Sound advice.

  10. This is a re-post of the comment that I submitted on November 22, 2015 at 6:29 pm, and which the gremlins have consumed:


    It might be a bit soon to signal the end of requests for environmental information on the IPCC assessments. The MO case could end up as marking the end of routine refusals. As I am sure you know that the First Tier Tribunal decisions are not binding and this case has yet to be heard by the Upper Tribunal, the decision of which is binding upon the parties in the UK, but can considered by the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention, which has previously reprimanded several Parties including the UK

    The UK transposition of the Convention and Directive into UK law is in error in some important respects such as the ‘emissions rule’, and the application of the regulations. There can be no dispute but that the raison d’être of the IPCC is to relate human emissions of CO2 to global temperature. In its 2012 report to the Council and the European Parliament, the Commission described the ‘emissions rule’ as the “legal presumption that the public interest served by disclosure prevails if the request relates to emissions into the environment”.

  11. David,

    Yes, I noted the possibility of an appeal at the end of my article:

    Although appeals can be made to an upper tribunal, there may be no grounds for appeal and there is a time limit. It seems likely that this decision will bring to a close this and related cases

    We’ll see if they give you permission to appeal.

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