UN report warns of threat to human progress from climate change

November 4, 2010

SOURCE: The Guardian

The UN warned today that inaction on climate change puts at risk decades of progress on education and health, at the same time as concluding that impressive development gains can be achieved even without consistent economic growth.

 

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Unsustainable consumption is the biggest threat

The latest UN Human Development Report (HDR) identifies unsustainable patterns of consumption and production as posing the biggest challenge to improving the lives of the world's poorest people.

"For human development to become truly sustainable, the close link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions needs to be severed," the report says.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the HDR said the past two decades had seen "substantial progress" in human development despite the impact of the financial crisis, which had resulted in 34 million people losing their jobs and an additional 64 million people dropping below the $1.25 a day income poverty threshold.

"Most people are healthier, live longer, are more educated and have more access to goods and services. Even in countries facing adverse economic conditions, people's health and education have greatly improved."

The HDR assesses progress by using three main measures of well-being - income, life expectancy and education - to compile a human development index (HDI). Since the early 1990s, the HDI has increased by 18%, with only three countries - the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe - having lower human development than 20 years ago.

Climate change threatens development achievements

But Jeni Klugman, director of the Human Development Report office warned of the dangers posed by climate change. "There are risks and threats. Climate change is the big one and it could derail progress. That's why the 2011 report will look at the issue of sustainability."

The UN said that on one estimate, the adverse effects of climate change on grain yields would push prices up, more than doubling the price of wheat. In a worst case scenario, the report added, by 2050 per capita consumption of cereals would fall by a fifth, leaving 25 million additional children malnourished, with South Asia the worst affected.

"Climate change may be the single factor that makes the future very different, impeding the continuing progress in human development that history would lead us to expect. While international agreements have been difficult to achieve and policy responses have been generally slow, the broad consensus is clear: climate change is happening, and it can derail human development.

Overall, the UN said poor countries had been closing the human development gap with rich countries over the past two decades, particularly in health and education. The countries reporting the slowest progress were those in sub-Saharan Africa struck by the HIV epidemic and parts of the former Soviet Union suffering increased adult mortality.

The report presents interesting findings about varied pathways to human development, leading it to conclude that "there is no single formula for sustainable progress-and that impressive gains can be achieved even without consistent economic growth".

The UN said it was striking that the top 10 list of fast improvers contained several countries not typically described as top performers - such as Morocco and Algeria. Ethiopia came 11th, with three other sub-Saharan African countries (Botswana, Benin and Bukina Faso) in the top 25.

Over the past 40 years, a quarter of developing countries saw their HDI increase less than 20%, another quarter more than 65%. The UN said that half of this disparity was the result of different starting points, but added that countries with "similar starting points experience remarkably different evolutions, suggesting that country factors such as policies, institutions and geography are important".

Asia's fastest growing economies - China, Indonesia and South Korea - were among the countries that had showed the greatest progress in improving their HDI, but the UN said the top 10 also included Nepal, Oman and Tunisia where progress in the non-income dimensions of human development had been equally remarkable.

North - South divide persists

"The divide between developed and developing countries persists: a small subset of countries has remained at the top of the world income distribution, and only a handful of countries that started out poor have joined that high-income group", the report said. "The gap in human development across the world, while narrowing, remains huge."

Championing the role of governments in human development, the report said that markets were generally "very bad at ensuring the provision of public goods, such as security, stability, health and education.

"For example, firms that produce cheap labour-intensive goods or that exploit natural resources may not want a more educated workforce and may care little about their workers' health if there is an abundant pool of labour. Without complementary societal and state action, markets can be weak on environmental sustainability, creating the conditions for environmental degradation, even for such disasters as mud flows in Java and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico."

The full report is available here.

Groundwater depletion raises likelihood of global food crises

October 27, 2010

SOURCE: National Geographic 

New data on the rate of groundwater depletion around the group show that the world is almost certainly facing a future of food shortages.

 

Credit: 2006 Rezaul Haque, Courtesy of Photoshare

Diminishing groundwater supplies

In an upcoming issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, Professor Marc Bierkens of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and his colleagues estimate that the rate at which humanity is pumping dry the underground reservoirs that hundreds of millions of people depend upon for food and drinking water more than doubled between 1960 and 2000.

The rate of depletion increased particularly sharply in the early 1990's, which is likely due to escalating groundwater use in China and India. Food insecurity threats Although the research team doesnt delve into the implications of their findings, a lot is at stake-especially for the worlds food supply. Irrigation, which accounts for 70 percent of world water use, is the principal cause of the groundwater depletion.

About 40 percent of the worlds food supply comes from the 18 percent of farmland that's irrigated, making irrigated farming a cornerstone of global food security. But in recent decades as more farmers have turned from rivers to groundwater for their water supply, groundwater pumping in many areas has become unsustainable.

High levels of water debt Just as a bank account shrinks when withdrawals exceed deposits, so does a groundwater account. Water budgets are badly out of balance, throwing many regions into water debt. In effect, farmers are using some of tomorrows water to meet today's food demands.

The highest rates of water loss are occurring in critical regions of irrigated farming--including the north plain of China, northwestern India, and the central valley of California. In most areas groundwater is not monitored or regulated, so as increasing numbers of wells extract ever more water, the tragedy of the commons is playing out on a large scale.

Urgent action needed

With modern satellite capabilities and new modeling and monitoring techniques, it is now possible to know what is happening to our water supplies underground.

The picture is not good. The challenge now is to encourage the adoption of more efficient irrigation systems, more appropriate cropping patterns, and other measures to bring the worlds groundwater accounts into balance. The future food security of hundreds of millions of people depends on this.

Humanity is using 1.5 planets worth of resources, finds report

October 18, 2010

SOURCE: The Guardian

The Earths population is using the equivalent of 1.5 planets worth of natural resources, but the long-term decline of animal life appears to have been halted, a WWF report shows.

 

Credit: WWF

Natural resources are being 'plundered'

The latest Living Planet report, published today by the conservation group, also reveals the extent to which modern Western lifestyles are plundering natural resources from the tropics at record levels.

The report shows the impact of living off the planet's "savings": in the last 40 years human consumption has doubled, while the Living Planet index - measuring the decline and increase of thousands of species on land, in rivers and at sea - has declined by 30% overall, and by a massive 60% in the tropics.

However the index -compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and likened to a stockmarket charting the progress of the natural world - shows that animal populations have risen significantly in the richer nations in the temperate zones north and south of the tropics, and globally appear to have stabilised in the last few years.

Despite the suggestion of good news, WWF and supporters at the launch warned that there were still severe threats, especially from climate change and water shortages

"Healthy ecosystems form the basis of all we have - lose them and we destroy our life support system," said Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's conservation programme director.

"This is like spending the savings: we're spending the natural capital we have on this planet," said Jim Leape, WWF's director, at the launch of the report in Bristol. "That's an economic crisis in the making."

Measurements of the "ecological footprint" of different countries - the area required to provide the resources consumed by the population or average person in a year, compiled by the Global Footprint Network, shows the richest countries consume, on average, five times the quantity of natural resources as the poorest countries. At the extremes are the United Arab Emirates, with an average footprint of more than 10 hectares, and Timor-Leste at less than one hectare. The global average is about three hectares, and the UK figure is around five.

"There's going to be global trade and that's not always a bad thing," said Colin Butfield, head of campaigns for WWF. "[But people] in many subsistence countries depend on their local water source and if upstream you have got a big industrial cotton or soy growing plant, we're starting to affect in many many cases around the world the ability for poor people to develop, feed themselves, industrialise, to supply basic products we use every day: soy beans for cattle, cotton for clothing, and so on.

"We're also taking away the natural capital of those countries, and only a small number of people in those countries benefit."

Rapid loss of biodiversity

The latest index compiled the results for nearly 8,000 populations of more than 2,500 different species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish. The real picture is, however, likely to be worse, because the latest report includes new populations, and because there are still many tropical species which have not been identified by scientists yet, said Butfield. It also does not directly measure the fate of plants, or pollution.

Nick Ross, the TV presenter who joined the launch event, called it "a bonfire of biodiversity".

"The trajectory is so alarming that even if people pick little holes in the methodology the message that comes across here is overwhelming," he said.

The report says the biggest impact on the global footprint of humanity is an 11-fold increase in carbon emissions in the last four decades. In another 40 years the footprint would double again, forecasted Leape.

The report, which is published just weeks before a major conference on slowing or halting the loss of biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan, calls for a series of changes to help address the problems, including more protected areas, zero net deforestation, eliminating overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and finding ways to put a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services.

There also needed to be more support to sustainable alternatives to modern consumption, such as timber, fish, soy, and other commodities from well-managed sources, said WWF. Although government regulation was the "ideal" way to achieve this, consumers and businesses also needed to insist on such standards, said Butfield. "The reality of politics is government will only move a certain amount of the way, depending on how much they think consumers and businesses are behind them," he said.

PSN participates in DFID reproductive health strategy consultation

September 29, 2010

SOURCE: PSN

Population and Sustainability Network has taken part in a consultation meeting on the UK Governments policy on reproductive, maternal and newborn health in the developing world and submitted a written response to the DFID consultation Choice for women: wanted pregnancies, safe births.

Credit: UNFPA

 
DFIDs consultation meeting

PSN's Coordinator Karen Newman and PSN Steering Group Member Professor John Guillebaud were invited to participate in the meeting which took place on Wednesday 29 September, co-hosted by the Department for International Development's (DFID), the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists  and the UK Network for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights .

Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, opened the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform the new business plan being developed by DFID, which will set out how the UK will achieve its contribution towards achieving Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5 to improve maternal health. The business plan will also make an important contribution to reducing child mortality (MDG 4) - particularly through improving the survival chances of newborn babies.

PSN features on consultation video

Karen and John featured alongside other participants at the meeting in a  video recorded live at the meeting in which they briefly set out one priority action for advancing reproductive health.

In the video Karen calls for greater focus on world population growth, through investment in voluntary family planning that promotes and protects rights. John highlights the need to remove all barriers women experience in accessing family planning, to ensure that women are able to have children by choice, not chance.

The UK Government's commitments to reproductive health

The event was part of the wider Choice for women: wanted pregnancies, safe birth consultation being undertaken by DFID following the recent announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, of a commitment to doubling the number of lives of women and babies saved through UK aid by 2015.

As a result, at least 50,000 more women and 250,000 babies are expected to survive pregnancy and childbirth and 10 million more couples will get access to family planning.

PSN's written submission to the consultation

Since the meeting PSN has submitted a written response to the consultation, welcoming the focus in the strategy upon rights and choices as a way of improving reproductive health and empowering women worldwide.

Given the wide-ranging benefits that investments in family planning can bring, PSN's response calls upon DFID to take a strong leadership role in linking reproductive health policy and programmes to population issues and other pressing development priorities, including poverty alleviation, fragile states and climate change.

Read the full consultation

DFID publishes the reproductive health strategy

DFID has since published its reproductive health strategy Choice for women: planned pregnancies, safe births and healthy newborns. Read more about it. 

Human impact on world's rivers threatens water security of 5 billion

September 29, 2010

SOURCE: The Guardian

Human activity threatens the water security of almost 5 billion people and river biodiversity worldwide, finds a new study jointly considering human and biodiversity perspectives on water security.

 

Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Threats to water security

The world's rivers are so badly affected by human activity that the water security of almost 5 billion people, and the survival of thousands of aquatic species, are threatened, scientists warned.

The study, conducted by institutions across the globe, is the first to simultaneously look at all types of human intervention on freshwater - from dams and reservoirs to irrigation and pollution. It paints a devastating picture of a world whose rivers are in serious decline.

While developing countries are suffering from threats to both water security and biodiversity, particularly in Africa and central Asia, the authors were surprised by the level of threat posed to wildlife in rich countries.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," said Prof Peter McIntyre, one of the lead authors, who began the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan.

"Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges."

Engineering of rivers threatening biodiversity in developed countries

Some of the worst threats to aquatic species in the US are in the south-eastern states. Prof Charles Vörösmarty of the City University of New York, lead author and an expert on global water, said the impact on wildlife in developed countries was the result of river systems that had been heavily engineered and altered by man.

"With all the protection the EU has in place, it was surprising to see it was a hotspot for biodiversity loss. But for a long time Europeans have altered their landscapes, including the removal of 90% of wetlands and floodplains, which are crucial parts of river ecosystems," he said.

The team behind the report, published in the journal Nature , examined datasets to produce a map of how 23 different human influences - such as dams, the introduction of alien non-native fish, and pollution - affect water security and biodiversity. Previous studies have tended to look at just one influence at a time.

Even the world's great rivers, such as the Yangtze, the Nile and the Ganges, are suffering serious biodiversity and water security stress.

Despite their size, more than 30 of the 47 largest rivers showed at least moderate threats to water security, due to a range of human impacts such as pollution and irrigation. Even the Amazon, considered to be relatively pristine, still has human fingerprints on it, said Vörösmarty.

"While the Amazon is in generally good shape, in the upstream regions, such as Peru, there are many high density areas of people that inject threat into the system.

"The legacy of that human threat passes downstream into the remote forested areas of the river."

Globally between 10,000 and 20,000 aquatic wildlife species are at risk or face extinction because of the human degradation of global rivers, the report said. The world's least affected rivers, the authors found, were those furthest from populated areas, such as remote parts of the tropics, Siberia and elsewhere in the polar regions.

Treat the causes, not the symptoms

Vörösmarty said he hoped the global report would highlight the need to address the root causes of the degradation of rivers. "We're spending trillions of US dollars to fix a problem we've created in the first place. It's much cheaper to treat the causes rather than the symptoms, which is what we do in the developed world today," he said.

In Britain rivers have been getting cleaner over the past decade. But a report by the UK's Environment Agency last year admitted only five of 6,114 rivers in England and Wales were considered pristine and three-quarters were likely to fail new European quality standards for various reasons.

Costs of aging population have been 'overestimated'

September 10, 2010

SOURCE: The Telegraph

The negative effects of an aging population may have been exaggerated because people are staying healthier for longer, according to a new study.

 

Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant

Improving health is overlooked

The two factors: an aging, but healthier older population, tend to balance each other out, the researchers found, suggesting that Governments may have overestimated the future costs of demographic changes.

For instance, standard measures assume that over 65s are likely to need carers, whereas healthy elderly people are often themselves able to look after an even older relative, the report's authors said.

Scientists from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, Stony Brook University, USA, (SBU), and the Vienna Institute of Demography (VID) have developed new measures of aging that take into account the actual costs incurred as people get older.

The results will feed into the debate over appropriate retirement ages and public pension provision.

The researchers have developed a new dependency measure based on disabilities that reflect the relationship between those who need care and those who are capable of providing care, called the adult disability dependency ratio (ADDR).

Co-author Dr Sergei Scherbov, from IIASA and the VID, said "If we apply new measures of aging that take into account increasing life-spans and declining disability rates, then many populations are aging slower compared to what is predicted using conventional measures based purely on chronological age."

The new work looks at "disability-free life expectancies," which describe how many years of life are spent in good health.

Their calculations show that in the United Kingdom, for example, while the old age dependency ratio is increasing, the disability ratio is remaining constant.

What that means, according to the authors, is that "although the British population is getting older, it is also likely to be getting healthier, and these two effects offset one another."

The report is due to be published in the journal Science.

Support from UNFPA for PSN backed Madagascar environment project

August 10, 2010

SOURCE: UN/PSN

A pioneering conservation and development initiative in Madagascar backed by PSN has become the first conservation project in the country to receive support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Credit: Blue Ventures

 

A symbolic step

Blue Ventures' conservation director, Dr. Alasdair Harris, said: "The UNFPA's support is a hugely symbolic step. A human rights and health based organisation is supporting a marine conservation charity for the first time because of its recognition of the inter-relationship between marine resource sustainability, maternal and infant health, and population growth."

The news has received a similarly warm welcome from the organisation's clinical technician. "It's wonderful news and great recognition for the project," said Fanja Rakotozafy. "Now the sexual and reproductive health team here is part of the UNFPA family, we have the support to expand and develop our work within Velondriake, the country's largest marine conservation region. This is good for the community here."

The UN's Population Fund promotes universal access to reproductive healthcare, and strategically selects NGO partners where appropriate. Access to reproductive healthcare in southern Madagascar is lagging behind the rest of the country. Blue Ventures' established presence in the area makes it an attractive partner.

Linking population, health and environment

Victor Rakoto, the UN Population Fund assistant representative in Madagascar, says: "The UNFPA has found that collaboration between the two organisations could significantly increase access to reproductive health services including family planning services in the targeted region. Another very important development is that this partnership will make a link between the interventions in population and environmental protection."

Population pressures on the marine environment

Overfishing and temperature-related coral-bleaching have rendered ancient fishing practices ineffective at feeding the rapidly growing local population in Andavadoaka. An influx of migrants using destructive fishing practices has added to pressure on fish stocks.

In this area of rural Madagascar women typically have their first child in their early teens. Family sizes far exceed the national average of 5 children, and are estimated at 6.7 children per family.

Increasing access to family planning

Prior to the launch of Blue Ventures' clinics, women faced a 50km trek through dry spiny forest to access contraceptive services at the nearest clinic.

Blue Ventures responded to the desire for better reproductive choices and piloted a powerful, cheap, grassroots solution - a local barefoot family planning clinic.

Population surge outstrips efforts to eradicate slums

July 20, 2010

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

Nearly a quarter of a billion people escaped slums in the past decade, but the housing effort was outstripped by population growth and rural exodus to the cities, the United Nations said.

 

Credit: 2005 Rebecca Horn, Courtesy of Photoshare

Promising progress for some

A total of 227 million people rose out of slum conditions from 2000 to 2010, thanks especially to hard work in China and India, according to the UN Human Settlements Programme, also called UN-Habitat.

It means that the United Nations has already scored a rare success in its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Under MDG 7, Target 11, UN members pledged to "achieve significant improvement" in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

The bad news is that from 2000-2010, the absolute numbers of slum dwellers increased from 776.7 million to 827.6 million.

"Cities are growing faster than the slum improvement rate," said Gora Mboup, a Senegalese who co-authored the report, State of the World Cities 2010/11: Bridging the Urban Divide , issued on Thursday.

Half of the increase of 55 million extra slum dwellers came from population growth in existing slum homes; a quarter by rural flight to the cities; and a quarter by people living on the edge of cities whose homes became engulfed by urban expansion.

UN-Habitat warned: "Short of drastic action, the world slum population will probably grow by six million each year, or another 61 million people, to hit a total of 889 million by 2020."

Regional differences

Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest slum population, totalling 199.5 million people, or 61.7 percent of its urban population.  It is followed by South Asia (190.7 million people, 35 percent of urban population) and East Asia (189.6 million, 28.2 percent).

China and India are lauded for making "giant strides" to improve the life of slum dwellers.  China made improvements to the daily conditions of 65.3 million urban residents without shelter. The proportion of urban Chinese living in slums fell from 37.3 percent in 2000 to 28.2 percent in 2010. India, meanwhile, lifted 59.7 million out of slum conditions last decade. Slum prevalence now stands at 28.1 percent.

The world's three most "unequal cities" in terms of disparity of wealth among its inhabitants are all in South Africa: Buffalo City, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni. The "most equal" cities are Chittagong and Dhaka in Bangladesh, which are also blighted by poverty.

Urban sprawl

Urban sprawl, once associated only with cities in North America, is fast engulfing many developing countries as property developers promote life in the spacious suburbs.  Sprawl causes transport problems because of the usual over-reliance on cars, can pose a threat to the environment if housing encroaches on sensitive zones and also adds to social segregation, says the report.

More than half of the world's population - 3.49 billion people, or 50.6 percent of the total - now live in urban areas.

Investigators determined that housing was a slum if it lacked at least one of out of these five amenities: it had a permanent structure; had less than three people sharing a room; access to water that was sufficient, affordable and could be obtained without extreme effort; a private toilet or a public one shared with a reasonable number of people; and secure tenure.

Breaking the silence on global population issues

July 19, 2010

SOURCE: London International Development Centre Guy Collender

Repeated pleas for more family planning services and an enlightened approach to population issues were made at an event featuring PSN to mark World Population Day.

Credit: UNFPA

 

Breaking the silence

Distinguished academics spoke about the failure of the international community, and called for maternal and child health to be recognised as paramount at the symposium in London. They emphasised the need to break the ‘silence' on population matters as their impact on health and the environment cannot be ignored, especially as the world's growing population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050.

The speakers at the meeting on 12 July said family planning was about promoting human rights and sustainability, and they widely dismissed the phrase population control.

Professor Andy Haines, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, introduced the interrelated and challenging issues at the event held at his institution. He explained how population growth is a ‘major contributor' to environmental concerns, including climate change and food security.  

Family planning

Haines also said the international community has failed to provide adequate family planning as nearly 25% of women in sub-Saharan Africa have an unmet need for such services.

Professor John Cleland, of LSHTM, reiterated this criticism, saying that the neglect of family planning over the last 15 years has been a ‘tragedy.' He said family planning now needs a champion, and that many hope Bill Gates will fulfil such a role. Cleland described how family planning is unique among interventions because of its array of potential benefits, including progress towards all of the Millennium Development Goals.  

Such widespread advantages were also mentioned by Professor Oona Campbell, of LSHTM. Family planning is hailed as a cost-effective investment, and she referred to research which shows that every US$1 spent on family planning in sub-Saharan Africa is credited with saving US$2-6 in other areas, including education and sanitation. Campbell also explained how contraceptives can avoid situations often associated with poor health: pregnancies among the very young or old, large families where food and other resources are in short supply, short birth intervals, and unsafe abortions.

Population growth in Africa

Alex Ezeh, of the African Population Studies and Health Research Centre, Nairobi, focused on the population projections, and their implications, for Africa. He referred to figures that show the continent's population will increase from about one billion now to nearly two billion by 2050. This means Africa will account for 43% of world population growth over this period. Ezeh highlighted how the continent is the lowest net producer of carbon emissions, yet faces the greatest impact from climate change, including water supply problems likely to affect between 75-250 million Africans by 2020. He said family planning investments until the 1990s have been disrupted by the diversion of funds to respond to HIV/AIDS, and he called for better infrastructure to deliver family planning services.

PSN helps progress the debate

The urgency of exploring population issues and moving beyond outdated debates was stressed by many of the speakers. Karen Newman, of Population and Sustainability Network, said: ‘We have allowed ourselves to become more population illiterate than is helpful. How useful is the silence on population?' Professor Malcolm Potts, of the University of Berkeley, added: ‘We are talking about human rights; we are not talking about population control.' Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, Nigeria's Minister of Health until May this year, emphasised the need to engage parliamentarians in these debates, integrate family planning into wider policies, and invest in women's education and rights as the only way to secure sustainability.

PSN Board Member Toby Aykroydalso contributed to the event, chairing a session on population, food, water and climate change, addressed by Professor Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government.

Climategate scientists cleared of manipulating data on global warming

July 8, 2010

SOURCE: The Guardian

Muir Russell report says scientists did not fudge data, but they should have been more open about their work.

 

Credit: UN Photo/Michos Tzovaras

Accusations cleared

The climate scientists at the centre of a media storm over leaked emails were yesterday cleared of accusations that they fudged their results and silenced critics, but a review found they had failed to be open enough about their work.

Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led a six-month inquiry into the affair, said the "rigour and honesty" of the scientists at the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) were not in doubt. His investigation concluded they did not subvert the peer review process to censor criticism and that key data was freely available and could be used by any "competent" researcher.

But the panel said the scientists' responses to "reasonable requests for information" had been "unhelpful and defensive". The inquiry found "emails might have been deleted in order to make them unavailable should a subsequent request be made for them" and that there had been "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness". Scientists also failed to appreciate the risk their lack of transparency posed to the university and "indeed to the credibility of UK climate science".

The controversy began when 13 years of emails from CRU scientists were released online last year. Climate change sceptics claimed they showed scientists manipulating and suppressing data to back up a theory of manmade climate change. Critics also alleged the scientists abused their positions to cover up flaws and distort the peer review process that determines which studies are published in journals, and so enter the scientific record. Some alleged the emails cast doubt on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Honesty and rigour 'not in doubt'

Announcing the findings, Russell said: "Ultimately this has to be about what they did, not what they said. The honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt ... We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments."

The review is the third and final inquiry into the email affair, and effectively clears Professor Phil Jones, head of the CRU, and his colleagues of the most serious charges. Questions remain over the way they responded to requests for information from people outside the conventional scientific arena, some of whom were critics of Jones. "We do find that there has been a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness, both on the part of CRU scientists and on the part of the UEA," said the report, commissioned by UEA at a cost of £200,000.

Edward Acton, vice-chancellor of UEA, said the university accepted the report's conclusion that it should have been more open. "The need to develop a culture of greater openness and transparency in CRU is something we faced up to internally some months ago and we are already working to put right."

He hoped the review would "finally lay to rest conspiracy theories, untruths and misunderstandings" that had been circulating, and that the "wilder assertions" about the climate science community would now stop.

Jones issued a statement which said: "I am, of course, extremely relieved that this review has now been completed. We have maintained all along that our science is honest and sound and this has been vindicated now by three different independent external bodies. There are lessons to be learned and I need time to reflect on them." Jones is to be director of research at CRU. Acton said this was "not a demotion but a shift in emphasis of role."

Stepping up climate change momentum

Ed Miliband, the former climate change secretary, said: "Muir Russell has given the world a clear message: we should not believe those who tell us that one string of emails undermines years of climate science. We should also learn lessons because maximum openness and transparency is the best weapon against those who want us to stick our heads in the sand as if climate change isn't happening. Now the world needs to step up the momentum again and get the deal that eluded us at Copenhagen."

The full article is available on the Guardian website.