Accessing Environmental Information Relating to Climate Change: A Case Study under UK Freedom of Information Legislation

By | July 15, 2010

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The UK Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) and the Environmental Information Regulations (EIRs) are intended to provide a mechanism whereby information held by public authorities can be accessed by the public.  The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee recently considered the disclosure of information from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and concluded that e-mails revealed scientists encouraged colleagues to resist disclosure and delete e-mails, apparently to prevent disclosure through FoI requests.  The case study presented here focuses on requests under FoI legislation to obtain climate information from the Met Office, particularly relating to assessments of global warming and causal relationships with greenhouse gas emissions. Evidence suggests both the CRU and the Met Office are part of a culture where institutional climate scientists are antagonistic towards disclosure of information.  This has serious implications for both the effective operation of FoI legislation and the openness and transparency of climate change assessments.