Inconvenient Data: The Need for an International Climate Data Registry

No discussion of climate change proceeds far without recognizing the critical role of observational data in shaping perceptions and conclusions about the state of the climate and how it is changing. Whether the focus is on a seemingly simple question as “what is the temperature trend?” or a more complex question, such as “how is the human impact on climate distinguished from natural forces?”, data on temperature on land, in the oceans and in the layers of the atmosphere, cloud formation, precipitation patterns, land-use changes, changing atmospheric composition, and much more, shape our understanding of how our complex climatic system operates.

Given the importance that climate data has assumed in determining the course of the public policy debate, the public should be reasonably confident that this data is accurate, open, available to any scholar, and subject to intense scrutiny and criticism.  Such steps are needed to ensure the reliability of the data and the usefulness of the findings derived from it. The stakes are that high. The U.S. taxpayer will bear the cost of remediation, and that cost will be based on the climate data used to establish climate change parameters. Unfortunately, it appears that much of the information upon which the Congress is basing impending climate-related action is art and opinion, not valid scientific data.

Among many definitions of data quality, J.M. Juran provides the best for this issue: data are of high quality “…if they are fit for their intended uses in operations, decision making and planning….” That use should be reasoned decision making, not emotional posturing. During the 2007 Senate Environment and Public Works Committee markup of the climate bill S. 2191, “America’s Climate Security Act of 2007,” numerous amendments were offered. One of those rejected amendments, the “International Climate Data Registry,” deserves a closer look if Congress is seeking a stronger policy linking climate regulation and climate science. The full text of this amendment is provided as an Appendix, and its importance for future climate policy is the subject of this paper.

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