IN THE NEWS ~ Oliver's musings on climate science lead to testy exchange

A flurry of recent studies pounced on by climate change deniers as evidence the science behind global warming is bunk are giving a lingering headache to Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver since he mentioned them during an interview with French media last week.

Oliver, whose department is in charge of federal programs attempting to green the energy industry, was asked to retract his comments during a routine appearance before the Commons natural resources committee on Tuesday by NDP MP Peter Julian.

"I don't have to retract anything," said Oliver, whose exchanges with Julian and other opposition MPs grew testy during his appearance. "I agree with the consensus that climate change is urgent and I said that clearly in my interview."

In December, the British Meteorological Office revised its decadal temperature forecasts to suggest there would be a smaller increase in temperatures than predicted in an earlier version of the data, published in December 2011.

Climate skeptics and mainstream media picked up on the update, suggesting a debate was brewing over the accuracy of climate change science.

The Met Office was forced to issue a statement stating that both the old and new versions of its decadal outlook "are consistent in predicting that we will continue to see near-record levels of global temperatures in the next few years."

The next month, James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a well-known advocate for action on climate warning, co-authored a paper that found the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.

On March 30, the Economist ran a story on Hansen's report as well as other fresh developments in climate science, specifically the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and the fact temperatures are not rising as predicted. The story, which delves deeply into the world of competing climate change models, states the problem is "among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now" but "it does not mean global warming is a delusion."

These new reports led Oliver to suggest during a meeting with the editorial board of the Montreal daily La Presse that "scientists have told us recently that our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated," a statement quickly followed in the English press.

On Tuesday, Julian, his party's resource critic, alleged the minister was trying to play down the urgency of climate change. Oliver denied his musings were a attempt to signal some change in belief.

"The science of climatology is complex," he said. "Everyone is talking about that."

"The groups that I cited and others believe that it's a very serious issue and I believe and the government believes it's a serious issue," he said in a press scrum after his appearance.

Julian and other NDP MPs pointed to the cuts to alternative energy programs in this year's budget as proof the government is weakening its resolve on climate change.

"The programs that are supposed to bring Canada forward in a meaningful way with climate change have been slashed," said Julian after Oliver's appearance.

Liberal MP Ted Hsu asked Oliver whether the cuts were undercutting Alberta Premier Alison Redford's efforts to convince American lawmakers to endorse the Keystone XL pipeline, which U.S. President Barack Obama will either approve or reject by the end of the year.

Oliver said Canada does have a responsibility to prove to the U.S. it's serious about climate change and has repeatedly shown its policies are in line with American goals on reducing on carbon emissions.

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