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|Just as leading US experts give their
clearest warning about emissions, 43 UK scientists prompt Royal
Society to rethink.
Two weeks ago, the United States National
Academy of Sciences published its clearest ever report on the
science of climate change. It concluded: "Climate change is
occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses
significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems."
Over recent years, particularly during the George W Bush
administration, the academy has faced great challenges in presenting
the science of climate change to domestic policymakers, many of whom
have been in denial about the consequences of greenhouse gas
But with Barack Obama in the White House, the academy has been more
able to offer scientific advice that some politicians may find
So it is ironic that just as the leading scientists in the US give
their clearest warning about climate change, we now see suggestions
that some fellows of UK's national academy of science, the Royal
Society, might be disputing the evidence.
Last December, ahead of the United Nations conference in Copenhagen,
the society published a statement entitled Preventing dangerous
climate change, which was unequivocal.
It said: "It is certain that GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from the
burning of fossil fuels and from land use change lead to a warming
of climate, and it is very likely that these GHGs are the dominant
cause of the global warming that has been taking place over the last
But now, 43 of the society's 1,489 fellows have written to complain
about some of its statements about climate change published over the
last few years. It is not clear exactly what the 43 have concerns
And because their identities have not been made public, we do not
know whether any of them are climate researchers.
There are certainly some fellows working outside climate science who
dispute the findings of mainstream researchers.
One such is Anthony Kelly, a member of the academic advisory council
of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a lobby group set up by
Nigel Lawson last year to promote scepticism about climate change.
Professor Kelly is an 81-year-old distinguished research fellow in
materials science and metallurgy at Cambridge University.
The other members of the GWPF's academic advisory council include
Ian Plimer, the Australian geologist who has wrongly claimed that
volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than human activities.
The news that 43 fellows apparently disagree with the society is
likely to generate even further public confusion about the causes
and consequences of climate change.
A YouGov poll published earlier this week found that 40% of the
public either do not believe climate change is happening, or think
scientists are divided about its occurrence, compared with 32% last
The Royal Society is carrying out a review of its statements on
climate change in response to the fellows' letter. It will no doubt
prefer to remain silent until the review is completed.
But given the impact of the controversies over the University of
East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit and the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change, it would be better if the 43 fellows made their
concerns public, and the society clarified where it stands on the
scientific evidence about climate change.
By: Bob Ward, Policy and Communications director at the Grantham
Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the
London School of Economics and Political Science, and was head of
media relations at the Royal Society until September 2006.