Royal Society launches new climate change guide

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Image caption, An artist's impression of the consequences of climate change

The UK's national academy of science, the Royal Society, has launched a new guide to the science of climate change.

The guide has been updated partly as a result of complaints by 43 of the Royal Society's members who were concerned about the tone of its previous guide.

That was a point-by-point rebuttal of arguments put forward by those who doubt climate change is man-made.

But for many members of the Society, it was too strident and did not fully acknowledge areas of uncertainty.

It was published in 2007 when the arguments put forward by sceptics were growing and shortly after the broadcast of the Channel 4 documentary "the Great Global Warming Swindle".

But some members felt it did not sufficiently acknowledge areas where there were uncertainties in the science. They asked for the guidance to be rewritten, something that the Royal Society says it was considering in any case.

The new guidance, which still states there is strong evidence that the Earth's warming has been largely caused by human activity, but sets out the science in a more measured way and acknowledges areas where there are uncertainties.

According to the Royal Society it "makes known what is clear and established, what is widely agreed but with some debate, and what is still not well understood"

'Discouraging debate'

Climate scepticism encompasses a wide range of views. While some sceptics do not believe that burning fossil fuels leads to a warming of the planet, others accept this general view while doubting other aspects of climate research.

Professor Anthony Kelly, one of the 43 Fellows who called for the change, says he is reasonably satisfied with the new guidance.

"It's gone a long way to meeting our concerns," he said.

"The previous guidance was discouraging debate rather than encouraging it among knowledgeable people. The new guidance is clearer and a very much better document."

Professor Kelly is one of two Fellows who are advisers to Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, which says it wants to bring balance to a "seriously unbalanced, irrationally alarmist" debate about the impact of human activities on the Earth's climate system.

But according to Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, membership of the Royal Society and groups sceptical of climate change are hard to reconcile.

"The key question is whether the Fellows of the Royal Society who contributed to this document believe they can reconcile this core mission with membership of Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation, which campaigns against climate researchers and promotes inaccurate and misleading information about climate change," he said.

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