Britain's climate sceptics' dishonest tactics need to stop

Climate sceptics are turning to increasingly tricky ruses to hide their motives.

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An article in last week's Mail on Sunday has again exposed the dishonest tactics used by climate change ‘sceptics’ to try to stop the UK from cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The polemic was written by Professor Michael Kelly, an electronic engineer at the University of Cambridge who used to be Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Professor Kelly is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science whose distinguished members have included Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking.

It is notable that Professor Kelly’s newspaper article was primarily a vituperative attack on the Society for daring to highlight the scientific evidence for climate change.

But it was actually part of a carefully planned media blitz by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which was set up by Lord Lawson to lobby against Government policies that promote alternatives to fossil fuels.

Professor Kelly publicised the Foundation’s new pamphlet, published on Sunday, which criticises a short guide to climate science produced by the Royal Society last December.

The attack is part of a co-ordinated ongoing war by the Foundation against mainstream scientific organisations, such as the Royal Society and the Met Office, which are documenting how the UK and the rest of the world are being affected by rising greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

The Foundation hopes to create confusion about the science to undermine the case for climate change policies, in a clear echo of tactics used by tobacco companies to delay regulation of smoking.

But the Charity Commission ruled last year that the Foundation had breached its guidelines because it pushes only a ‘sceptic’ line on the science of climate change, including through the insertion of fake headlines to ‘spin’ newspaper articles that it reproduces on its website.

As a result, the Foundation set up a lobbying arm, the Global Warming Policy Forum, to circumvent charity regulations.

However, the Foundation continues to disseminate inaccurate and misleading information about climate change through campaign pamphlets and newspaper articles.

Professor Kelly’s article reproduced many of the false claims contained in the new pamphlet, including the suggestion that the Royal Society’s statements about trends towards increasing extreme weather “simply do not match real-world facts”.

In fact, the most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s most authoritative source of information about the causes and consequences of global warming, concluded that “changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950”, with a likely increase heatwaves in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia, and more heavy rainfall in North America and Europe.

The denial of any change in extreme weather events is one of the main ‘talking points’ for climate change ‘sceptics’ because they know that policy-makers and the public are very concerned about such impacts.

But Professor Kelly also cites the fact that “since 1998 there has been no statistically significant rise in global temperature”. In fact, the linear trend in global annual surface temperature since 1998 has been a rise of 0.05 centigrade degrees per decade, and while this is lower than the long-term rate of warming, climate scientists have concluded that this slowdown is only temporary.

Yet Professor Kelly ignores these facts. One could be charitable, and assume that he simply does not understand climate science. After all, while he is an eminent engineer, he has never published any academic papers on climate change.

However, Professor Kelly is one of Lord Lawson’s most loyal soldiers. In 2010, he helped to organise a letter by 43 Fellows of the Royal Society to its President, Sir Paul Nurse, complaining about its public statements on climate change.

But at least one of the signatories, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, thought the letter was pointing out that the Royal Society should be speaking out more strongly about the risks of climate change.

Professor Kelly’s political motivation for doing Lord Lawson’s bidding at the expense of the Royal Society is obvious from the newspaper article.

He complains about the Climate Change Act and wind farms, blaming them for having “contributed to electricity prices increasing by twice the level of inflation over the last decade”.

But again, Professor Kelly is wrong about the evidence. Increases in the price of natural gas have been the main driver of electricity prices over the past 10 years, as Ofgem has highlighted, and support for renewables, through the Renewables Obligation and Feed-in Tariffs, accounts for only £50, or 3.7%, of an annual dual fuel bill of £1344.

The truth is that lobbying by UK climate change ‘sceptics’, even those with an apparently technical background, is motivated by politics.

The public should not be fooled by their efforts to undermine the science because these are simply the same tactics that are being used by similar groups in the United States, and which have been revealed by the shocking new film ‘Merchants of Doubt’.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.

Bob Ward is policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at London School of Economics and Political Science.