A difference of opinion
Dec 12, 2013
Bishop Hill in GWPF, Royal Society

Image via Albion Prints. Click for link.There has been some interesting correspondence in the Spectator regarding the meeting between GWPF and a group of FRSs nominated by Paul Nurse. This was sparked by Nigel Lawson's report on the events, which was discussed here the other day.

The FRSs seem to have been a bit upset by Lawson's take on the affair:

Sir: Lord Lawson has written in his diary (30 November) under the online summary headline ‘my secret showdown with the Royal Society on global warming’, but the reality is rather different. As he is aware, the purpose of the meeting on 19 November was not to put on a public performance, but to provide Lord Lawson with expert advice on climate science. The science summarised by the climate scientists was generally agreed to by all present.

Lord Lawson charges that we ‘were very reluctant to engage on the crucial issue of climate change policy at all’ and that we had no interest in ‘the massive human and economic costs involved’ in implementing policies to mitigate the effects of climate change. As climate scientists, the human and economic costs of the changes happening to our climate are of grave concern. Climate science has a key role to play in informing policy.

That said, it is also crucial that the status of the science can be discussed independent of any political views. While climate science undoubtedly does have important policy implications, scientific conclusions about the scale and pace of climate change caused by human activity are independent of these considerations. Indeed, public understanding of and trust in scientific assessments of the risks posed by climate change will be greater if discussions about the science are not politicised. The fact that we focused on science rather than policy on this occasion was precisely for these reasons.

Brian Hoskins, Director, Grantham Institute for Climate Change, Imperial College London

Gideon Henderson, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford

Tim Palmer, Royal Society Research Professor in Climate Physics, University of Oxford

John Shepherd, Research Fellow in Earth System Science, University of Southampton

Keith Shine, Regius Professor of Meteorology and Climate Science, University of Reading

Andrew Watson, Royal Society Research Professor, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter

This has now prompted a response from the GWPF side:


Sir: We were present at the recent and regrettably private meeting between a group of climate scientists nominated by the President of the Royal Society and a team assembled by Lord Lawson.

In their letter about the meeting (Spectator, 7 December) the Royal Society team state that: “The science summarised by the climate scientists was generally agreed by all present”. This is a half-truth. There was indeed a wide measure of agreement over some basic aspects of science; but there were also some significant differences. In particular, the scientists on our side of the table placed more emphasis on empirical observations, while the team led by Sir Brian Hoskins appeared to have more confidence in climate models and future projections generated by such models.

So far as policy is concerned, Sir Brian and his colleagues agree that this is important, and indeed the connection between science and policy was part of our meeting’s agreed agenda. The Royal Society team claimed to know little about the economic costs and benefits of climate change and climate policy. We find it therefore inconsistent that Sir Brian suggests the impacts of climate change to be far graver than the impacts of rapid decarbonisation.

We certainly reject Sir Brian’s implied contention that scientists should take very seriously the highly conjectural future costs of climate change, while wholly disregarding the much more certain human and economic costs of the policies he advocates.

Professor David Henderson, Chairman of the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council

Nicholas Lewis, Independent climate scientist

Professor Richard S Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Professor Anthony Kelly FRS, University of Cambridge

Professor Michael Kelly FRS, University of Cambridge

Matt Ridley, House of Lords

Sir Alan Rudge FRS

Professor Richard Tol, University of Sussex

Article originally appeared on (http://www.bishop-hill.net/).
See website for complete article licensing information.