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Does Lord Lawson's think tank 'cast doubt' on the science of climate change?

  • 26 Jul 2011, 15:39
  • Christian Hunt

Does Lord Lawson's think tank 'cast doubt' on the science of climate change?

The BBC Trust report into the corporation's science coverage noted last week [PDF p.69]

"Science can inform the debate, but policy implications of global warming remain a legitimate part of the news agenda. In its submission to this Report, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (active in casting doubt on the truth of man‐made climate change) told me that they are producing a review with a focus on climate science and science policy."

It is clear that the BBC Trust report as a whole is also critical of the amount of coverage which a few prominent climate skeptics - including Lord Lawson, founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation - have got over the last few years. The report also says

"The impression of active debate is promoted by prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord Lawson. The BBC still gives space to them to make statements that are not supported by the facts"

The GWPF hit back, labelling the report an "explicit attack on the Global Warming Policy Foundation" and stating that

"The report by Professor Jones makes statements about the GWPF that are evidently inaccurate on at least two counts. He claims that

i) the Global Warming Policy Foundation is "active in casting doubt on the truth of man-made climate change"

ii) the GWPF made a submission to his report.

Both of these claims are false."

The climate skeptic think-tank also states that it

"... does not have an official or shared view about the science of global warming - although we are of course aware that this issue is not yet settled. However, we have publicly and repeatedly made clear in no uncertain terms that the GWPF does not question the basics of climate science."

And says that it has written to Lord Patten requesting that the BBC Trust put out a statement acknowledging that the review contains statements about the GWPF "that are wholly without foundation".

The GWPF is regularly quoted in the media, particularly in the Mail and the Telegraph. Its main spokespeople Lord Lawson, Benny Peiser and David Whitehouse have also made statements in the House of Lords, at public events, in broadcast media and on the GWPF's own website, which is updated daily. It has also released reports which offer their perspective on climate science - for example a report by Lord Turnbull last month, which was covered prominently in the Mail and which we examined here.

But does that mean that they are "active in casting doubt on man-made climate change" or in "question[ing] the basics of climate science"? The foundation spend a significant amount of their time making statements about climate policy, politics, and the behaviour of scientists. But they do also talk about scientific issues. Scientific uncertainty is certainly a recurring theme for the foundation, but how do they discuss it?

We have copied below some quotes from GWPF spokespeople on the uncertainties around the science of climate change.

Whether it [CO2] is a major contribution or a minor contribution to what is in any case a very small degree of [global] warming is extremely uncertain, and the scientists don't really know…

Lord Lawson, GWPF Founder, March 2010, The Jeremy Vine Show

All true scientists in this field … say there is enormous doubt, enormous uncertainty ... there was a slight warming in the last quarter of the 20th Century but there has been no further warming at all so far this century; these are official Met Office figures.

Lord Lawson, March 2010, The Jeremy Vine Show

On the science, I think that you are clearly right that the science is far from certain, it is very uncertain, and the more you look at it the clearer that is the case. It is certainly the case that carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have been increasing rapidly, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas -  not the most important one but it is a greenhouse gas - and that prima facia you would expect it to have some warming effect.

Lord Lawson, June 2010, GWPF Event - Debating the Future of British Climate Policy

Clearly carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas - not the most important greenhouse gas - clearly it's a greenhouse gas, and clearly, other things being equal, it will have a warming effect, and we all know emissions are rising fast and therefore concentrations are rising fast - that's clear, no dispute about that. But there is considerable uncertainty about whether other things are equal, and there's a lot of climate science on that at the moment. There's also uncertainty as to how big the warming effect is - to use the technical term, how great the climate sensitivity of carbon is. And there's a lot of dispute about that. It depends for example on the science of clouds, whether they are a positive feedback to amplify warming or whether they're not, and the climate science community are divided on that

Lord Lawson, November 2010, Policy Exchange Debate with Anthony Giddens

The first [problem] as more and more eminent scientists are finding the courage to point out … is that it is far from clear that there is a serious problem - let alone a catastrophic one - of global warming at all.

Lord Lawson, June 2011, Daily Mail

The data on 2010 confirms that since 1998 there has been no overall warming. Some scientists, such as Professor Phil Jones of the Climatic Research Unit at East Anglia, go further, claiming that there has been no statistically significant global temperature rise since 1995. Climate theory is at a loss to explain this. Simulations carried out by the Met Office using climate models suggest that a 10-year hiatus is very rare but not impossible. A hiatus of 15 years, however, is incompatible with current understanding.

Dr Benny Peiser, 26 December 2010, Letter to the Telegraph

… no-one really knows what the [temperature] trajectory will be within the next 100 years, whether the warming trend will be pronounced, whether it will be moderate, whether it will be smaller, no-one knows...

Dr Benny Peiser, GWPF Director, June 2011, BBC Radio 4 'PM' programme

Not only is much of the science behind the idea of global warming now being disputed but, at a time of such widespread economic hardship, we simply cannot afford to misdirect scarce economic resources on such a massive scale.

Dr Benny Peiser, Daily Mail, June 2011

It does seem that the sea ice is returning to 'average' after the record lows of 2007 and 2008. There has been a definite recovery trend since then so far from being a progression towards ice free summers it seems that it was a temporary dip. The recent observations do make the 2007 projections that the region would be ice free by 2013 look very unrealistic. Given what is happening only the foolish would look many years into the future and predict ice free summers now.

Dr David Whitehouse, GWPF Science Editor, 1 April 2010, Quoted in the Telegraph

[t]here is huge controversy about the relative contribution of man-made CO2 versus natural forces

Lord Turnbull, GPWF report "The really inconvenient truth", May 2011

    

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