David King


 Please note, this page has been archived since 2011 and will not be updated.

Sir David Anthony King is the director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, director of research in physical chemistry at the University of Cambridge, a senior scientific adviser to investment bank UBS and chancellor of the University of Liverpool. He was the chief scientific adviser to the British government under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and head of the Government Office for Science from October 2000 to December 2007. He is the author, with Gabrielle Walker, of the book The Hot Topic, dealing with climate change science and policy. He is a fellow of the Royal Society; his expertise is in chemical physics as well as science and policymaking.

While in the role of chief scientific advisor to the Blair government, King helped push climate change up the political agenda,  famously stating in 2004 that "In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today-more serious even than the threat of terrorism." In the past he has spoken supportively of the IPCC's scientific work. For example, of the 2001 synthesis document, he said in 2004 that it "is the best current statement on the state of play of the science of climate change, and that really does represent 1,000 scientists. I think the world community of scientists has converged totally." However, he appears to have become more guarded. In a 2010 article in the Telegraph, he stated:

"The emails from scientists at the University of East Anglia suggest that certain members of the IPCC felt that the [scientific] consensus was so precious that some external challenges had to be kept outside the discussion … Climate scientists have been forced into this corner by a disastrous combination of cynical lobbying and a misguided desire for certainty. The American lobby system, driven by political and economic vested interests in fossil fuels, seeks to use any challenge to undermine the entire body of science. The drive for consensus has come to some extent because the scientific community (me included) has become frustrated with this wilful misuse of the scientific process."

Nonetheless, he concluded the piece with a strong statement of support for the consensus scientific position. On the possibility of certainty in the science, he  compared the debate over climate policy with the debate over smoking legislation, noting that:

"When cigarette manufacturers paid lobbyists to try to discredit the scientific theory that smoking causes lung cancer, they used the argument that it wasn't a proven fact. Well it wasn't then, and nor will it ever be, but would you now bet against it? We have built many successful enterprises by going with the balance of probabilities that science deals us. And in the case of climate change, the scientific probability that the world is warming, and that humans are the chief cause, is overwhelming."

As a prominent UK commentator on scientific policy, he has stated that he believes that steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions will be possible for the world to agree:

"Copenhagen's failure to deliver a single universal deal opens up space for smaller regionally based deals. Coordinating these will be hard, but not as hard as what we have tried in the past. We are all custodians of a global commons, and we have moral responsibility to future generations to curb our greenhouse emissions. I am optimistic that Rio can deliver."