Scientists assail climate treaty

Published January 1, 2001

In the midst of international negotiations on how to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, “dissident” scientists vocally objected to the underlying premise that individual and industrial human activities influence nature’s dynamic processes. They decried the absence of thoughtful debate over the science of climate change.

During the Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the United Nations’ treaty on global warming, held November 13-24 at The Hague, Netherlands, debate was exclusively focused on how to implement mandated emission reductions. Whether those mandates were based on sound science was deemed unworthy of discussion.

Many prominent scientists attending the conference, however, rejected the notion that science is not an appropriate topic in discussions of what appears to be an inherently scientific subject. Researchers from the United States and several European countries—three of them “expert peer reviewers” of the documents issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—held two briefings to address the science underlying the climate change theory.

The briefings were sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition of public policy organizations. They addressed a packed room liberally peppered with well-pierced youths who initially expressed displeasure with the dissenting opinion. The audience, however, generally settled down and in fact stayed in large numbers for extended sidebar discussions with the scientists, afterward in the hallways.

Led by Dr. S. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia and the Science and Environment Policy Project, the “dissident” scientists came from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom to air their grievances. Among other topics they addressed were the disparities between observed and predicted temperatures, and the flaws in computer climate models.

The focus of their indignation, however, was a summary of the IPCC’s most recent draft report, leaked to New York Times, anonymously authored, and not subject to peer review. Sound science, noted the dissidents, requires that authors be named and peer review be conducted.

Dr. Richard Courtney, an IPCC expert reviewer with the European Science and Environment Forum (UK), argued at the briefing that the data do not show “global” warming. Nearly all of the measured increases in temperatures, he noted, have occurred in Siberia and other regions where data are sparse and not continuous.

With respect to disparities in observed temperatures in rural vs. urban areas, Singer speculated that the urban heat island effect (large cities holding on to heat) is likely responsible. Singer admitted this was speculation, as a “best effort” to reconcile the difference between surface measurements, showing regional warming, and satellite and weather balloon measurements, which affirm each other and do not show any warming. The National Academy of Sciences affirmed the satellite and balloon tools just this year.

All participants in the dissidents briefing agreed on the impact of the effect of developed areas holding radiated heat, and speculated that remote stations may merely be less well-maintained than regularly checked stations in the United States and Western Europe.

Courtney challenged the IPCC summary for operating on what he called an “at best, strange” presumption: that there is a difference between “climate variability” and “climate change.” Variability, according to the summaries, is natural, while “change” is man-made. The IPCC summary deems fluctuations occurring before the industrial revolution to be variability; fluctuations occurring after are “climate change.”

“Whatever that is, it is not science,” said Courtney.

An avowed socialist, Courtney stressed that the dissident scientists were of varied political philosophies and thus were not joined or motivated by politics. Indeed, he asserted the opposite, saying “chickens do come home to roost; given time, these scientific flaws will come out but, it seems, that only after an agreement which harms the poor is underway.”

When that inevitability comes to pass, Courtney worried, “[journalists] won’t blame the politicians who rammed this through, but the scientists. And that’s me. And I object.”


Richard Morrison, associate director of media relations for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, attended the COP-6 meetings as CEI’s representative to the Cooler Heads Coalition.