Lobbying for inaction

British scientists warn that the U.S. oil industry is funding groups that oppose measures to tackle global warming.

By David Adam

Published January 27, 2005 4:39PM (EST)

Lobbying groups funded by the U.S. oil industry are targeting Britain in a bid to play down the threat of climate change and derail action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, leading scientists have warned. Bob May, president of the Royal Society, says that "a lobby of professional skeptics who opposed action to tackle climate change" is turning its attention to Britain because of its high profile in the debate.

Writing in the Life section of Thursday's Guardian, professor May says the government's decision to make global warming a focus of its Group of 8 presidency has made it a target. So has the high profile of its chief scientific advisor, David King, who described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.

May's warning coincides with a meeting of climate change skeptics Thursday at the Royal Institution in London organized by a British group, the Scientific Alliance, which has links to U.S. oil company ExxonMobil through a collaboration with a U.S. institute. Last month the Scientific Alliance published a joint report with the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington that claimed to "undermine" climate change claims. The Marshall Institute received 51,000 pounds from ExxonMobil for its "global climate change program" in 2003 and an undisclosed sum this month.

May's warning comes as British scientists, in the journal Nature, show that emissions of carbon dioxide could have a more dramatic effect on climate than thought. They say the average temperature could rise 11 degrees Celsius, even if atmospheric carbon dioxide were limited to the levels expected in 2050.

David Frame, who coordinated the climate prediction experiment, said: "If the real-world response were anywhere near the upper end of our range, even today's levels of greenhouse gases could already be dangerously high." Emission limits such as those in the Kyoto protocol would hit oil firms because the bulk of greenhouse gases come from burning fossil-fuel products.

May writes that during the 1990s, parts of the U.S. oil industry funded skeptics who opposed action to tackle climate change. A Scientific Alliance spokesman said Thursday's meeting was sponsored but that the funders did not influence policies. ExxonMobil said it was not involved.

One advisor is Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center, who is linked to the Marshall Institute. In 1998 Baliunas co-wrote an article that argued for the release of more carbon dioxide. It was mass-mailed to U.S. scientists with a petition asking them to reject Kyoto.

Tony Blair, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Swizerland, Wednesday urged President Bush to sign a climate change accord. He said climate change was "not universally accepted," but evidence of its danger had been "clearly and persuasively advocated" by a very large number of "independent voices."

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