The British Government's chief scientific adviser has said that the impact of global warming has been exaggerated by some scientists and more honesty is required with respect to predictions about the rate of climate change.
According to a report in The Times, John Beddington made the statement in the wake of an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that it grossly overstated the rate at which Himalayan glaciers were receding.
AdvertisementProfessor Beddington said that climate scientists should be less hostile to sceptics who questioned man-made global warming.
He condemned scientists who refused to publish the data underpinning their reports.
He said that public confidence in climate science would be improved if there were more openness about its uncertainties, even if that meant admitting that sceptics had been right on some hotly-disputed issues.
"I don't think it's healthy to dismiss proper scepticism. Science grows and improves in the light of criticism. There is a fundamental uncertainty about climate change prediction that can't be changed," he said.
He said that the false claim in the IPCC's 2007 report that the glaciers would disappear by 2035 had exposed a wider problem with the way that some evidence was presented.
"Certain unqualified statements have been unfortunate. We have a problem in communicating uncertainty. There's definitely an issue there. If there wasn't, there wouldn't be the level of scepticism. All of these predictions have to be caveated by saying, 'There's a level of uncertainty about that'," he said.
Professor Beddington said that particular caution was needed when communicating predictions about climate change made with the help of computer models.
"It's unchallengeable that CO2 traps heat and warms the Earth and that burning fossil fuels shoves billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. But where you can get challenges is on the speed of change," he said.
"When you get into large-scale climate modelling there are quite substantial uncertainties. On the rate of change and the local effects, there are uncertainties both in terms of empirical evidence and the climate models themselves," he added.
He said that it was wrong for scientists to refuse to disclose their data to their critics.
"I think, wherever possible, we should try to ensure there is openness and that source material is available for the whole scientific community," Beddington said.
"There is a danger that people can manipulate the data, but the benefits from being open far outweigh that danger," he added.