Science in international negotiations
The Climate Change Convention: a load of hot
By Peter Hulm
The scientific consensus
First, the process. In producing its report,
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) analysed
thousands of scientific papers and the lead authors for each
section were chosen to "reflect a balance among difficult points
of view" (Bolin, 1994:97), with "at least one specialist from
a developing country" (ibid). The IPCC's chairing scientist,
Bert Bolin of Sweden, described the panel's task as "to assess
knowledge rather than to recommend measures to be taken", a
significant form of phrasing from a political as from a scientific
point of view, as I later indicate. It is worth noting, however,
how close this phrasing is to what most people would seem to
consider the proper role of science in political issues.
The first panel report was the work of some 200
climatologists, reviewed by another 200 (Gribbin, 1990). The
(Working Group II) review of available scientific and technical
literature on possible impacts, scheduled for completion in
September 1995, involved more than 200 contributors (ibid).
Drafts of this 1995 Second Assessment Report were circulated
to nearly 800 'experts' for review (Moss, 1995:4).
John Gribbin has pointed out that the world total
of climatologists is only some 400, so presumably nearly all
were involved. More significantly, the consensus achieved in
the Panel Report on a subject with numerous scientific uncertainties
has been widely praised.
The scientific consensus indicated in the report
has often been contrasted with the disagreement over the measures
that should to be taken and the commitments made (Bergesen and
Sydnes, 1992:36; Wynne and Mayer, 1993:33; Paterson, 1994:175;
Clayton, 1995:111). Helge Olde Bergesen and Anne Kristin Sydnes
declare: "It is noteworthy that the climate scientists succeeded
in producing an assessment (of a highly political issue) that
appears both independent and legitimate (1992:35). They comment:
"Attempts to exert political influence on the scientists invariably
failed" (ibid), and add: "Despite aggressive criticism from
certain individual scientists, the IPCC consensus still commands
wide recognition and respect" (ibid).
Dr Jeremy Leggett, the scientific advisor on
global warming for a major environmental campaigning organisation
(Greenpeace), agrees with Boehmer-Christiansen in describing
the IPCC work as "an ongoing scientific consultation process
which, in its breadth and depth, is without precedent" (Leggett,
1993:43). Both Leggett and Boehmer-Christiansen, however, voice
disquiet at assumptions that the consensus so far achieved can
claim to be objective or represents value-free science.
The scientific consensus