MP misrepresents findings of climate change researchers
A member of the UK’s House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology this week launched a disgraceful media blitz against climate change researchers, during which he misrepresented their work and attempted to smear others within the profession.
Mr Graham Stringer, the Labour Member of Parliament for Blackley and Broughton in Greater Manchester, wrote an article for the ‘Daily Mail’ and a letter to ‘The Times’, both published on 20 September, in which he cited his Committee membership to add weight to his criticisms of climate researchers.
However, he failed to disclose that he is a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the campaign group set up by Lord Lawson to lobby against policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The trigger for Mr Stringer’s attack was the publication on 18 September in the journal ‘Nature Geoscience’ of a new academic paper on ‘Emission budgets and pathways consistent with limiting warming to 1.5 °C’, by Dr Richard Millar and co-authors.
The paper concluded that “limiting warming to 1.5 °C is not yet a geophysical impossibility, but is likely to require delivery on strengthened pledges for 2030 followed by challengingly deep and rapid mitigation”.
It estimated that global mean surface temperature had increased by about 0.93 Celsius degrees since the mid-19thcentury by 2015, and pointed out that this was lower than the average of projections from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5), which were published in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2013.
As a result, according to the authors, the remaining amount of carbon dioxide that could be emitted by the world in future without breaching a threshold warming of 1.5 Celsius degrees, the lower end of the goal set by the Paris Agreement on climate change, was larger than previously suggested.
However, Mr Stringer was apparently not interested in the main findings of the paper, and instead focused on the comparison between the estimated warming in 2015 and the outputs of the CMIP5 models.
Mr Stringer’s article in the ‘Daily Mail’ stated: “In a study just published by the respected journal Nature Geoscience, a group of British academics reveals that the immediate threat from global warming is lower than previously thought, because the computer models used by climate change experts are flawed. According to these models, temperatures across the world should now be at least 1.3 degrees above the mid-19th century average, which is taken as a base level in such calculations. But the British report demonstrates that the rise is only between 0.9 and 1 degree.”
Elsewhere in the article, Mr Stringer referred to “broken computer models”, and described climate scientists as “environmental warriors”, accusing them of “habitual arrogance”.
Similarly, in his letter to ‘The Times’, Mr Stringer wrote: “We now know that the computer models that climate scientists have used for predicting imminent and catastrophic climate change are wrong”. He added that “leading climate scientists have had an unjustified and unshakeable belief in these models”, and “they have also convinced the BBC and other parts of the scientifically illiterate establishment that these computer predictions are so accurate that it takes them beyond further debate and scientific enquiry”.
However, Mr Stringer’s strident criticisms were based on an acute misrepresentation of the findings of the paper by Dr Millar and his co-authors, which made clear that the temperature in 2015 was well within the 5-95 per cent range projected by the CMIP5 models, even if it was not precisely the same as the average value.
Professor Myles Allen and others authors of the paper were so incensed by Mr Stringer’s false allegations about their work that they wrote to the ‘Daily Mail’. Their letter, published on 21 September, stated: “Graham Stringer MP misrepresents our study to claim global temperatures are not rising as fast as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and suggests that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is therefore no longer urgent”. But the ‘Daily Mail’ has not been published the letter on its website.
In addition to the untrue claims about climate models, Mr Stringer’s scathing ‘Daily Mail’ article included many other inaccurate and misleading statements, and attempted yet again to smear researchers at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
He complained that he was “disappointed when my colleagues on the Committee, having conducted an inquiry into the ‘Climategate’ scandal, did not come to a more robust conclusion about the scale of the scientific manipulation at the unit”.
Mr Stringer has persistently put forward the myth that emails illegally hacked from a server at the University of East Anglia in 2009 revealed scientific misconduct by climate researchers, even though none of the numerous investigations that have been carried out, including by the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, found evidence to support such charges.
However, the smear campaign being waged by Mr Stringer and other members of the Global Warming Policy Foundation and other so-called climate change ‘sceptics’ has created a great strain for scientists at the Climatic Research Unit.
Other inaccuracies in Mr Stringer’s article included his claim that “the International [sic] Panel on Climate Change warned that the Himalayan glaciers were melting away, a claim that it later admitted was false”. This was a misleading reference to the previous work of the IPCC.
Chapter 10 of the contribution of working group II to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 stated on page 493: “Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate”.
However, in January 2010, the IPCC announced that this statement constituted “poorly substantiated estimates of rate of recession and date for the disappearance of Himalayan glaciers”, and that “in drafting the paragraph in question, the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly”.
But in its contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report, published in 2014, working group II covered on page 242 ofChapter 3 updated projections for the melting of glaciers, stating: “Results for the Himalaya range between 2% gain and 29% loss to 2035; to 2100, the range of losses is 15 to 78% under RCP4.5. The model-mean loss to 2100 is 45% under RCP4.5 and 68% under RCP8.5 (medium confidence). It is virtually certain that these projections are more reliable than an earlier erroneous assessment of complete disappearance by 2035.”
Hence Mr Stringer’s suggestion that the IPCC no longer warns that the Himalayan glaciers are melting was wrong. But Mr Stringer’s article also added: “Similarly, it was argued that global warming would bring a new wave of malaria sweeping across the world”. Although Mr Stringer did not provide any explicit reference for this assertion, it implied that the IPCC had made an incorrect projection about the spread of the disease. But, in fact, Chapter 8 of the contribution of working group II to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 stated on page 393: “Projected trends in climate-change-related exposures of importance to human health will…have mixed effects on malaria; in some places the geographical range will contract, elsewhere the geographical range will expand and the transmission season may be changed (very high confidence)”.
In response to Mr Stringer’s attacks this week, I have written to him to point out the inaccurate and misleading claims in his article and letter, and I have called for him to apologise to climate researchers.
Mr Stringer’s promotion of climate change denial as a member of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is controversial. When his continued membership of the Committee was confirmed earlier this monthDr Adam Rutherford, the presenter of BBC Radio 4’s excellent ‘Inside Science’ programme, encouraged his Twitter followers to complain to MPs about the inclusion of a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Dr Rutherford was subsequently slapped down by the Corporation because he had “potentially compromised the BBC’s impartiality on this issue”.
Mr Stringer has caused outrage about other science and health issues apart from climate change. In 2009, he was condemned after publicly describing dyslexia as “a fictional malady”.
It remains to be seen what action, if any, Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, takes against Mr Stringer for citing his membership in making so many untrue statements about climate change. Mr Lamb is already dealing with criticisms of his Committee for its lack of female members.
Mr Stringer’s outspoken climate change denial this week has further damaged the Committee’s credibility and will undermine confidence in it among many scientists who may have been expected to submit evidence to its future inquiries.
Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.