Lobby groups funded by the US 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 today's Guardian, Professor May says the government's decision to make global warming a focus of its G8 presidency has made it a target. So has the high profile of its chief scientific adviser, David King, who described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism.
Prof May's warning coincides with a meeting of climate change skeptics today at the Royal Institution in London organized by a British group, the Scientific Alliance, which has links to US oil company ExxonMobil through a collaboration with a US 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 from ExxonMobil for its "global climate change program" in 2003 and an undisclosed sum this month.
Prof 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 11C, 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.
Prof May writes that during the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded skeptics who opposed action to tackle climate change. A Scientific Alliance spokesman said today's meeting was sponsored but funders did not influence policies. ExxonMobil said it was not involved.
One adviser is Sallie Baliunas, an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center, who is linked to the Marshall Institute. In 1998 Dr Baliunas co-wrote an article that argued for the release of more carbon dioxide. It was mass-mailed to US scientists with a petition asking them to reject Kyoto.
Tony Blair yesterday attempted to urge George Bush to sign a climate change accord. At the World Economic Forum 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".
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005