Lord Drayson says there is an urgent need to restate the scientific evidence for global warming and calls for companies to focus on their environmental obligations
Senior figures in the manufacturing industry do not accept that human activities are driving global warming or that action needs to be taken to prepare for its effects, the UK government's science minister said today.
Lord Drayson said recent discussions with leaders in the car industry and other businesses had left him "shocked" at the number of climate change deniers among senior industrialists. Of those who acknowledged that global temperatures were rising, many blamed it on variations in the sun's activity.
Speaking in London to mark the launch of a new centre that will gather information from satellites to improve understanding of how the Earth's environment is changing, Lord Drayson said there was an urgent need to restate the scientific evidence for global warming and called for companies to focus on their environmental obligations despite the pressures of the economic downturn.
"There is a significant minority of senior managers who do not accept the evidence for climate change and don't see the need to take action," Drayson said. "It really shocked me that those views are held, and it's not limited to the car industry."
"The industrialists are faced with a very difficult challenge, which is huge infrastructure investment in existing ways of doing business and very difficult global economic circumstances.
"The temptation is to say we'll get round to dealing with climate change once we've fixed all this other stuff. We need to present them with the evidence to say this can't wait, we need to fix both," he added.
The new centre will receive £33m over the next five years and will coordinate research using Earth-observing satellite data at 26 British universities and institutions. Known as the National Centre for Earth Observation, it will focus on ways to improve climate change models, sea level rise estimates, flooding forecasts and ways to predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It also hopes to develop improved weather forecasting software ahead of the London Olympics in 2012.
A major task for the centre will be to use real-time measurements of sea ice melting, droughts and atmospheric conditions to hone computer models that climate scientists use to predict future warming and its effects.
"Earth-orbiting satellites are revolutionising our understanding of planet Earth, in terms of how it works and what forces work against it, not least from climate change. But in order to get more from that data, to get climate information on 10 year scales, and on regional scales, we've got to iron out some significant issues we have with the computer models," said Alan O'Neill, director of the centre.
Some environmental processes are so poorly understood that they hinder the ability of climate models to make accurate predictions. The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from deforestation in the tropics is so uncertain that estimates range from 0.7 to 2.6bn tonnes a year. Other scientists say that some feedback processes in the atmosphere are so unclear they do not even know if they will speed up global warming or slow it down.
The centre was due to take data from Nasa's ill-fated Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite, which crashed into the ocean near Antarctica shortly after take-off last month. The satellite was designed to bolster understanding of climate change by mapping levels of CO² in the atmosphere.
Three new Earth observing satellites are scheduled to launch this year, including the European Space Agency's Goce probe, which by mapping the Earth's gravity field will reveal details of changes in ocean currents. Another satellite, Smos, will measure soil moisture and ocean salinity, with the third, cryosat-2, monitoring the thickness of continental ice sheets and sea ice cover.
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