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 UK's Royal Society, says a "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 yesterday's Guardian newspaper, May says the UK 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.
May's warning coincides with a meeting of climate change sceptics yesterday 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 (US$92,000) from ExxonMobil for its "global climate change program" in 2003, and an undisclosed sum this month.
May's warning comes as British scientists publish new research in the journal Nature showing that emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide could have a more dramatic effect on climate than thought. They say average temperature could rise 11 degrees celsius, even if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is limited to the levels expected to be reached 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.
May writes that during the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded (through the so-called Global Climate Coalition) skeptics who opposed action to tackle climate change.