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Newsletter 21st December 2006

- Key issues in 2006

Key issues in 2006
Looking back over press coverage this year, there are a number of issues which have emerged or reappeared. Crop biotechnology, wind power, nuclear power, biodiversity, pesticides and other chemicals figure high on that list, but there is one issue which has dominated the environmental debate: climate change. Indeed, this is surely now the defining concern of the early 21st century. Next February sees the publication of the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, and it seems inevitable that a high profile debate will continue for some time to come.
 
Although the Scientific Alliance is by no means a single issue group, as regular readers of the newsletter will be aware, the climate change debate is one which we simply cannot ignore, and is likely to take precedence over others for the time being. Not only is it important in its own right, but it raises so many supplementary concerns. These include the selective use of evidence, a growing intolerance of dissenting views by the environmental, scientific and political establishments and the conversion of climate change from a matter of scientific debate to one of deep-rooted belief and dogma.
 
As we have said before, the mainstream view that the recent trends in climate are driven primarily by Mankind’s burning of fossil fuels is plausible, but the evidence for it is largely circumstantial. Physics tells us that higher levels of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, will (in the absence of other factors) increase average temperatures. The debate centres on quantification of the effect, the degree of positive feedback, and the nature and influence of other factors (principally solar).
 
There is plenty of evidence which contradicts the IPCC view, including the pattern of temperature change in the lower troposphere, the lack of apparent increase in the rate of sea level rise and the inconsistent pattern of surface temperature trends over the past century, as levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have risen. The anthropogenic hypothesis is still plausible, but (despite the headlines) is not becoming more certain.
 
In this uncertain state, policy still has to be made, and we fully support efforts to increase energy efficiency and move away from a reliance on coal and gas for power generation. But we also have to recognise that the hundreds of new coal-fired power stations currently being built in China and elsewhere will still be operational in several decades time. Against this backdrop, the Kyoto protocol and whatever takes its place after 2012 seem to have little prospect of reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide, which we are daily told is essential. Acknowledgement of this reality as a basis for ongoing policy-making seems equally essential.
 
We look forward to a continuing debate on these important issues in 2007. The Scientific Alliance will continue its active involvement in as many key environmental debates as possible, with your support.
 
Christmas greetings
This is the last newsletter of the year. We will be back in the first week of January. We wish all our supporters and readers a happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.