Experts Respond on Royal Society climate change paper

The Royal Society of New Zealand has today released a statement on climate change. The statement says that the globe is warming because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Measurements show that greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are well above levels seen for many thousands of years. Further global climate changes are predicted and the impact is expected to become more costly as time progresses.

Reducing the future impact of climate change will require substantial reductions of net emissions of greenhouse gases. Major international policy changes would be required to deliver these reductions. The full text of the report can be found at:

The Science Media Centre has invited comment on this statement from three independent climate change experts:

Dave Lowe, Atmospheric Chemist, formerly of National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, now independent consultant, said:

“The Royal Society climate change statement is a concise summary of the findings of the IPCC in their 4th assessment report published last year plus some results from very recent research. In terms of the science published in the top international peer reviewed journals the consensus is that human activities are changing the properties of the Earth system as described in the Royal Society statement.

Because the science behind climate change is highly specialised, popular commentaries on the subject often contain many errors leading to confusion amongst educated lay people. However the situation is similar to that of medical science where non specialists should look for information from trusted sources only. In the case of climate science, the most authoritative source to date is the IPCC whose reports contain the best available peer reviewed literature assessed by international climate experts.

Ultimately all statements and results about climate science must be capable of being independently validated by other experts. Statements that do not stand up to this rigorous process cannot be trusted and should not be used to inform opinion on climate change.”

Associate Professor Ralph Chapman of the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington said:

“This statement on climate change is welcome. It summarises some key points about the developing scientific evidence on climate change, largely drawing from the IPCC’s 4th Assessment Report of 2007, but also adding useful information about the New Zealand context. It is fair, balanced and informative. As a quick reference guide to climate change as it currently affects New Zealand and will affect New Zealand in future, this is a handy statement. It should help to remind people of both what we know for sure and what is likely as regards the future of our shared climate, especially if big emission cuts are deferred.

What this statement really does is underline an increasingly ominous outlook for climate change, both globally and for New Zealand. It is clear that established and respected New Zealand scientists are expressing deeply felt anxieties about our future, articulated in careful language. No-one can contemplate the risk of Greenland’s ice cap and many of the world’s glaciers melting, for example, without huge concern.

Where the Royal Society position is ‘understated’ is, of course, about the policy implications. It perhaps goes without saying that “major international policy changes would be required” to deliver the needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. My own view, and that of many others, is that enormous and urgent changes will be needed to get to grips with climate change, and if we are to avert what has been justifiably been called a looming “catastrophe in slow motion.” So far, not nearly enough action has been forthcoming and this Royal Society statement may help to remind people of just how much is at stake.”

Professor Martin Manning, Director of Victoria University’s Climate Change Research Institute and immediate past Director of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I Support Unit said:

“I welcome today’s statement on climate change by the Royal Society of New Zealand. The statement supports and is largely based on the IPCC 2007 report and as such it clearly draws on careful and balanced assessments of the views of many climate scientists in New Zealand and around the world.

All over the world, climate change scientists are concerned by the growing evidence for increasing change and associated impacts on biological and physical systems. Studies, since the IPCC report was completed, have provided no reason to weaken any of the statements summarised by the Royal Society and, in areas such as ice-sheet changes, tend to give greater cause for concern.

While some individual scientists might use stronger language to describe what they see happening, statements such as the Royal Society’s that are agreed by teams of active researchers generally prove to be very reliable.

It is important to recognize that the range of projected warming given in the Royal Society’s statement covers a range of different scenarios for population, world development and technology that can affect future greenhouse gas emissions. In the IPCC report, such global warming projections were deliberately separated into lower, medium and higher emissions scenarios leading to lower, medium and higher amounts of warming in order to emphasise that warming is being driven by the choices that people make. Scientists are very confident that choices and actions in the next few decades that influence future greenhouse gas emissions will make a significant difference to the climate that our grandchildren will have to live with.

Given the endorsement of at least a 50% cut in developed country emissions by 2050 coming from the G8 meeting this week, it is time for New Zealand to take a harder look at the role that a country reliant on primary production should play. International policy and targets have so far been largely designed around controlling carbon dioxide for good reasons, but fitting methane emissions from agriculture into this framework introduces some additional issues that are critical for New Zealand. ”

Contact the Science Media Centre if you wish to speak with the scientists quoted above or others from our database of media-friendly experts. Contact us on +04 499 5476 or

Note to Editors:

The SMC is an independent source of expert comment and information for journalists covering science and technology in New Zealand. Our aim is to promote accurate, bias-free reporting on science and technology by helping the media work more closely with the scientific community. The SMC is an independent centre established by the Royal Society of New Zealand with funding from the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology. The views expressed in this Science Alert are those of the individuals and organisations indicated and do not reflect the views of the SMC or its employees. For further information about the centre or to offer feedback, please email us at