Beddington: No culture of climate denial in UK government

By John Parnell

There is no widespread culture of climate change denial within the UK government according to its former chief scientific advisor Sir John Beddington.

Speaking at media briefing on Tuesday, Beddington said there was a general acceptance of the basics of climate science, despite hostility to the green agenda from elements within the Government.

“I don’t get the feeling that there is much doubt about [climate change] with any of the politicians that I dealt with,” he said.

“There is cross party consensus on the UK’s Climate Change Act, its decision to reduce UK emissions and the creation of the Committee on Climate Change. I haven’t encountered people saying ‘come on Beddington this climate change stuff is rubbish’,” he added.

There is no prevailing culture of climate denial throughout the Coalition according to the Government’s former chief scientific advisor Sir John Beddington (Source: Flickr/Prime Minister’s Office)

There are growing concerns that elements of the government are working to derail climate efforts in the UK, despite the Coalition’s pledge to be the ‘Greenest Government ever’.

As RTCC recently reported, an advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron blocked climate change from this year’s G8 agenda, which the UK hosts.

Chancellor George Osborne has also lobbied hard for more gas generation, telling a party conference in October 2011: “We’re not going to save the planet by putting our country out of business.”

Arguments over the  inclusion of a decarbonisation target for electricity producers in the Energy Bill encapsulate the gas versus renewables debate within the UK government.

But Beddington, who served from 2008-2013, said that the only example of a policy that ignored the weight of scientific evidence was the provision of homeopathy on the state-funded National Health Service (NHS).

On climate change, Beddington said that rather than arguing with sceptics he was more likely to be explaining the nuances of the issue or outlining the depth of the consensus on the physics and the chemistry that underpin climate change science.

“Occasionally you need to tease out some of the issues. People sometimes ask why can’t geoengineering solve the problem. It’s a reasonable question but the answer is you would have to keep doing it, you couldn’t do it once and that would solve the problem. There’ll always be some debate so it’s important to engage,” he said.

The absence of the same acceptance of climate science in the US, particularly among Republicans, has stalled the progress of previous attempts to develop domestic climate legislation. The Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill was the prominent failure.

The hostile reception to climate action in Washington also holds back the US during international climate negotiations. Former US deputy climate envoy Jonathan Pershing said during talks in Doha last in 2012 that “if we can’t take it home and sell it at home, in whatever political economy we are living in, we won’t do it.”


Despite the increasing number of warnings over the potential impacts of climate change, Beddington fears emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) will continue to rise.

“The weather we experience now is determined by the GHG output of the 1990s, so the gases in the atmosphere now will determine the climate of 20-25 years in the future. Because they are going up and the time delays, that means we will see more variability in our extreme weather than we do now,” he said.

“I am pessimistic about efforts to reduce GHGs whether we get an international agreement or not.”

As an example he showed a night time satellite image of the USA with the lights of the Bakken shale deposits matching those of Chicago.

“That is flaring of waste gas. They have moved to producing oil from shale deposits, from fracking, the gas is now the waste product. That’s happening,” he said.

“It’s ironic that a lot of the focus on new fossil fuels is on the Arctic and it’s driven by increased access because the ice is melting.”

Sir Mark Walport, a an immunologist and rheumatologist, replaced Beddington as Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government on April 1, 2013.

Read more on: Climate politics | Climate science |