US scientists pile on pressure over climate change
David Adam, science correspondent
Wednesday June 8, 2005
US scientists have increased the pressure on George Bush and other
world leaders to tackle climate change by signing a joint statement
calling on G8 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The statement, from the science academies of the G8 countries, says
the scientific evidence on climate change is now clear enough to
compel their leaders to take action.
It says: "There is now strong evidence that significant global
warming is occurring. It is likely that most of the warming in recent
decades can be attributed to human activities...
"The scientific understanding of climate change is now
sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action. It is
vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can
take now, to contribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net
global greenhouse gas emissions."
The statement has been issued ahead of the G8 summit in Gleneagles in
July. It follows months of negotiations between the UK's Royal
Society, which published it yesterday, and the other academies.
One source close to the negotiations called the support of the US
National Academy of Sciences "unprecedented".
In 2001 the US academy declined to sign a similar joint statement
because it was preparing its own report on the issue for the Bush
In a separate 1992 report it concluded: "Despite the great
uncertainties, greenhouse warming is a potential threat sufficient to
justify action now," but until now it has stopped short of making
specific policy recommendations.
President Bush has consistently stressed the uncertainties of climate
science but the new statement makes it more difficult for him to
dispute the scientific consensus.
The statement calls on G8 nations to "recognise that delayed
action will increase the risk of adverse environmental effects and
will likely incur a greater cost."
It was released as Tony Blair was meeting Mr Bush in Washington. Mr
Blair has made action on climate change and aid to Africa his
priorities for the G8 summit.
Lord May, president of the Royal Society, said current US policy on
climate change was "misguided".
He said: "Getting the US on board is critical because of the
sheer amount of greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for.
President Bush has an opportunity at Gleneagles to signal that his
administration will no longer ignore the scientific evidence and act
to cut emissions."
Vicki Arroyo, director of policy analysis at the Pew Centre on Global
Climate Change, a US thinktank in Virginia, said the statement
"makes it harder for the [Bush] administration to do what it
generally does, which is to focus on the uncertainty."
Along with the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences,
the statement is signed by the G8 science academies of France, Russia,
Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada, along with those of Brazil, China
and India - among the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the
Lord May said: "It is clear that developed countries must lead
the way in cutting emissions but developing countries must also
contribute. The scientific evidence forcefully points to a need for a
truly international effort. Make no mistake, we have to act
Levels of carbon dioxide - the most common greenhouse gas in the
atmosphere produced by burning fossil fuels - have increased from 280
parts per million in 1750 to over 375ppm today. Scientists say this
warmed the Earth's surface by about 0.6C during the 20th century. The
statement says this warming has already led to climate changes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that average
temperatures will rise further by 2100, to between 1.4C and 5.8C above
Catherine Pearce, climate campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said:
"The national science academies are right to call for prompt
action on climate change. But this document lacks targets or a
timetable for urgent action.
"G8 countries must accept their historic responsibility in
creating the problem, and show genuine leadership through annual
reductions in emissions."
June 8, 2005
Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against
limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate
reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global
warming, according to internal documents.
In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and
2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions
of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors,
including some senior Bush administration officials, had already
approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final
The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of
the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word
"uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about
findings that most climate experts say are robust.
Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote
administration policies on environmental issues.
Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team
leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the
largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A
lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific
The documents were obtained by The New York Times from the Government
Accountability Project, a nonprofit legal-assistance group for
The project is representing Rick S. Piltz, who resigned in March as a
senior associate in the office that coordinates government climate
research. That office, now called the Climate Change Science Program,
issued the documents that Mr. Cooney edited.
A White House spokeswoman, Michele St. Martin, said yesterday that Mr.
Cooney would not be available to comment. "We don't put Phil
Cooney on the record," Ms. St. Martin said. "He's not a
In one instance in an October 2002 draft of a regularly published
summary of government climate research, "Our Changing Planet,"
Mr. Cooney amplified the sense of uncertainty by adding the word
"extremely" to this sentence: "The attribution of the
causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or
variability is extremely difficult."
In a section on the need for research into how warming might change
water availability and flooding, he crossed out a paragraph describing
the projected reduction of mountain glaciers and snowpack. His note in
the margins explained that this was "straying from research
strategy into speculative findings/musings."
Other White House officials said the changes made by Mr. Cooney were
part of the normal interagency review that takes place on all
documents related to global environmental change. Robert Hopkins, a
spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy,
noted that one of the reports Mr. Cooney worked on, the
administration's 10-year plan for climate research, was endorsed by
the National Academy of Sciences. And Myron Ebell, who has long
campaigned against limits on greenhouse gases as director of climate
policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian group,
said such editing was necessary for "consistency" in meshing
programs with policy.
But critics said that while all administrations routinely vetted
government reports, scientific content in such reports should be
reviewed by scientists. Climate experts and representatives of
environmental groups, when shown examples of the revisions, said they
illustrated the significant if largely invisible influence of Mr.
Cooney and other White House officials with ties to energy industries
that have long fought greenhouse-gas restrictions.
In a memorandum sent last week to the top officials dealing with
climate change at a dozen agencies, Mr. Piltz said the White House
editing and other actions threatened to taint the government's $1.8
billion-a-year effort to clarify the causes and consequences of
"Each administration has a policy position on climate change,"
Mr. Piltz wrote. "But I have not seen a situation like the one
that has developed under this administration during the past four
years, in which politicization by the White House has fed back
directly into the science program in such a way as to undermine the
credibility and integrity of the program."
A senior Environmental Protection Agency scientist who works on
climate questions said the White House environmental council, where
Mr. Cooney works, had offered valuable suggestions on reports from
time to time. But the scientist, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity because all agency employees are forbidden to speak with
reporters without clearance, said the kinds of changes made by Mr.
Cooney had damaged morale. "I have colleagues in other agencies
who express the same view, that it has somewhat of a chilling effect
and has created a sense of frustration," he said.
Efforts by the Bush administration to highlight uncertainties in
science pointing to human-caused warming have put the United States at
odds with other nations and with scientific groups at home.
Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who met with President Bush at
the White House yesterday, has been trying to persuade him to
intensify United States efforts to curb greenhouse gases. Mr. Bush has
called only for voluntary measures to slow growth in emissions through
Yesterday, saying their goal was to influence that meeting, the
scientific academies of 11 countries, including those of the United
States and Britain, released a joint letter saying, "The
scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear
to justify nations taking prompt action."
The American Petroleum Institute, where Mr. Cooney worked before going
to the White House, has long taken a sharply different view. Starting
with the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty in
1997, it has promoted the idea that lingering uncertainties in climate
science justify delaying restrictions on emissions of carbon dioxide
and other heat-trapping smokestack and tailpipe gases.
On learning of the White House revisions, representatives of some
environmental groups said the effort to amplify uncertainties in the
science was clearly intended to delay consideration of curbs on the
gases, which remain an unavoidable byproduct of burning oil and
"They've got three more years, and the only way to control this
issue and do nothing about it is to muddy the science," said
Eileen Claussen, the president of the Pew Center on Global Climate
Change, a private group that has enlisted businesses in programs
Mr. Cooney's alterations can cause clear shifts in meaning. For
example, a sentence in the October 2002 draft of "Our Changing
Planet" originally read, "Many scientific observations
indicate that the Earth is undergoing a period of relatively rapid
change." In a neat, compact hand, Mr. Cooney modified the
sentence to read, "Many scientific observations point to the
conclusion that the Earth may be undergoing a period of relatively
A document showing a similar pattern of changes is the 2003
"Strategic Plan for the United States Climate Change Science
Program," a thick report describing the reorganization of
government climate research that was requested by Mr. Bush in his
first speech on the issue, in June 2001. The document was reviewed by
an expert panel assembled in 2003 by the National Academy of Sciences.
The scientists largely endorsed the administration's research plan,
but they warned that the administration's procedures for vetting
reports on climate could result in excessive political interference
Another political appointee who has played an influential role in
adjusting language in government reports on climate science is Dr.
Harlan L. Watson, the chief climate negotiator for the State
Department, who has a doctorate in solid-state physics but has not
done climate research.
In an Oct. 4, 2002 memo to James R. Mahoney, the head of the United
States Climate Change Science Program and an appointee of Mr. Bush,
Mr. Watson "strongly" recommended cutting boxes of text
referring to the findings of a National Academy of Sciences panel on
climate and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United
Nations body that periodically reviews research on human-caused
The boxes, he wrote, "do not include an appropriate recognition
of the underlying uncertainties and the tentative nature of a number
of the assertions."
While those changes were made nearly two years ago, recent statements
by Dr. Watson indicate that the admnistration's position has not
"We are still not convinced of the need to move forward
quite so quickly," he told the BBC in London last month.
"There is general agreement that there is a lot known, but also
there is a lot to be known."