Graham Readfearn | October 12, 2018
The United Nations (UN) climate science panel is being accused of ignoring research into fossil fuel-funded misinformation campaigns that have been key to holding back action on global warming.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — an assessment of more than 6,000 research papers — found global warming caused largely by fossil fuel burning would have severe impacts even if limited to 1.5°C (2.7°F).
Described by the IPCC as “one of the most important climate change reports ever published,” the report is designed to inform policy makers and the public around the world.
But several researchers are angry the report did not take account of academic research into the “decades-long misinformation campaign” funded and promoted by fossil fuel interests and so-called “free market” conservative think tanks that has been a major brake on progress.
Several researchers say the lack of consideration of academic research into misinformation campaigns was a vital but missed opportunity to educate the public and policy makers. The groups that have colluded with the fossil fuel industry have been credited with pushing President Donald Trump to pledge to pull the U.S. from the UN’s Paris Agreement.
A Vast Blind Spot
“This is an important barrier to climate action, but it is never addressed,” said Professor Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who has published research on the funding and influence of climate science denial efforts.
“A large existing literature on this was ignored by the IPCC,” he added.
The IPCC special report showed that keeping global warming to 1.5°C would require a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use between now and the middle of the century.
As well as assessing the impacts of global warming at 1.5°C compared to 2°C (3.4°F) on people and the environment, the report’s chapter four detailed factors that influence policy makers and the public’s response to climate change.
Dr. Timmons Roberts of Brown University in Rhode Island was one of more than 50 contributors to the chapter.
He said the “highly organized misinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry” was a “main factor driving inaction,” yet he said this was described as a “vast blind spot” in the report.
“It leaves readers and policy makers without tools to address the problem in the real world,” added Roberts.
Professor Justin Farrell of Yale University has published a detailed analysis of the work of a network of more than 150 organizations that form a “climate counter movement.” Farrell found those groups had been key to polarizing the public on climate change.
He said: “We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand about the real reasons why climate change science is ignored and solutions are continually subverted.”
He said social science research had revealed “how and why climate science continues to be purposefully undermined at large scales by powerful industry and political actors.”
Farrell added: “The public — and the planet — deserve to hear this evidence and know the truth, and any report on climate change can and should integrate these well-researched facts.”
Funders of groups that have pushed misinformation on climate science and the impacts of policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions include petrochemical billionaires Charles and David Koch, energy companies including ExxonMobil and hedge fund billionaire and Donald Trump backer Robert Mercer. Many millions more have flowed through so-called “dark money” routes, including Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.