The most prestigious group of scientists in the country was forced to act after fellows complained that doubts over man made global warming were not being communicated to the public.
In particular they were unhappy that the long term effects of greenhouse gases were being oversimplified.
Lord Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, admitted that the case for man-made global warming has been exaggerated in the past.
He emphasised that the basic science remains sound but agreed to issue guidance so that it better reflects the uncertainties.
”Climate change is a hugely important issue but the public debate has all too often been clouded by exaggeration and misleading information,” he said. “We aim to provide the public with a clear indication of what is known about the climate system, what we think we know about it and, just as importantly, the aspects we still do not understand verywell.”
In recent months the debate about global warming has been marred by a series of scandals. Emails stolen from the University of East Anglia appeared to show scientists were willing to manipulate the data to exaggerate warming. The individuals involved were cleared from any wrongdoing but the scandal known as ‘climategate’ knocked public confidence.
At the same time the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that advises the United Nations on global warming, came under doubt after wrongly claiming the Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.
The Royal Society will look again at the public communications on climate change after 43 fellows complained that so far the message has not reflected the uncertainty in the debate.
Lord Rees said the new guide has been planned for some time but was given “added impetus by concerns raised by a small group of fellows”.
“Nothing in recent developments has changed or weakened the underpinning science of climate change. In the current environment we believe this new guide will be very timely. Lots of people are asking questions, indeed even within the Fellowship of the Society there are differing views. Our guide will be based on expert views backed up by sound scientific evidence,” he said.
However he denied accusations that the national academy of sciences has ever stifled debate or that the case for man made global warming is in doubt.
”It has been suggested that the Society holds the view that anyone challenging the consensus on climate change is malicious – this is ridiculous. Science is organised scepticism and the consensus must shift in light of the evidence. The Society has always encouraged debate particularly through our discussion meetings and our journals.”
Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation said it was about time the sceptics were taken more seriously.
“I think it is a very significant development in that it is no longer one or two eccentrics but a wide group of fellows so it is taken more seriously – as it should be,” he said.
“I think it is very wise to accept that while the basic science is solid, we have no idea what is going to happen in the future.”