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Sensation! CBI To Host Climate Change Debate

Former government chief scientist Sir David King, in the green corner, to take on arch-sceptic Lord Lawson in public showdown

The most prominent climate sceptic and the most vocal advocate of the cause in the UK are to take part in their first public debate on the subject.

The “clash of the titans” will be between Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Conservative chancellor and chairman of the sceptical Global Warming Policy Foundation, and Sir David King, a former government chief scientist who once warned that climate change was “more serious even than the threat of terrorism”.

The CBI will host the event at its annual climate change conference in November, and it is likely to inject renewed vigour into a deadlocked debate between two camps that seldom meet face to face and appear to be increasingly entrenched in their positions.

King, head of the Smith school of enterprise and the environment at Oxford University, told the Guardian he had accepted the challenge because he was concerned about a rise in public scepticism about climate change since the affair of the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia last year. These appeared to show that scientists had manipulated data and abused the academic review process, though they were later cleared of these charges.

“It is important to deal with the climate sceptics’ arguments and deal with them fairly robustly,” said King. “I usually avoid the climate sceptics because I seem to be giving them airtime. [But] Lawson is a well-known speaker, so it is not as though I’m taking somebody lightweight on.”

In a written statement, Lawson said: “I have agreed to do this because this is clearly an important issue which needs to be properly debated, and those who promote the conventional wisdom on the issue are usually reluctant to engage in rational debate.

“The cause of reasoned debate on this issue in the UK is not helped, of course, by the fact that there is no difference between the policies of the three political parties so far as global warming is concerned.”

Lawson has previously written that he accepts that global warming is happening, although he has also described climate science as “particularly uncertain”. In a recent article, he repeated the sceptics’ argument: “So far this century there has been no recorded warming at all.”

Lawson also claims the impacts on humans have been exaggerated and is critical of current policies to tackle the problem by cutting carbon emissions, writing that the international political pledge to limit warming to 2C above the average before the industrial revolution is “devoid of either scientific basis or the slightest operational significance”, and advocating mass spending on adapting to the changes instead.

King said that with 2010 projected to be the hottest year on record, it was a good time publicly to counter the claim that temperatures are not rising: although most years since 1998 had been cooler than that record hot year, they were still among the hottest years on record and above the long-term average.

Emma Wild, the CBI’s principal policy adviser for climate change, said: “Both are high-profile figures and passionate advocates for their views. We expect a frank and engaging debate.”

The Guardian, 30 August 2010