Climate change and Villach – what is the connection?

Among the many climate science meetings I have attended, the most significant, at least in term of climate change is concerned, is my involvement in the UN sponsored International Conference held in the beautiful town Villach, in Austria in October 1985.

One hundred experts from 30 countries attended the meeting (in contrast to ten to twenty thousand who now attend such meetings), and I was privileged to be the only New Zealander invited. We were all there as experts - and not representing our respective organisations - in various fields of science, endeavouring to do the best we could in looking at the complexities of climate science.

Among the principal findings of this conference was that "while other factors, such as aerosol concentration, changes in solar energy input, and changes in vegetation, may also influence climate, the greenhouse gases are likely to be the most important cause of climate change over the next century”.

At that time, even though I was partly responsible for the writing of the above paragraph, I along with a few of my colleagues, had some misgivings about this phrase, and were somewhat surprised that within a year ‘human-induced global warming’ caught the imagination of much of the world. Indeed today, not a day goes by without some mention of ‘global warming’, climate change, emission trading schemes, etc, all terms which up until 1980 were the preserve of academic text books, as well as terms such as ‘emission trading schemes’, which were not even thought of until very recently.

Despite this concern, a colleague of mine from Australia, Bill Kinninmonth, who in 2004 wrote a book called "Climate Change - A Natural Hazard" has mentioned to me on several occasions that I have changed from being the ‘gamekeeper’ and become the ‘poacher’. Whether that is true is a matter of opinion. However, irrespective of my personal views on the matter, it is clear that there are two main views held by climate scientists and others on the subject of global warming and climate change.

First, those who are mainly involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and many or most government scientists, plus others, such as Al Gore, and many politicians and most journalists who consider that man, including domestic animals, is the prime cause of recent changes in the climate;

Second, those - in the main some university scientists, many retired climatologists, and a minority of politicians and journalists, who consider that nature is the main cause of changes in the climate.

Twenty years ago, it was inconceivable that the New Zealand Government would have a Minister of Climate Change; indeed back then, as weather forecasters and climatologists we just got on with our job of making the best possible weather forecast and providing the best climate advice to all those who requested information, without guidance or interference from the Government of the day. How things have changed!


by John Maunder

6 May 2012