Today the national science academies of the G8+5 issued a statement on climate change (PDF) advocating a greater pace of action on adaptation and mitigation in response to climate change. We have discussed advocacy by science academies here on various occasions, and in this post I’d like to highlight two issues endorsed by the Academies that are still being debated among scientists and advocates, and ask, who do the academies speak for?
1. Clean coal. Carbon capture and storage is a contested technology, for example, by various environmental groups. However, the national science academies endorse its development and use.
Technologies should be developed and deployed for carbon capture, storage and sequestration (CCS), particularly for emissions from coal which will continue to be a primary energy source for the next 50 years for power and other industrial processes. G8+5 economies can take the lead globally to further develop CCS technologies. This will involve governments and industry working collaboratively to develop the financial and regulatory conditions needed to move CCS forward and international coordination in the development of demonstration plants.
2. Geoengineering research. Similarly, geoengineering research (as a separate issue from actual geoengineering) is a contested issue, for instance the recent Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity proposed a moratorium (receiving broad international support) on certain geoengineering experiments.. The national science academies endorse geoengineering without such reservations.
There is also an opportunity to promote research on approaches which may contribute towards maintaining a stable climate (including so-called geoengineering technologies and reforestation), which would complement our greenhouse gas reduction strategies.
Separate from the merit of the policy recommendations advanced by the academies (and for the record I support both CCS and geoengineering research) is the question of who the national science academies speak for and the basis for their endorsement of particular actions.
Do they represent the scientific community within their countries? Their members? Their executive bodies and leadership?
What of public concerns and those among members of the scientific community about CCS and geoengineering?
If the science academies claim to represent a special interest, then whose interest? If they claim to represent common interests, then on what basis is their advocacy to be viewed as legitimate (e.g., is democratic, consensual, authoritative, elite, etc.)?