Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Climate change issues: the problem of unwarranted trust

By David Henderson - posted Friday, 2 February 2007

On November 2, 2006 I took the chair at a talk given in London by Dr Dieter Helm (PDF158KB) in the Beesley Lectures series on problems of regulation. His subject was “Energy Policy and Climate Change”. The procedure for the Beesley Lectures provides for a personal 15-minute contribution by the chairman, to be made after the talk and before the discussion is thrown open.

The text that follows formed the basis for the main part of my contribution (PDF 188KB), which focused on climate change rather than energy policy. It includes some comments on the Stern Review on “The Economics of Climate Change”, which had appeared a few days before the lecture, but my main criticisms are directed against the way in which governments across the world are handling issues relating to climate change.


The Stern Review is a formidable document. Its main text comprises over 550 pages, and covers a vast range of issues. It reflects the work of a team of over 20 officials under the direction of Sir Nicholas Stern, backed by a substantial number of consultants. The Review draws on an array of already published studies and papers, as well on a substantial number of specially commissioned outside contributions.


I would like to discuss one particular aspect of the climate change debate.

Grounds for concern

I am not a climate scientist, and I am a relative newcomer to climate change issues. I am an economist, and I became involved with the subject, almost by accident, just four years ago.

My initial main involvement was with some economic and statistical aspects of this vast array of topics, but over time my interests and concerns have broadened. Increasingly - and this was neither expected nor intended on my part - I have become critical of the way in which issues relating to climate change are being viewed and treated by governments across the world. In particular, I have become a critic of the role and conduct of the chosen instrument of governments in this area of policy, namely, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The IPCC process, and the massive assessment reports which are its main single product, are widely seen, by governments and public opinion alike, as thorough, balanced and authoritative.

There is a general belief that the Panel has created a world-wide scientific consensus, based on an informed and objective professional assessment, which provides a sound basis for policy. Since its inception in 1988, the IPCC process has established itself, in the eyes of the great majority of its member governments, as their sole authoritative and continuing source of information, evidence, analysis, interpretation and advice on the whole range of issues relating to climate change.

In my view, there are good reasons to query the claims to authority and representative status that are made by and on behalf of the Panel, and hence to question the unique status, one of virtual monopoly, that it now holds. The trust so widely placed in it is unwarranted.


To begin with, the principle of creating a single would-be authoritative fount of wisdom is itself open to doubt. Even if the IPCC process were indisputably and consistently rigorous, objective and professionally watertight, it is imprudent for governments to place exclusive reliance, in matters of extraordinary complexity where huge uncertainties prevail, on a single source of analysis and advice and a single process of inquiry.

The very notion of setting consensus as an aim appears as questionable if not ill-judged.

In any case, the ideal conditions have not been realised. The IPCC process is far from being a model of rigour, inclusiveness and impartiality. In this connection, there are several related aspects that I would emphasise.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

This article is based on a talk given in the Beesley Lectures series on November 2, 2006.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

45 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

David Henderson, who is British, was formerly (1984-92) Head of the Economics and Statistics Department of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) in Paris. Since leaving the OECD he has been an independent author and consultant.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by David Henderson

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment 45 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy