Bob Watson and the IPCC

Interviewed Bob Watson today for Shattered Sky. In my opinion, if you have to pick one person in the world today who contributed most to science informing international policy, it’s Watson. Start with the nascent international science assessments around the ozone crisis in the mid-1980s. Those were organized by Watson and Dan Albritton, from NOAA. Until then, country-level science assessments competed with each other, and often contradicted each other, undermining the authority of science and essentially making it less of an input into policy. Watson wrangled together the best scientists in the world, who coalesced into a convincing, unified voice preceding the 1988 Montreal Protocol, the landmark international treaty that phased out the chemicals that were destroying the ozone layer.

Soon thereafter, in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first assessment on global warming. So, 20 years later, we’re up to the 4th IPCC report, which included more than 2,500 scientific expert reviewers, more than 800 contributing authors, and more than 450 lead authors — from more than 130 countries.

So, for the first time in history, we have a truly global consensus in scientific opinion. Some complain that because there are so many participants and it takes so many years to reach consensus, that the IPCC may actually be too conservative. But, I say, better to err on this side than overstate climate change.

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