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Truth and urgency: Lord Deben’s commands to climate scientists

Centre news

“At the heart of all the Priestley Centre is going to do is communicate the knowledge so that people can be responsible. . . and at the heart of that is being able to tell the truth in the way in which it hits the ears as the truth.” Lord Deben’s rousing speech to the Climate Question Time audience (14 June) made it clear that climate scientists are at the vanguard of raising awareness and stimulating action – and that they need to act urgently.

“The trouble with scientists is that they are normally not urgent. They are very keen on continuing their work to make sure they get it right, and then moving on to the next bit. This is not the time for that,”  he continued. The former environment secretary and Chair of the Committee on Climate Change said he was impressed at the Priestley Centre’s commitment to doing robust and timely research: “When I asked what is the unique selling point of this institute, it seems to be, thrillingly, that the scientists are going to move at the speed that policymakers need.”

Speaking a week before the EU referendum, Lord Deben said that tackling climate change had to take place in a global context. “It has to done internationally, it has to be done in partnership, but you can’t have those partnerships unless every nation expends the greatest efforts to be able to give the scientific basis upon which people can march together.” While being sympathetic to the challenges for world views that this presents, he was highly critical of those that sought to deny the science or undermine action, calling the necessity for a united approach “a challenge to every demagogue”. Singling out Donald Trump for special criticism, he added, “We have to insist that people don’t  offer false, easy answers.”

Lord Deben, who is famous for taking on climate sceptics on social media, received enthusiastic applause for his speech, after which he had to depart to catch a train to London – but not before popping his head back round the door to tell the audience, “And don’t forget, @lorddeben on Twitter. I need extra support against my trolls!”