Glasgow COP 26 and the Villach Climate Conference of 1985

By: John Maunder

Weather Eye
with John Maunder
Among the many climate science meetings I have attended, the most significant, at least in terms of climate change is concerned, was my involvement in the UN sponsored International Conference held 35 years ago in the beautiful town of Villach, Austria. One hundred experts from 30 countries attended the meeting (in contrast to the thirty 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.
This conference predated by three years the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The first session of the IPCC was held in Geneva in November 1988.
Among the principal findings of the 1985 Villach 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 in particular the almost overall emphasis on greenhouse gases compared with the natural causes of climate change, and in particular the role of the oceans and the sun.
These natural causes of climate change are discussed at length in my new book Fifteen shades of climate... the fall of the weather dice and the butterfly effect”.   Additionally, my 1986 book “The Uncertainty Business : Risks and  Opportunities in Weather and Climate” focuses on the opportunities provided to humanity in reagards to all aspects of the climate...  whether it be cold or hot, or wet or dry, or something in-between.
Nevertheless, within a year of the 1985 Villach Conference  ‘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’s were the preserve of academic text books.
IN 2004, Australian, Bill Kininmonth, wrote a book called Climate Change - A Natural Hazard and this book shows clearly the divergence of views on the causes of climate change. The author  demonstrated that the model of the climate system represented by the IPCC is inadequate as a foundation for future planning. In a recent paper Kininmonth has updated the views he expressed in his earlier book. There are two competing views on how Earth’s climate changes. “The first, as espoused by the IPCC, holds that Earth’s temperature is primarily a function of the properties and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, and how these gases interact with atmospheric radiation. The second, is that Earth’s temperature is regulated by atmospheric transport of energy from the tropics to polar regions, and how the rate of transport varies with ocean circulations, particularly the millennial period thermohaline circulation.”
My experience suggests that there are two main views on the subject of global warming and climate change. First, those who are mainly involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and many or most government scientists, plus others, such as Al Gore, and many politicians and most journalists and probably the public at large who consider that humans activities, including domestic animals, are the prime cause of the recent and current  changes in the climate, and who are actively seeking a consensus to decarbonise society by promoting Net Zero. Second, those - in the main some university scientists, many retired climatologists,  a minority of politicians and journalists, and probably a minority of the public who consider that “nature” is the main cause of changes in the climate. The understanding of the public in this regard stems from the fact that most mainstream media  is left of centre and generally follows the party line. This will be well demonstrated at COP 26 in Glasgow.
Thirty years ago, it was unconceivable that any Government in the world 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.
For further Infomation about a wide range of weather/climate matters see my new book Fifteen shades of climate... the fall of the weather dice and the butterfly effect. The book is available through the web site Just Google “fifteen shades of climate” for details.