Trustee of UK climate sceptic group invited to speak at Wellington City Council meeting

A trustee of one of the eminent climate sceptic organisations in the UK has been invited to speak at a Wellington City Council meeting.

Professor Michael Kelly (file photo). Source: YouTube / GWPF

The council will be discussing what feedback they want to give to the Climate Change Commission on how to get New Zealand to carbon neutrality by 2050.

Professor Michael Kelly, former Prince Philip Professor of Technology at Cambridge University, has been asked by councillor Sean Rush to speak during the public engagement section of the meeting.

In the past, Kelly has been a chief scientific adviser to the UK government and is also a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

But it's his position as a trustee to the Global Warming Policy Foundation has raised eyebrows. The think-tank, created by Lord Nigel Lawson, has been described as the UK's most high-profile climate denier group by The Centre for Media and Democracy.

The professor has also appeared on a climate-sceptic blog which has argued sceptics were being gagged in a similar way to Galileo.

Most recently, Kelly has been a guest lecturer at Victoria University's Physics Department and while he has offered to give guest lectures to climate science students, these have been declined.

Rush's invitation to Kelly to speak has provoked some consternation amongst some others round the table.

"It's a bit like saying we need to listen to the tobacco industry's views on public health and lung cancer," councillor Iona Pannett said.

In a five-minute presentation, Professor Kelly is expected to warn the council about costs and difficulties in transitioning to a zero carbon economy.

"I did ask why a climate sceptic was coming along, and I think such organisations do need to be transparent about their funding, because we know a lot of sceptics are being funded by the oil industry," Pannett said.

The funders behind the Global Warming Policy Foundation have not been made public, although founder Lord Lawson has denied taking money from fossil fuel companies.

Bronwyn Hayward, professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Canterbury University, said it was disappointing to see a councillor aligned to Kelly's position.

"When we see councillors advocating positions of the past, that does concern me," she said.

"We need decision-makers who are orientated to making decisions for citizens now and basing their decisions on cutting-edge science, and informed careful decision-making."

Rush has stood by his decision, and said Kelly's was an important voice to have around the table.

"He provides an engineer's reality check on what we're trying to achieve.

"I don't think he's suggesting we shouldn't try, but I think he's saying that we need to recognise the challenges."

He said he was not bothered by Professor Kelly's ties to the UK climate sceptic think-tank.

"If he has collaborated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which also has a high number of high quality, IPCC experienced scientists, that is for him to make that choice in his retirement.

"But he has a contribution to make."

De-platforming him, Rush said, was not the way to go about having a sensible debate.

Councillor Tamatha Paul, who holds the council's climate change portfolio, agreed that shutting him off would establish a dangerous precedent.

"The reality is is that this person is not getting any special treatment.

"He's getting his five minutes just like any other individual in society that can come speak to us, and actually, a lot of people that come speak to us, their evidence might not be the whole truth or they might present evidence in a certain light to sway a certain perspective or opinion.

"I'd be concerned if us or the institutions started to interfere with who can or can't speak to us."

At the meeting, the council will finalise its submission to the Climate Change Commission.

In its draft document, it is urging the Commission to be more ambitious in its setting of carbon budgets, as well as to recognise the role local government will play in enabling climate action.