The Royal Society and academics clashed over the influence of the oil and gas industry

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A row between Britain’s 363-year-old Royal Society and more than 2,000 UK academics has escalated over the National Academy of Scientists’ refusal to acknowledge the role of oil and gas companies in climate change.

In a letter last year to the Royal Society, founded in 1660 as a cooperative that included the likes of Isaac Newton, academics expressed their concerns about the influence of fossil fuel companies on scientific research.

But the Royal Society has now rejected their request to publish an “unequivocal report on the culpability of the fossil fuel industry in causing the climate crisis”.

Treasurer Jonathan Keating wrote back last week that doing so “would not be appropriate” because tackling the climate crisis would require “multiple actors”.

Concerns from academics about the influence of oil and gas companies extend to separate allegations that ties to BP were not disclosed by a Cambridge professor in a 2022 Royal Society policy briefing paper produced by a task force he chaired.

Professor Andy Woods chairs the BP Institute, a research arm of the fund, which was renamed the Institute for Energy and Environmental Flows by Cambridge last year. He also holds the formal title of BP Professor conferred by the Oil and Gas Corporation. These links are not included Note in the document.

The Royal Society conference paper called for “enormous and continued investment” in geological carbon capture and storage, a technology promoted by the fossil fuel industry as a way to expand while saving emissions.

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BP’s CO₂ storage consultant and director for CO₂ storage at the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate also contributed to the report.

Woods’ expertise in geophysical fluid flows and the BP connection is listed by the Royal Society in its Fellowship Directory.

Beebe and Woods did not respond to a request for comment. The Royal Society said the paper provided “clear links” to contributors and that it published a wide range of research.

The tensions reflect conflict in academia over funding or participation in research by oil and gas companies, as well as growing activity on campuses among the student body and staff.

James Dyke, professor of Earth system science at the University of Exeter, described the Royal Society’s decision not to invite industry as “moral cowardice”.

Another signatory to the original letter, Bill McGuire, professor of geophysics and climate risks at University College London, said it was “mind-blowing” that a respected scientific body would not address the role of fossil fuel groups in climate change.

The student-led Oxford Climate Society has also targeted the author of a set of green principles used by the University of Oxford to help guide decisions about whether to invest in oil and gas companies or receive subsidies.

Under Freedom of Information rules, the student campaigners had 18 meetings attended by the university’s chair of atmospheric, oceanic and planetary physics, Miles Allen, a representative of one of the major oil and gas groups, including BP and Shell. Exxon or Equinor.

Those meetings in 2021 and 2022 included five events organized by Shell, three of which focused on the oil and gas group’s strategy and climate scenarios, according to Freedom of Information.

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Allen, who led the Oxford Net Zero research initiative until earlier this year, told the Financial Times he used the meetings to highlight the need for fossil fuel companies to pay for carbon capture and storage technologies.

He has long advocated this as a solution to reducing carbon emissions in the future. “We all have a duty to help the fossil fuel industry fix the problem, not make it worse,” he said.

Oxford’s “partnerships and collaborations with industry” allow research on pressing global issues, including those related to climate.

Campaigners called on Oxford to conduct an independent assessment of the fossil fuel industry’s approach to subsidies and investment. In response to similar concerns, the University of Cambridge temporarily stopped accepting grants and donations from the department in March.

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