Lord Lawson has accused Sir David Attenborough of ‘sensationalism’ as he focuses on the effects of global warming on the Polar regions during the finale of Frozen Planet.
In the final episode of the popular series, which will be broadcast on BBC One on December 7th, Sir David claims that the Arctic could be ice free in summer by 2020 and polar bears are already dying due to a lack of ice.
Already the programme has caused controversy after it was revealed that the BBC is offering broadcasters in countries like the US, where there is more scepticism about global warming, the option of buying the series without the ‘climate change episode’ at the end.
Writing in the Radio Times, Lord Lawson points out that certain populations of polar bears are rising and that sea ice cover is in fact increasing in Antarctica.
“Sir David Attenborough is one of our finest journalists and a great expert on animal life. Unfortunately, however, when it comes to global warming he seems to prefer sensation to objectivity,” he said.
However Cambridge University scientists questioned whether Lord Lawson understands or is even aware of the wider context of the latest peer-reviewed research on global warming.
For example Lord Lawson claims that polar bear populations are increasing in certain areas, although many people believe this is because the animals are spotted more around human settlements because they are hungry.
But Sir David makes clear that the under-nourished polar bears he is seen with on the television is from just one population.
Also, the programme makes clear that certain animals such as the killer whale will actually benefit from less sea ice in the summer.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) most populations of polar bears are declining as the animals struggle to hunt when there is less sea ice.
Lord Lawson says that that an ‘objective’ point of view would have pointed out that Antarctic sea ice has expanded over the last 30 years.
He also claimed that evaporation from the melting ice is countering the warming effect by providing cloud cover.
Dr Ian Willis, a senior researcher at the Cambridge University Scott Polar Research Institute, said neither of these points counteract the overall loss of sea ice.
“It is indeed the case that while total sea ice extent in Antarctica over the last three decades has increased slightly, the total sea ice extent in the Northern hemisphere has decreased more substantially. So there is now less sea ice on the planet than there was 30 years ago,” he said.
The programme will be beamed to more than seven million viewers and shown in schools.
Like previous documentaries by Sir David, it is likely to have a huge impact on the public’s understanding of natural science and will prompt wide concern about the need to cut carbon emissions to stop climate change.
“We have only started to see changes in the Arctic and Antarctic recently so it is hard to predict what impact these changes will have but we can say for ourselves. These places are changing on a scale that is hard to ignore," he said.
“The poles may seem very remote but what is happening there is likely to have a greater impact on use than any other aspect of global warming. If the Arctic sea ice continues to disappear it will drive up the temperature of the planet more quickly and the melting ice could drive up sea levels by one metre - enough to threaten millions of people by the end of the century. The animals are already adapting to these changes but can we adapt to what is happening to the frozen planet?”
Sir David admitted that much of the science is in the early stages but having visited the Poles, he is convinced of man-made global warming and warned of the "devastating effects", especially in coastal communities due to sea level rise.
As the world meets in Durban for the latest round of UN climate talks, he urged all countries to cut emissions.
“I don’t think anyone can seriously deny it is happening,” he said. “What the controversy is about is whether mankind has been a factor in that. I personally think we have and it would be surprising if we hadn’t given what we have been doing for the last 125 years. But in the way it is irrelevant given temperatures are increasing and we know that is potentially doing a lot of damage and if we can we should try and stop that happening. Whether it is caused by us or not, we can bring down carbon emissions and that could stop temperatures rising.”
Dr Mark Brandon, Polar Oceanographer at the Open University, and a consultant on the programme, said Lord Lawson is cherry picking the science.
"Lord Lawson deliberately focuses on isolated pieces of factual evidence and then delivers them in a way to imply that his isolated facts apply to the whole cryosphere. [The programme] never overstates the evidence or uses hyperbole and it is a brave and honest portrayal of what is going on right now."
Frozen Planet episode 7 is screened on Wednesday, December 7 on BBC One at 9.00pm.