Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Scientists Aim "Three Stage Rocket" Toward the Politicos

Note: A clarification has been added to this item.

COPENHAGEN—Ten of the world's top universities have convened a conference here with the tacit support of the United Nations, hoping to sway policymakers toward taking an aggressive stance on climate change.

But one wonders if the negotiators racing to meet a December deadline to create the world's biggest regulatory framework are listening.

Conference chair Katherine Richardson, a biological oceanographer at the University of Copenhagen, told the opening plenary session that the conference would ensure that policymakers would pay attention by providing compelling messages in three broad areas: how bad the climate science is [that is, how bad the impact of climate change will be], the "good news" that's out there in terms of new ways of mitigating carbon emissions, and the prospects for adapting to the proliferating impacts that scientists are seeing around the world. That "three stage rocket" will deliver its payload in June, in the form of a 30-page, peer-reviewed report—"Yes, with pictures," Richardson told the crowd. She acknowledged, however, that at times the relationship between climate scientists and politicians was "complicated."

At the end of the conference, Richardson said, a small panel consisting of energy scientist Dan Kammen of the University of California, Berkeley, British economist Nicholas Stern, and Richardson will be quizzed for roughly an hour by Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen over the "major messages" of the conference.

After Richardson's address, Kammen sat checking his e-mail on an iPhone at an open cafeteria table. He had just a minute to talk—a 2:00 meeting to discuss that final session was coming up. The agenda? "Write those questions," he joked. "The way I see it, there are two messages to this conference. The climate science is worse than we thought, [and] there's more solutions than we thought—but we're not adopting them fast enough."