The science of climate change is increasingly confronted by profound disagreements and re-adjustments. The rise in temperatures that occurred during much of the 1980s and 1990s appears to have stalled for much of the past 10 years.

Meanwhile, global carbon dioxide emissions have been accelerating considerably. Greenhouse gas emissions increased on average 3 per cent a year from 2000 to 2005, compared with a growth rate of 1 per cent a year on average during the 1990s. Yet global temperatures failed to rise as a result of accelerating emissions.

A study published last month in the scientific journal Nature even predicted a slight cooling trend of up to 10 years as a result of shifting ocean currents. The report's publication triggered widespread confusion among climate modellers. After all, the climate models published only last year by the IPCC foretold a significant and relentless warming trend as a result of increased carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere. None predicted that global warming would be arrested for a decade.

Even though it is likely that moderate warming will recommence, nobody knows for sure when this might occur. Unless there is a dramatic speeding of global temperature rise, climate science will be increasingly relegated to the margins of policymaking and economic considerations will become the dominant factor in the decision-making processes.

Conversely, as long as temperatures remain flat (or fall), politicians and the general public will become more sceptical. As a result, policymakers are likely to regard costly climate policies as a political liability and an economic risk that should be evaded as much as possible at both a national and international level.

It seems increasingly doubtful that a new, Kyoto-style climate treaty will be agreed at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen next year. The current cessation of global warming and the prospect of more years of stagnation will provide legislators with a respite for a sober reconsideration of cost-effective climate policies. What remains uncertain, however, is how long the slowdown will last and what will happen once temperatures start to rise again.