2015 UN Climate Change Conference – and the man who revived the theory on carbon dioxide & climate change

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 meets in Paris 30 November – 11 December. The key objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

G S Callendar 1934

Guy Stewart Callendar, 1934. Callendar Papers, UEA.

In the light of this we are featuring G.S. Callendar’s Archive and his carbon dioxide theory of climate change.

Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), a noted steam engineer and amateur meteorologist, revived the 19th century carbon dioxide theory of climate change in 1938 with the publication of his paper ‘The Artificial Production of Carbon Dioxide and its Influence on Temperature’.

Although an amateur, Callendar was working from his home in West Sussex on a truly gobal scale analysing world data and formulating a coherent theory of infrared absorption by trace gases.

Through World War II he published two papers while working on technical problems (including infrared absorption) with the Ministry of Supply. In 1944 climatologist Gordon Manley noted Callendar’s valuable contributions to the study of climatic change. A decade later, Gilbert Plass and Charles Keeling consulted with Callendar as they began their research programs. Just before the beginning of the International Geophysical Year in 1957, Hans Seuss and Roger Revelle referred to the ‘Callendar effect’, defined as climatic change brought about by anthropogenic increases in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, primarily through the processes of combustion. In other words, caused by the use of fossil fuels.


Callendar’s notebook on CO2, 1939-1940.

The G.S. Callendar Archive contains some 95 notebooks (1936-1964) and documents containing data, charts, notes, readings and formulae concerning temperature and climate as far back as 1751 and in locations across the world; letters, reviews and many candid insights into the state of climate science between 1936 and 1964.

The family papers include photographs, personal correspondence, reprints, historical reappraisals, biographical material (some relating to Callendar’s father – physics Professor H.L. Callendar); and papers relating to Callendar’s war work, including FIDO (Fog Investigation Dispersal Operation), 1942-1946, and to his time with the Armament Design Establishment, 1950-1956.

A digitised version of the archive is available for consultation in the Archive and is also available for purchase from the Royal Meteorological Society. This is sold separately as a companion guide to James Fleming’s The Callendar Effect: Life and Work of Guy Stewart Callendar (1898-1964), the Scientist who Established the Carbon Dioxide Theory of Climate Change. American Meteorological Society, 2007.

Two of Callendar’s notebooks are on exhibit at the Science Museum as part of the exhibit Atmosphere: Exploring Climate Change. The exhibit runs until the end of 2018.

G.S. Callendar Archive at UEA