Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council


  1.  The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) was established by Royal Charter in April 1994. It is a non-Departmental public body principally funded by the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Technology and through the Science Budget. BBSRC-sponsored Institutes receive a proportion of their funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) by means of research commissioned on a consumer/contractor basis and research support from other Government Departments, the EU and industry.

  2.  The Council's mission is:

    —  to promote and support high quality basic, strategic and applied research and related post-graduate training relating to the understanding and exploitation of biological systems;

    —  to advance knowledge and provide trained scientists and engineers which meet the needs of users and beneficiaries (including the agriculture, bioprocessing, chemical, food, healthcare, pharmaceutical and other biotechnology-related industries) thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness of the UK and the quality of life; and

    —  to provide advice, disseminate knowledge and promote public understanding in the field of biotechnology and the biological sciences.

  3.  Research is supported through responsive mode grants to universities and academic analogues and through provision of the Competitive Strategic Grant (CSG) to the BBSRC-sponsored Institutes.


  4.  BBSRC research on climate change has largely been focussed on the effects of change on microbes, plants and animals, the potential impact on UK agriculture and strategies for mitigation. The Agriculture and Food Research Council (AFRC) initiated a programme in Biological Adaptation to Global Environmental Change (BAGEC), which was taken up by BBSRC during re-structuring. The programme ran in parallel to the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) TIGER (Terrestrial Initiative in Global Environment Research) programme. It provided support for research in the following areas, relevant to agricultural systems:

    —  the interaction between biological processes (plant, animal and microbial) and fluxes (energy, water, nutrients, gases) which influence climate;

    —  the impacts of climate change on plants, animals and microbes at the molecular, cellular, whole organism and population levels, and;

    —  the response measures that can be taken to deal with such changes.

  5.  The programme was launched in 1992 at a cost of £8 million over four years. In March 1997, at the end of the programme, BBSRC held a dissemination event to communicate results and conclusions to Government, the user community, other scientists and the media.

  6.  Aspects of the programme have been taken forward under the initiative "Resource Allocation and Stress in Plants" which provides support of £3.7 million over three years.

  7.  In preparing this response, views were sought from Horticulture Research International (HRI) and the following BBSRC-sponsored Institutes engaged in research relevant to climate change: Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR), Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), and Silsoe Research Institute (SRI).

  8.  IACR includes within its portfolio work concerned with the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the associated environment and possible mitigation measures involving changes in land management. The main topics of research are: climate change impacts on crop production; opportunities for carbon sequestration in soil through changes in land management; production of biofuel crops to replace some fossil fuel use; effects of agricultural practices on fluxes of the trace gases nitrous oxide and methane, and the UK Environmental Change Network.

  9.  Research at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research relates to the entire production cycle for grassland-related agriculture. It includes studies on soils, plants, animals and microorganisms and covers both mechanistic and systems studies and integration with the needs of industry. IGER North Wyke is also a participant in the Environmental Change Network.

  10.  Silsoe Research Institute supports innovative research in engineering, mathematics and physics for the agri-food industries. Its business falls into four main areas: environment, crop production, livestock and engineering for hygienic food processing.

  11.  Work on climate change at HRI has focused primarily on the response of horticultural crops and systems to components of climate change, for example UV-B.

  12.  BBSRC Office provides input into climate change policy through its membership of the Inter-Agency Committee on Global Environmental Change (IACGEC) and the Cross-Council Group on Climate Change (CCGCC).

  13.  IACGEC was established in 1990 by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor and NERC provides the secretariat. The Committee provides UK agencies funding GEC research with a forum for discussion of relevant science and policy developments. It published a national strategy in September 1996 and made a report to the Chief Scientific Advisor in November 1999.

  14.  CCGCC was set up following the closure of the Global Environmental Research (GER) Office in March 1998. The GER Office had been established in 1990 in recognition of the growing national and international interest in GER issues and the need to coordinate UK responses to research opportunities and challenges across the Research Councils. In taking the decision to close the Office, it was recognised that as GER has expanded to address impacts and solutions as well as detection and understanding of change, there would still be a need to coordinate activities, hence CCGCC was established. CCGCC ensures a collective brief is provided for activities such as the International Group of Funding Agencies (IGFA) and is charged with taking forward recommendations of IACGEC, as required.


  15.  Results from BBSRC supported research are published in international, peer-reviewed scientific journals and reported at conferences and, in some cases, in media interviews or articles in the popular scientific press or agricultural press. All of this work will be accessible to Government advisors. It would be anticipated that relevant data would be incorporated into high-level models.

  16.  Government Departments, such as MAFF or DETR, commission work at BBSRC-sponsored Institutes. In addition to scientific publications, results from these projects are written up in the form of reports to the funding body, thus the Department concerned receives rapid and direct information on the findings.

  17.  Scientists from IACR have participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "Carbon dioxide emissions from soil: national inventories working group" and Working Group II of the IPCC "Climate Change 1995—Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses". Specifically, they have contributed to:

    —  The 1996 IPCC Revised Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Accounting.

    —  The Special Report on "Forestry Land Use and Land Use Change" due for publication in 2000. This is a key document that translates scientific information into policy options for Government.

    —  Climate Change 1995—Impacts, Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical Analyses, IPCC Working Group II Second Assessment Report, 1996.

  18.  The UK Environmental Change Network was established in 1992 and now comprises 12 terrestrial and around 30 freshwater sites. The objective is to monitor environmental changes, including climate and pollutants, and measure their impacts on ecosystems. IACR-Rothamsted is one of the terrestrial sites at which a standard set of measurements is made regularly using standard protocols. Many of the terrestrial sites have long histories of similar monitoring, some of the records at Rothamsted go back over 150 years. Undertaking current monitoring and related research within the context of well-characterised long-term sites maximises the opportunities for detecting slow changes in ecosystem function caused by gradual environmental change. Summaries are made widely available via the ECN web site and annual reports are made to DETR.

  19.  The work funded under BAGEC has had some effects upon impact predictions and it is likely that more data will emerge, particularly associated with differential responses between species and with soil-plant-atmosphere interactions. The potential problem is that outputs are "random" being based on new scientific information and thus there is no clean policy line between funding, research outputs and impact predictions.

  20.  Emissions of the "greenhouse gases" methane and nitrous oxide from livestock are thought to contribute to global warming and MAFF has funded a series of studies to produce a UK inventory of the total production of these gases from farmed livestock and to identify possible abatement measures. The work has resulted in a methodology for producing inventories of emissions which is technically in advance of IPCC methodology and more accurate. Results will be used by MAFF to develop policies and guidelines to reduce emissions from agriculture to meet national and international targets. The work highlights the need to model the overall effects (over a variety of scales) of any measures that may be recommended, before drawing up a policy; a systems approach is essential.


  21.  IACR has developed mathematical models for assessing agricultural risk due to climate variability and climate change. Studies on crop growth have covered both UK and Europe with funding from MAFF and EU. As a basis for this type of research, it is essential that the crop growth models used are thoroughly validated. IACR scientists have been heavily involved in international activities to test a range of models against datasets.

  22.  The only major international effort to test soil carbon models using data from long-term experiments was organised at IACR-Rothamsted.

  23.  IGER was involved in the development of refined climate change models which also involved Universities and the Met Office. IGER's MAFF contract was based on IPCC scenarios and Met Office models to predict climate change. However, new data is continually being produced which needs to be incorporated and is a driver for new models.

  24.  More integrative studies have been supported, eg by MAFF, which attempted to bridge the gap between mechanistic studies and the basic predictions that were part of the early IPCC models. Unfortunately, resources were limited confining investigators largely to the application of existing models. It is suggested that integrative modelling is still a major weakness.

  25.  DETR, for example, commissioned scenario and impact assessment studies which were quite influential and did represent a determined attempt to integrate across scales and between sectors.

  26.  All the necessary building blocks for a coordinated approach appear to be in place, from directed research through to policy scenario and impact analysis. But there have been problems, for example:

    —  insufficient discussion of uncertainty at any stage;

    —  insufficient integration of research provision into the analysis of impacts. This has been particularly true of "scale-up" modelling;

    —  impact analysis and the weighting for policy purposes of rare but catastrophic events. Most impact analysis applies the "trends in means" approach and this may not be the most relevant for climatic variables; and

    —  it was not always clear to those generating the data who was going to use it and how or why.

  27.  All models are subject to uncertainty and revision of global change scenarios will be a continuing feature of advice on climate change.


  28.  IACR agrees with the IPCC analysis that the upward trend in the earth's temperature is, at least in part, driven by human-induced increases in greenhouse gas emissions. It is aware that there is some evidence to suggest that non-anthropogenic processes, such as changes in the energy output of the sun may also contribute to the observed global warming. However, it is fully in agreement with the IPCC view that the evidence for a human-induced contribution is compelling and that the consequences of climate change are so profound that it is essential that drivers that are influenced by human activity be tackled.

  29.  Other researchers are more cautious suggesting that there is considerable uncertainty about all but the most global projections on climate change impacts. Since individual groups of scientists have been asked to comment on specific functions, the overviews tend to be fragmentary. In addition, Government Departments tend to commission their own studies and it is unclear how much cross-fertilisation there is.

January 2000

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