Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Institute of Biology

  1.  The Institute of Biology is the independent and charitable body charged by Royal Charter to further UK biology and the scientific interests of biosientists. It has over 15,000 individual members as well as some 70 Affiliated Societies representing the principal life science specialities. As such it is well placed to respond to policy concerns requiring biological expertise.


  2.  This response's principal points include:

    (i)  Sustainable energy policy requires an underpinning contribution of biological expertise to address environmental impacts and the provision of biofuels. (paragraph 3)

    (ii)  Research into renewables is minimal due to declining investment. (paragraphs 4 to 8)

    (iii)  The PIU's failure to adhere to minimum Cabinet guidelines undermines its output. (paragraph 10)

    (iv)  The lack of practical realization of past stated support for sustainability policies does not bode well for the implementation of UK sustainable energy policy. (paragraph 11)

    (v)  There is a clear need for co-ordination across all Departments on sustainability issues. This is now all the more important due to the split up of the former Department of Environment with environmental conservation concerns residing in one part, and planning in the other. (paragraph 14)

    (vi)  This Institute will be examining UK biofuels in Spring 2002. (paragraph 15)


The understanding of environmental impacts from energy generation and use, as well as biofuels, requires biological expertise

  3.  All energy use has an environmental impact, be it freshwater system disruption from hydro-electric schemes, sulphurous acid and climate change impacts from fossil fuels, or radiological impacts from nuclear power. In addition to environmental impacts, biofuels are, of course, biological in nature. Consequently sustainable energy policy needs an underpinning contribution of biological expertise.

  The Audit Committee's specific questions are in sans-serif bold font below


Research into renewables is extremely minimal

  4.  Research into renewables is extremely minimal and not nearly sufficient to meet Government's policy aspirations. This is due to a number of factors.

The dissolution of the former CEGB's research resources

  5.  Privatisation of the former Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) resulted in the closure of the CEGB's research laboratories and CEGB contracted research.

Real-term decline in Government Department research

  6.  Decline in Government Departments' real-term investment in research year-on-year for the one and a half decades up to 1999-2000 has meant that policy-driven and applied research has declined. (This is not to be confused with the Research Councils investment in "blue skies" or "fundamental" research which has been maintained in real terms.) Concern over the decline in Government Department Research has cited in two recent Commons Select Committee reports: Government Expenditure on Research and Development (2000) and Are We Realising Our Potential? (2001) as well as by this Institute's specialist Affiliated Societies in Science Policy Priorities 2001.

Low industrial investment in research

  7.  The low level of UK industry's investment in R&D as a proportion of GDP compared to many other developed nations.

There is little motivation for industrial research though recently announced prospective tax breaks for industrial research are welcome

  8.  Following on from this last, industry in the main invests in near-market applied research. Consequently, until the UK addresses the problem of Departmental research and the replacement of the CEGB research base, it is difficult to see industry making more of a contribution outside of the existing support for a few pilot schemes. The prospective tax breaks for industrial research, just recently announced) will be welcome, but their impact will not by itself ensure a sufficient increase in research as is warranted. Energy sustainability is a major problem requiring significant research, development and employment of energy efficient, as well as non-fossil energy generating, technologies.


We share Parliamentarian concerns over the co-ordination of research across Departments

  9.  There is some concern both from the biological community (as identified in Science Policy Priorities 2001) and from Parliamentarians (Are We Realising Our Potential? (2001)), that the research required, to drive innovation is not as co-ordinated across Government Departments as it might be. (Though co-ordination within the "fundamental" and "blue skies" Research Councils Science Base is good.) In part lack of Departmental co-ordination is due the decline in Departmental funding identified above (see paragraph 6 above). And in part it is because of the status of science and research within Departments. The new technologies that will need to be applied to realise sustainable energy policy will first have to be researched and developed. It is therefore important that the UK has a strong research base (and not just a strong Science Base).


Failing to adhere to Cabinet Office guidelines make outcomes suspect

  10.  The PIU (Performance and Innovation Unit) energy review was not conducted according to the minimum standards as laid down in Cabinet Office guidelines. The time limit given in the PIU July 2001 statement as to how the review will be conducted was just two thirds of the minimum time allowed (itself over the August holiday period); whereas the significance of the consultation issue arguably warranted more than the minimal time not less. Secondly, the consultation was conducted solely electronically. PIU "scooping" notes were revised so necessitating even shorter time frames within which to respond. Finally, though there were other guideline departures, neither was there any explanation for these departures (a requirement which is itself in the Cabinet Office guidelines Code of Practice on Written Consultation). This Institute is acutely aware (due to issues such as GM crops, stem cells, and BSE) of the need for policy to be based on sound science and for policy consultations to be open and proper opportunity for stakeholders to be properly involved. Such a perspective is in line with the House of Lords report Science and Society (2000) and the series of Commons reports on the "Scientific Advisory System" (1999-2001). Failing to adhere to minimum guidelines undermines confidence in consultations and their outcomes become suspect.

The existing track record fulfilling stated support for sustainability is not good

  11.  Such is the body of evidence that it is likely that the various energy policy reviews/consultations currently underway (for example the EC Green Paper) will call for the urgent development of a sustainable energy strategy. However given the existing track for sustainability policies there are doubts as to whether such policy goals will realistically become manifest. Despite stated support for initiatives such as the World Conservation Strategy (1980), and the Brudntland (World Commission on Environment and Development) Report (1987) and the stated support for sustainability principles at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio (1992) the UK has not increased its sustainability in terms of being less dependent of finite fossil fuels, energy intensity, or increasing its proportional reliance on indigenous resources (which also applies to a range of biological resources). Against this background it would appear unlikely that the UK will embark on a meaningful sustainable energy strategy even if one were developed.


Despite above concerns, policies should be based on environmental sustainability

  12.  Despite the above lack of optimism, this Institute is aware of the need for policies to be based on environmentally sustainable principles. Furthermore, the Institute's specialist Affiliated Societies have earlier this year identified the priority for the UK to underpin sustainability policies on sound science (Science Policy Priorities 2001).

The Institute is actively supporting sustainability policy initiatives

  13.  To this end the Institute has responded to a number of policy consultations, from Government, its Departments and Agencies, that have a bearing on sustainability. It has for the past two years maintained informal links with its Royal Chartered counterparts for chemistry and physics (the Royal Society of Chemistry and Institute of Physics respectively), and is currently working with these bodies in providing a series of DTI sponsored workshops on the theme of "fuelling the future".

Co-ordination across Government on sustainability urgently required

  14.  There is a clear need for co-ordination across all Departments on sustainability issues. Sustainability relates to virtually all areas of Government, building, energy use, transport, food production, health, biological conservation etc. This is now all the more important due to the split up of the former Department of Environment with environmental conservation concerns residing in one Department (DEFRA) and planning in another (DTLR)

The Institute should have more information on UK biofuels in March 2002

  15.  The Institute's own workshop as part of this series will address UK biofuel technology and potentials. However it will take place in February after the Audit Committee's deadline for written evidence. However should the Committee still be analysing evidence in March, then this Institute would be pleased to make available this workshop's conclusions.


  16.  In line with Government policy on openness, the Institute is pleased to have this response made public and to this end will shortly be placing a version on its web site. Should the Audit Committee have any further queries arising out of this response then they should, in the first instance, contact Jonathan Cowie, Institute of Biology, 20-22 Queensberry Place, London, SW7 2DZ.

January 2002

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