Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

  1.  The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) welcomes this review and the opportunity to provide input.

  2.  NERC leads in providing independent research and training in the environmental sciences. NERC's purpose is to support high quality scientific research, survey, monitoring and postgraduate training with the objective of enhancing knowledge, understanding and prediction of the environment and its resources. NERC achieves this through its support of scientists at universities and through its own Research Centres and Collaborative Centres. NERC's research centres are: the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory (POL). A list of NERC's collaborative centres is appended.


  3.  NERC is a major funder of research, training and knowledge transfer activities in the area of climate change. As such we invest a small amount (circa £115,000 per annum) in renewable energy research, mostly to support wind and solar power generation in Antarctica and a project on sea wave energy. Our Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also has expertise in biofuels and hydroelectricity, and has previously undertaken a number of research contracts in these areas. NERC, together with EPSRC, ESRC and the DTI, also invests in the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change. At present, Tyndall is supporting research on carbon management and reduction and new and renewable energy technologies (£0.5 million).

  4.  Following the outcome of the Government's 2000 Spending Review in November 2000, NERC was asked to lead the Research Councils in furthering cross Council collaboration in the area of technology for sustainability and energy.

  5.  In taking this forward we have worked with the other Research Councils, DTI, the Carbon Trust and others to develop proposals for a new programme of research and training entitled "Towards a sustainable energy economy". If funded, this initiative would help enable the UK to access a safe, secure, diverse and reliable energy supply at competitive prices, whilst meeting the challenge of global warming. A key element of our proposals is the establishment of an Energy Research Centre(s) to bring together interdisciplinary teams with expertise in the scientific, technological, social, economic, environmental and health aspects of energy research. It is intended that this Centre(s) would provide a national and possibly European focus to integrate and accelerate research in this priority area.

  6.  These priorities are reflected in NERC's new strategic priorities document "Science for a Sustainable Future 2002-07" which will be published in April 2002.


  7.  At present, we do not believe there is sufficient "joined-up" working between those engaged in energy research. For example, DTI's recently published Draft Strategy for Energy Research, Development, Demonstration and Deployment set out a clear direction for DTI-funded activity, but did not place this work in the broader context. No mention was made of how the strategy fitted with current and planned energy research funded by others including industry, the Research Councils, DEFRA and the Carbon Trust.

  8.  There are a range of organisations currently investing in energy R&D, and NERC believes an integrated approach will ensure that the Government's key energy policy objectives of secure, diverse and sustainable supplies of energy at competitive prices are realised. Building on UK strengths, it is now timely to bring together the Science and Engineering base, policy makers and business in new partnerships to tackle this multidisciplinary research agenda, and address the environmental, social and economic aspects of energy research. There is a clear need to respond to the reality of global warming, and an opportunity for the UK to take the lead, both in terms of policy and in developing new technologies and management solutions.

  9.  Technological, social and behavioural innovation are essential if the UK is to meet the goal of reduced CO2 emissions, whilst at the same time providing security of supply. The UK science base and industry must work together to develop and adopt technologies and practices to contribute to sustainable development and competitiveness. Future sustainable development of the economy requires the decoupling of economic growth from adverse environmental impacts. Radical improvements in resource productivity will only benefit the UK if they are acceptable to society.

  10.  In particular, NERC believes there is a current need for research into the environmental impact of new and emerging energy technologies and we endorse the findings of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee Seventh Report into Wave and Tidal Energy.


  11.  NERC supports the outcome of the PIU Energy Review, and in particular the report of the Chief Scientific Advisor's Energy Research Review Group (Annex 8) and our Chief Executive, Professor John Lawton FRS was a member of the Energy Review Group, and we therefore endorse the recommendations and research priorities identified in this section.

  12.  We welcome the specific recommendation to develop detailed proposals for an Energy Research Centre, and look forward to working with OST and the new Sustainable Energy Policy Unit on this project.

April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 22 July 2002