Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Special Report



1. It is largely because its process of assessment is, in Sir John Houghton's words, "open, transparent and rigorous" that the IPCC's reports command such general respect. (Paragraph 6)

2. The summaries of the IPCC's assessment reports are concise and useful documents, and present the consensus view of climate change in appropriately cautious terms. However, focusing attention on these summaries may limit the IPCC's effectiveness in communicating to policymakers the extent of the uncertainties of climate change science. (Paragraph 8)

The Government agrees with the Committee in its recognition of the strength of the IPCC and the value of its approach to undertaking its scientific assessments and the usefulness of the IPCC documents, particularly the Policy Makers' Summaries. It does not agree that the summaries detract from the uncertainties in the underlying science. The summaries are drafted by the lead authors of the main reports and agreed by governments with lead authors present to ensure consistency. At the end of each IPCC meeting a list of changes to the underlying report is presented to delegates to ensure that the summary texts and main reports are consistent. The IPCC has made a lot of effort to treat uncertainties in a consistent manner, particularly in the summaries, as noted in the answer to recommendation 15.

3. We recommend that the Government actively promote the IPCC model in other policy areas of global significance in which there is considerable scientific uncertainty. (Paragraph 9)

Agree. The IPCC has proved the worth in international negotiations of a thorough review process that is shared by all participants. The scale of the IPCC process is unprecedented reflecting the nature of the problem it addresses. However, many of the lessons learnt can be transferred and many are reflected in the OST Guidelines 2000 on Scientific Advice on Policy Making. Whether the IPCC should be used in other policy areas of global significance will depend on the financial and human resources available, the time available and the need for global acceptance of the science. For example, not all issues are suitable for IPCC-type assessment as public attitude to risk is a critical aspect which needs to be taken into account. We consider the use of the IPCC approach in specific areas in our comments on recommendation 25.

4. We agree that it is important for the Hadley Centre to work closely with other specialist institutes, and that it should continue to concentrate on its core strengths. However, we strongly suggest that it might benefit from more in-house staff with expertise outside meteorology, including the biological sciences. (Paragraph 12)

The Government broadly agrees with this conclusion of the Committee and re-emphasises that it has been the Hadley Centre's policy to work closely with other institutes where there is real specialisation, rather than try to re-invent such specialisation itself. Clearly it is a

matter of judgement as to the most important way of moving forward with non-meteorological areas, particularly in a multi-disciplinary subject.

5. We recommend that the results of the 10 year review of the Hadley Centre be published as soon as it is completed. (Paragraph 13)

The review has been published on the DEFRA web site.

6. It is important for public confidence that scientific advice to Government on climate change, as in other areas, should be seen to be independent and not dependent solely on the Hadley Centre. (Paragraph 14)

Paragraph 13 suggests that the Government receives 90% of its advice from the Hadley Centre. Whilst it is true that the Hadley Centre is a significant provider of advice on climate change science, it is certainly an overstatement to suggest that it is as much as 90%. Government receives advice through many sources, including programmes which it funds elsewhere, but also through the basic research programmes of the Research Councils, including the Tyndall Centre, The Royal Society, independent scientists, the published literature and, not least, the IPCC reports. The IPCC is the Government's foremost authority on global climate change, although the Hadley Centre is well placed to advise on specific and very new work. It is noted that the Committee recognises that the Hadley Centre is independent of Government, although funded by Government. Its independence is ensured through the Science Review Group, through open publication and through its full participation in international programmes.

7. There must be concern whether the Hadley Centre is able to offer Government critical assessment of the IPCC reports, because it is so closely involved in the IPCC process. (Paragraph 15)

The purpose of the inclusive peer review process of the IPCC is to negate the need for a secondary assessment. The question revolves around where the greatest authority lies. The IPCC process is open, comprehensive and involves the widest range of scientific expertise anywhere on this subject. In general, it would be expected to be the most authoritative, and has proven to be so. The role of the UK within the IPCC is to ensure that its work takes place at the highest standards. The Hadley Centre has inevitably provided several authors to the IPCC and its work is cited frequently. This is what we would expect from an organisation which is one of the world's leading climate modelling centres. This, however, does not prevent the Hadley Centre from providing the Government with objective assessment of the IPCC output, as do other UK lead authors (see paragraph 9).

8. If the Tyndall Centre proves its worth, we recommend that its funding be put on a more secure and long-term footing, since climate change issues will be with us for many years yet. (Paragraph 17)

Three of the Research Councils (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council and Natural Environment Research Council) and the DTI have committed funding for the Tyndall Centre until 31 December 2005. It is anticipated that a review of performance will make recommendations during the early part of 2005 on the nature and scope of funding and support from 2006 onwards.

9. The Government must ensure that it receives advice on climate change from all relevant scientific disciplines. (Paragraph 18)

Yes. Contributions are welcomed and used from as many sources as possible, including the Government's own commissioned research and its own institutions, its assessment of the peer reviewed literature, participation by its science advisers in learned meetings, both in the UK and overseas. Part of the difficulty is that, in some disciplines, the work on climate change is more fragmented. The Government has been working hard to build up capacity in areas such as the impacts of climate change, where work is co-ordinated through the UK Climate Impacts Programme. The Department has also supported scientists to participate in the IPCC reports from a number of disciplines such as climatology, meteorology, geography, economics, environmental law, social science and health. Some of them have provided advice, from time to time, on progress within their own areas.

10. The Government must also ensure that it is aware of the views of independent scientists, who may dissent from the consensus view of climate change. (Paragraph 19)

The Government is aware of views from scientists who dissent in part from the consensus and welcomes serious scientific debate. Their views have been well represented in the public debate on climate change conducted through the media and scientific literature. The IPCC process itself addresses divergent views as noted in paragraph 11.

11. We believe that there needs to be some rethinking of the mechanisms by which Government gets its advice. Clear and transparent channels should be available through which scientists who hold dissenting views can readily communicate their ideas to policymakers and can have confidence that they have been heard. (Paragraph 19)

The issue of dissenting views is addressed by the IPCC. As well as appointing authors for its assessment reports, the IPCC appoints Review Editors, part of whose job it is to ensure that issues of controversy are adequately addressed and where appropriate diverse views are reflected in the discussion. At the national level there are no real barriers to scientists who wish to raise dissenting views on climate change openly and honestly. The UK Climate Programme, published in 2000, includes a major section on the scientific rationale for the Government's policies on climate change. This section was added after the first public consultation on the programme. The opportunity to raise dissenting views on the science was provided during the second consultation period, but none were received.

12. We recommend that the Government establish a new independent advisory committee to advise Government on the science of climate change and on policy options. (Paragraph 20)

The Government does not believe it would serve any purpose to appoint an independent committee on general climate science. Many members of any worthwhile committee would inevitably have been involved in the IPCC peer review process. The recent US National Academy of Sciences report on climate change illustrated the redundancy of national advisory panels. However, the IPCC is necessarily of limited value in developing national mitigation and adaptation policies and for assessing the potential impacts of climate change on the UK. The Government set up an independent science review group on the impacts of climate change which reported in 1991 and 1996. Furthermore, the Government has a range of advisory bodies and groups which have provided advice to the Government on the policy side of climate change. These range from groups like the Royal Commission on Environmental pollution, the Sustainable Development Commission and the Advisory Panel on Business and the Environment, which advises on broader issues, to those which advise on more specific policy areas like the Commission for Integrated Transport and the Energy Advisory Panel and most recently the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation Unit Study of Energy Policy. Learned societies such as the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering provide independent advice from time to time. It is difficult to see what added value another advisory committee would have.

13. We recommend that the Government reconsider the adequacy of the current research programme on the biological effects of climate change, and its funding, and ensure that it is properly integrated with other climate change research. (Paragraph 25)

As recorded in the Government response to the Report of the BSE Inquiry, the Chief Scientific Adviser has responsibility for overseeing the proper co-ordination of research programmes between departments and the Research Councils. The Inter-Agency Committee, now superseded by the Global Environmental Change Committee (GECC), in a report to the Chief Scientific Advisor, reviewed the coverage of research on GECC across Government, and ensured that there was an identifiable lead for each issue identified, including those with a strong biological component. In July the GECC agreed to review the UK programme as outlined in the Hoskins report (the 1996 Report of the Expert Panel on the UK National Strategy for Global Environmental Research to the IACGEC) in the light of the recommendations for research made by the IPCC.

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has undertaken two initiatives to support research on climate change. The Biological Adaptation to Global Environmental Change Programme was an £8 million, 4-year programme launched in 1992. This was followed by the Resource Allocation and Stress in Plants Programme which supported a small amount of work on climate change and ended recently. Work supported through these initiatives has been taken forward through responsive mode and through projects at the BBSRC-sponsored Institutes. The Councils are aware of the continued need to support research on the biological effects of climate change and this area has been included in the Rural Economy and Land Use bid which is being developed for SR2002. In the meantime, there is funding available, through the BBSRC Research Committees, for eligible applicants and institutions working in this area.

The former DETR and MAFF (now DEFRA) have commissioned research on the impacts of climate on nature conservation, biodiversity and agriculture involving biologists and ecologists. The UK Climate Impacts Programme includes a number of projects on the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and agriculture, involving those from the biological sciences.

14. We are not convinced that the UK's national research programme on climate change is sufficiently coherent overall or that it has the required breadth in all areas. (Paragraph 26)

We fail to understand the Committee's reasons for reaching this view. The Government believes the devolved nature of climate change research funding has considerable advantages and that mechanisms are in place through the GECC to ensure that there is a proper level of co-ordination, that gaps are identified and dealt with appropriately as noted in paragraph 13.

The role of the GECC is to take an overview of the positions of Government Departments and other Agencies in relation to research on Global Environmental Change. It also recommends to the Chief Scientific Adviser a lead Department or Agency in areas where responsibility is unclear. The GECC will report to the Chief Scientific Adviser's Committee on developments in Global Environmental Change research programmes in November 2001.

15. The formula used by the IPCC to communicate degrees of uncertainty could usefully be adopted in other scientific advice. (Paragraph 27)

The Government agrees that the applicability of formal definitions of levels of uncertainty as used in Volumes I and II of its Third Assessment Report could usefully be investigated for use in other areas. This is an innovation for the IPCC itself and it is still working out how best to communicate the diverse nature of uncertainty across a wide range of disciplines. We have drawn the attention of the OST to this approach.

16. Climate change is a prime example of an area in which the precautionary principle is being applied. Even though there is considerable uncertainty, the consequences of inaction are sufficiently serious to require action. In this case, some action is being taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, even though it is not absolutely certain that greenhouse gases cause climate change, because the consequences of inaction for the climate may be great. (Paragraph 28)

17. We urge the Government to demonstrate that it is observing the precautionary principle, not just in its policy emissions, but in responding to the threatened effects of climate change - for example, in flood prevention measures and planning policy - and in alternative transport strategies and in investing in research and development in renewable energy. (Paragraph 28)

The UK's climate change programme, published in November 2000, recognises fully the potential risks associated with climate change. It sets out a range of policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the steps to make the necessary transformation in the transport and energy sectors. Since then, the Government has also increased investment in renewable energy to over £260 million for the next three years.

The UK Government and the Devolved Administrations are taking the lead in preparing to adapt to the impacts of climate change and have already taken action to build adaptation into some policies, such as water resources, building regulations and planning as laid out in the UK Climate Change Programme.

The UK Government issues guidance to flood defence operating authorities in England and Wales which includes allowances for sea level rise and higher river flows as a result of climate change. Similarly climate change will also be considered in Shoreline Management Plans, Coastal Habitat Management Plans and River Catchment Flood Management Plans, which will be used to inform long-term policies on land use planning and coastal and river management. Investment has been made in improving flood warning services, increasing public awareness of flood risk, improving flood and coastal defence infrastructure, and promoting new high level targets for flood and coastal defence, aimed at reducing long term risk. Relevant changes are also being planned for the Government's Green Book on Investment Appraisal.

In Scotland, the Scottish Executive has published research on climate change impacts on flood risk on Scottish rivers and the coast so that local authorities, and others, may take account of climate change in developing appropriate measures. The Executive has also conducted research to consider 'Potential Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change in Scotland'. This research, and subsequent consultation, will inform consideration of a climate change adaptation strategy for Scotland, including flood prevention, coastal protection and improved flood warning dissemination.

New planning guidance for England on development of areas at risk of flooding (PPG 25) was issued on 17 July 2001 and has been strengthened to advise a precautionary, risk-based approach and to protect against inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding. Planning guidance in Scotland continues to be based on avoiding development where there is a significant risk of flooding, and managing the threat in other areas where the risk is less acute. The National Assembly for Wales is undertaking a full review of its land use planning policies, in partnership with local government, government agencies, business and the voluntary sector. In Wales, new planning policy on Flood Risk and Climate is emerging, through Draft Planning Policy Wales (PPW) and the revision of Technical Advice Note (Wales) 15 Development and Flood Risk (TAN 15). PPW will be issued in its final form in March 2002 and a draft TAN 15 will issue for consultation early in 2002. The guidance will emphasise the need to reduce the risks associated with flooding and will be underpinned by a risk based methodology to assist decision-making on the ground.

The Central Local Partnership, at a special meeting in December last year, agreed that a sub-group should be established to look at how the country could be better placed to deal with severe weather events, in particular, in the light of the autumn 2000 storms. The main work of the sub-group has been to take an overview of various reviews and other on-going work on issues concerning infrastructure and procedures for responding to severe weather, ensuring, in particular, that both local and central government considerations are being fully taken on board. This includes monitoring progress of a variety of weather-related reviews, including reviews of flood defence funding and emergency planning. It also includes considering assessments and predictions of climate change and its impacts and infrastructure decision-making in the light of climate change.

18. It is most important that the Department's analysis of the changes required to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% be published to inform the public debate on climate change. (Paragraph 29)

The Government will make a full response to the Royal Commission when it has considered the review by the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) of the longer term, strategic issues surrounding energy policy for Great Britain. The PIU will be reporting to the Prime Minister by the end of 2001.

19. Policymakers in this country and abroad ought to resist the temptation to hide behind scientific uncertainty in order to avoid introducing the very great changes required to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations significantly. (Paragraph 29)

The Government agrees with the Committee that scientific uncertainty should not preclude action being taken. The UK has taken the lead in aiming for emission reductions in excess of our Kyoto target. The UK Climate Change Programme recognises that if we are to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels which will avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system, emissions will need to be reduced by as much as 60-70% globally on today's values by the end of this century. Reductions of as much as 95% may ultimately be needed by developed countries to accommodate growth in developing countries.

20. There are considerable commercial opportunities for UK science and technology in responding, together with industry, to the challenges of climate change. (Paragraph 30)

The Government agrees with the Committee that action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can bring commercial and competitive opportunities. The desire to maximise these opportunities and to enhance the UK's competitiveness formed one of the main aims of the UK's climate change programme, and many of the policies included within it should help business reap the benefits of early action. The Government has also this year set up a new Carbon Trust to encourage low carbon technologies and practices by business and commerce though out the UK. It will also collaborate with business, public bodies, Government and research organisations to help the UK move towards the sustainable, low-carbon economy that it will need to meet the challenge of climate change.

21. Scientific advice on climate change and its management must be communicated effectively across both central and local Government. (Paragraph 33)

In 1997 the Department of the Environment set up the UK Climate Impacts Programme to help various organisations, including local authorities, to address the potential impacts of climate change upon their areas of responsibility and to enable them to develop adaptation strategies. The UK Climate Impacts Programme serves to provide basic tools for such work and to bring different bodies into contact with each other in order to build up a caucus of understanding and capability in addressing climate change at the regional local level.

Other advice and information is being sent to local authorities on how they might both adapt to the effect of climate change and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In June 2001, the Government in partnership with the Local Government Association, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and the Improvement and Development Agency sent an action plan to all chief executives. The guidance will encourage chief executives to review the actions they are already taking and help them to identify additional practical measures that could be taken. The plan encourages chief executives to develop a climate change strategy for their areas, and points them to further sources of information and advice. The role of the Central Local Partnership has already been noted in terms of the potential link between severe weather events and future climate change.

22. Climate change is an area in which, broadly speaking, scientific advice to Government appears to be working well. (Paragraph 34)

The Government believes this is the case as well and is very pleased that the Committee recognises this.

23. The research programme must anticipate the need for advice in future years and should be broad enough to address new and unforeseen issues as they arise. (Paragraph 35)

The UK has a very broad programme of work which encompasses climate change stretching from the basic research carried out by the research councils to the more focussed research funded by departments including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Global Environmental Change Committee (GECC), successor to the Inter-Agency Committee on Global Environmental Change (IACGEC), was formed to co-ordinate UK environmental research with representatives from Government and research councils. Chaired by the Chief Scientist of DEFRA, and reporting to the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, it plays a strong role in ensuring that the strategic research requirements of the Government for climate change advice are adequately covered. The recent report of the IACGEC identifies the areas of responsibility for each department to ensure that particular issues do not fall between areas of responsibility, as also discussed in paragraph 13.

24. The IPCC has played a very important part in forging an international consensus on climate change, among both scientists and Governments, though it is regrettable that the USA is yet to appreciate the necessity of early action to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. We urge the UK Government to press for international agreement on the rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol when the negotiations are resumed in the summer of 2001. (Paragraph 36)

Clearly, since the Committee met, the situation has changed considerably. At the recent Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, parties agreed a package of rules to operationalise the Kyoto Protocol and to pave the way for ratification. Unfortunately the United States has voiced its opposition to the Protocol in its current form and stated its intention not to ratify the Protocol. The Government will continue to make every effort to engage the United States and to encourage it to play its full part in combating climate change.

25. We believe that the IPCC model could usefully be adopted for scientific advice in other policy areas of global significance, for example on genetically modified organisms and ocean pollution. (Paragraph 37)

Agree. Paragraph 3 noted our general views on this. A similar approach is used for the scientific assessments of ozone depletion that inform the Montreal Protocol. Reports are prepared by a large body of international experts. However, in this case, although there is an expert review process, the reports are not reviewed or accepted formally by governments.

A variation on the IPCC model is being used for endocrine disrupters. Following agreement at the Intergovernmental Forum for Chemical Safety, the International Programme for Chemical Safety is developing an international 'state of the science' assessment on endocrine disrupters which should be published in spring next year.

The IPCC approach would not, however, seem to be appropriate for the assessment of the scientific issues surrounding genetically modified organisms as many of these depend on local conditions and there is little need for a global approach.

With regard to marine ecosystems the UK is playing an active role in international discussions on providing more coherent and regular assessments of all aspects to better inform policy makers. In this context a number of approaches are being considered, including the IPCC model.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

7 January 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 18 January 2002