Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Special Report



Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Chief Executive

We think that the Committee has carried out a thorough and professional review of how Government is provided with advice on climate change. As you might imagine, we are very pleased to note the positive comments about the Met Office's Hadley Centre work and scientific reputation, the effective communication of this to Government, and the feeling of the Committee that this has played a significant part in the UK Government being at the forefront of international action on climate change.

We are equally pleased to note the praise heaped upon the IPCC process and its reports, and the recommendation for it to be adopted as a model for other areas where scientific issues determine policy. The Committee rightly point out in paragraph 8 that policymakers should not just rely on the IPCC summary reports but also take into account the full reports. In this context it should be noted out that, contrary to the message from some of IPCC's critics, Technical Reports and Summary for Policymakers are drafted and defended by the Lead Authors of the full report. Of course, condensing the science into shorter versions means that less discussion is possible, but the main messages (including uncertainties) have been preserved, and there is no contradiction between the two. It is interesting to note that the recent National Academy of Sciences report on climate change, commissioned by President Bush, came up with more-or-less the same conclusion.

It is of course for the Government to comment on the findings of the Committee regarding their sources of advice. However, there are a few issues or suggestions specifically concerned with the Hadley Centre which we expressly wish to comment on to the Committee, and these are attached.

Peter Ewins

4 July 2001

Comments from the Met Office

1. On a general but important point, we are greatly disturbed with the use of the word "independent" to refer to scientists not working in government, for example in academia, and we regret that the Committee have chosen to use this term. This implies that scientists who are civil servants are not independently-minded, and bend their results to suit government policy. We reject this outright. There is strong pressure from within the Hadley Centre itself, and expressly from DEFRA, to publish all significant results in good journals, exposing them in the process to review by international peers, and Hadley Centre staff have a strong record in this. Any implication that Hadley Centre work was censored or controlled by government would, quite properly, destroy the Hadley Centre's reputation and credibility and it would be a spent force. Furthermore, we do not believe that there is any outside perception that this is the case, and we are pleased to note the Committee's lack of evidence for this in paragraph 14. Finally, we note the recent editorial in "Research Fortnight" which points out that, of course, all scientists are dependent on government for funding, even those in academia.

2. In paragraph 19, the Committee says that "Government must also be sure that it is aware of the views of independent scientists, who may dissent from the view of climate change". We can say with confidence that government is well aware of a wide spectrum of views on climate change, as the Hadley Centre is careful to make this known to government, with a critical assessment. The key to the involvement of as wide a range of scientists as possible lies, we believe, in the peer-review system for scientific publications. Material papers published in scientific journals are taken account of in our work, irrespective of their message. For example, there is a continuing debate about the extent to which changes in the sun's activity could explain the warming over the last 100 years. Hadley Centre scientists have looked at the direct result of changes in solar energy, and keep under review the various theories which propose stronger independent links (for example, via ozone or via cosmic rays and cloudiness).

Another debate concerns the difference between trends in temperatures at the surface and those in the atmosphere, particularly those retrieved from satellite sensors over the past 20 years. Again, Hadley Centre scientists have not ignored these differences but have instead played a leading role in investigating them, in collaboration with, for example, John Christy of the University of Alabama who openly expresses his doubt about surface measurements. David Parker of the Hadley Centre was the only non-US member of the recent US National Academy of Science's study of this issue.

We also think that many alternative views on climate change are very apparent to government, not least because their ideas gain an exposure in the media, sometimes out of all proportion to their credibility. This is not a criticism, we recognise this is the job of journalists. (We spend a fair amount of effort advising DEFRA on issues raised in the media, and in sending in responses to papers, some of which even get published.) However, we suspect that the nub of the matter is that some of those who put forward alternative explanations are not so much disappointed by lack of communication of their ideas as by lack of their uptake.

3. The Committee feel that the Hadley Centre might benefit from more in-house staff with expertise outside meteorology, including geology and biology. The Hadley Centre has worked alongside these communities for many years, and is happy to look at other ways of doing this. Hadley Centre scientists are, as the Committee points out, almost exclusively mathematicians and physicists, because these are the disciplines needed to develop and utilise complex mathematical climate models. The representations in the model of processes in the atmosphere, for example, in clouds and oceans, are of course based on experiments in the real world which have been parametrised by experimental scientists. So, for example, the description of how water is apportioned between ice and liquid has been parametrised as a function of temperature by experimental cloud physicists. Similarly, the relationship between ocean di-methylsulphide emissions and ocean temperature has been derived by experimental oceanographers. Data to validate the models (for example, heat fluxes in the ocean) are also provided to us by experimental scientists.

We have taken the view that it is better for those scientists to work within their community, close to the measurements, eg from ships or aircraft. We then work closely with them to make full use of their data or parametrisations in the model. In the case of cloud and aerosol, for example, some of the recent model parametrisations have been developed by University of Manchester and the Meteorological Research Flight.

Similarly, as was pointed out to the Committee, we have worked extensively with, for example, CEH Wallingford and CEH Edinburgh, two NERC institutes, on the development and validation of vegetation models in the climate model. Indeed, one member of the Wallingford staff spends most of his time in the Hadley Centre. We are very keen to have further criticism from the ecosystem community of the schemes in the Hadley Centre climate model, and for this to lead to improvements through collaboration. However, because our vegetation and carbon cycle work is already collaborative with other institutes, we believe that we are not at all "ill equipped to advise the Government. . . on the performance of carbon sinks", which is why we did this, with some success, before and during CoP6 at the Hague.

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