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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 254-v
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Science and Technology Committee
Climate: Public understanding and policy implications
Wednesday 11 September 2013
Tony Grayling, Phil Rothwell, Paul Crick and Katie Stead
John Hirst and Professor Julia Slingo OBE
Evidence heard in Public Questions 210 - 305
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 11 September 2013
Andrew Miller (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Tony Grayling, Head of Climate Change and Communities, Environment Agency, Phil Rothwell, Head of Strategy and Engagement (Flood and Coastal Risk Management), Environment Agency, Paul Crick, Director of Planning and Environment, Kent County Council, and Katie Stead, Environment Officer, Investment and Regeneration Service, Kirklees Council, gave evidence.
Q210 Chair: May I say good morning to our witnesses and thank you for coming today? We have rather a lot to get through in a modest amount of time, so if you feel you have something to add at the end of the session, please drop us a note with further thoughts. For the record, I should be grateful if you would introduce yourselves.
Phil Rothwell: I am Phil Rothwell, head of strategy and engagement for the Environment Agency, dealing specifically with flood and coastal risk.
Tony Grayling: I am Tony Grayling. I am the head of Climate Change and Communities at the Environment Agency.
Katie Stead: My name is Katie Stead. I work for Kirklees council in West Yorkshire and I am an environment officer in their investment and regeneration service.
Paul Crick: I am Paul Crick, director of planning and environment at Kent county council.
Q211 Chair: Thank you very much. Both local authorities and the Environment Agency work at the local level on climate change adaption and litigation. Would you summarise the areas you work in?
Tony Grayling: At the local level, most of our work is done in partnership with others. We have a national Climate Ready Support Service programme, which is looking out to provide support to other organisations to understand the risks they face from climate change and to take action to mitigate those risks.
At a local level we work through climate change partnerships, which have people on the ground working with businesses and local communities, and we work with local authorities. Some of that is done through the Local Government Association and their Climate Local initiatives. Some of that is done working with individual local authorities. For example, we are working with Kent county council to help roll out a tool that they have developed looking at severe weather impacts nationally. We also work with local enterprise partnerships and local nature partnerships. We have a more direct role with the public in relation to flood risk management, and that is Phil’s expert area.
Phil Rothwell: The link with local communities through local authorities is key to flood risk management activity, both in terms of incidents when there is a big event and the work we do, led often by local authorities through local resilience forums. It is an extremely important partnership. Through our work we identify those communities that are most at risk from either surface water or fluvial flooding-river flooding-and then work with local authorities and local communities to develop action plans or local plans in case of incident. It is a very big area of work and it is the area where I think we have most penetration, particularly in the public audience, to raise awareness.
We produce a huge amount of data, which is available to the public through our flood maps and coastal erosion maps, identifying those communities that are most at risk. We then put community support officers into those communities to raise awareness. We like to work particularly with not just the local authorities but the voluntary sector. The National Flood Forum, the Red Cross and the RVS are all part of that mix of communicators and local groups that interface with the public about the risks that they face.
Katie Stead: At Kirklees we coordinate our environmental strategy, which is the Climate Local framework that the LGA have introduced. We work within the authority with our services to look at both adaptation and mitigation measures across the authority-and with the district partners as well. We also link in with the Leeds city region to identify new investment opportunities going forward.
Paul Crick: We have the Kent Environment Strategy, which sets out our high-level themes on addressing the climate challenge and enhancing the natural environment. As has been said, we work very closely with the Environment Agency. Kent has the highest collective flood risk in the whole country and we work with the EA in terms of the flood risk management in our lead local flood authority role and we are working with the EA on developing our surface water management plans.
In terms of engaging with the public, we have several projects that we engage with them on: for example, our Severe Weather Impact Monitoring System, which was alluded to earlier; Kent Coastal Week; Coastal Communities 2150; our ECO project, which aims to potentially attract over £80 million-worth of investment into residents’ homes to improve their energy efficiency; and we have our Climate Local Kent-as Katie mentioned-which we engage with the public on as well.
Q212 Chair: Because this inquiry is specifically about the communication of some of these very difficult messages and what you described has some degree of overlap and partnership, how do you ensure that there is consistency in the messages that are delivered to the public?
Paul Crick: The public have a good awareness but not the detailed understanding of climate change. Consistency of messages is something that constantly needs work on because there is perhaps a disconnect-there are conflicting messages perhaps from Government policy-with what we are doing locally. But in relation to what happens in Kent, we work very closely with the Environment Agency. It is part of our chief officers’ group that is charged with delivering the Kent Environment Strategy, which I mentioned, plus they are involved in an awful lot of action on the ground. So, at a local level, because of the close working relationship we have, we can ensure consistency of message.
Tony Grayling: In the case of the Environment Agency, it is about national coordination. We develop our key messages at national level and they are then disseminated on the ground through our officers and the partnerships we work with. Our key messages are in turn based on our understanding of the climate risk. We would go to the national Climate Change Risk Assessment as the foundation of our work, which identifies a number of key risks for the country, notably related to flood risk, water resources, the possibilities of drought and heatwaves, and then we would seek to develop consistent messages that we would use through our work.
Q213 Chair: This question is to the two local authorities. You liaise with your colleagues in other authorities through the LGA and so on. Are Kirklees and Kent here because they are in the vanguard of this, or is what you are describing typical of your experience of other local authorities?
Paul Crick: I will start. I think-
Chair: You all want to say you are the best, I know. Graham used to when he was the leader of Manchester.
Paul Crick: I agree that we are very much in the vanguard. Our Severe Weather Impact Monitoring System is a bespoke tool that officers in my team have developed and it is the first of its kind in the country. It helps in understanding the impact that severe weather has on the local authority and local authority partners-police, fire and so on. We are rolling it out to businesses and then to residents. Perhaps we were invited to give evidence here because it is the first in the country, but certainly we do an awful lot of things in Kent in engaging with the public. Again, as to the ECO scheme that I mentioned, we are the first local authority to attract £80 millionworth of funding-free funding, if you like-from energy companies to invest in residents’ homes to make them more energy-efficient. Again, we are the first authority in the country to do that.
Katie Stead: I would add that, absolutely, Kirklees has over a decade of experience of delivering home domestic efficiency projects. We have worked collaboratively with a number of partners, certainly colleagues in neighbouring local authorities and members of our Yorkshire and Humber regional climate change partnership. I would like to say I represent their thoughts and understanding as well.
Q214 Roger Williams: In your opinion and experience, what is the level of interest and understanding among the public about climate change and its implications, and where do you think they get their information from?
Katie Stead: I certainly think we have engaged a number of our residents with the projects we have delivered. The public are interested in climate change, but increasingly, the messages that strike more resonance with them are around how to save money on their fuel bills and how to improve their health and wellbeing by providing more affordable warmth and comfort in their homes. The message has changed, certainly from our perspective, but the main source of information is the media. We do put a lot of information on our website to explain the science behind it, which we refer back to in our projects as well.
Paul Crick: I agree with what Katie said. I think about 98% of scientists have agreed or reached a consensus on climate change, but it is that 2%-which the media offer as a balanced story-that then create uncertainty and scepticism in the public. We have found when we have talked to the public that climate change is seen very much as a farinthefuture issue and they have more pressing issues to deal with, particularly in the current economic climate. What is important in communicating with the public is saying how it affects them on a daytoday basis. As Katie said, it is about the money that can be saved through reducing energy, which will helpfully also reduce carbon emissions and climate change. That is almost a by-product. The important message that we have found is as to how it affects them directly, and at the moment it is in their back pocket.
Tony Grayling: I would share that analysis. Most information is got via the media. The data I have seen suggests there is a high level of public awareness of climate change. There is some scepticism, but on the whole there is agreement that action needs to be taken. For many individuals you then have to translate the science into impacts and how they might be impacted by climate change if you are going to change behaviour, and that works with organisations as well. We primarily communicate with organisations rather than the general public, and our communications are primarily around impacts and adaptation rather than the underlying science.
Q215 Sarah Newton: This is for Paul because I notice that you have "planning" in your title. Do you feel that sometimes the whole debate around climate change gets hijacked because some people have issues with some renewable energy? I am thinking about planning applications around onshore wind turbines. Because residents want to object to a particular technology, they start using and undermining the science to make the case.
Paul Crick: Absolutely. We have an insatiable and growing need to use energy and yet no one wants solar farms or onshore wind farms near where they live. No one wants fracking to take place near where they live, and yet the insatiable demand to use energy does not go away. It is all right if it is in someone else’s neighbourhood but not in theirs. Yes, I agree that sometimes the renewable energy and the climate change argument is used to undermine applications for renewable energy.
Q216 Roger Williams: Polls show that the general public are really confused about what scientists agree on as far as climate change is concerned. Is that reflected in your experience in working with communities?
Katie Stead: I would say in a number of our projects, when you advertise domestic home energy efficiency schemes, you often get an interested group of people who already have a strong awareness of climate change and can see the reasons behind why we would do that. A lot of our work with community groups has been around tackling some of the myths behind climate change and that awareness-raising, but I would argue that that sort of behaviour change is quite resource-intensive and not something we can do so much of any more as a local authority.
Tony Grayling: We find that you need to start from where people or organisations are-a peoplefirst or organisationfirst approach. Quite often the starting point is extreme weather as we currently experience it, and the potential impacts of that and the potential benefits of taking action to mitigate those impacts now. From there, you can often go on to a more sophisticated conversation about how those risks may increase over time. But I agree with you that there is some confusion and I would reflect that that is partly because the media desires to present, if you like, a balanced argument and therefore appears to give more weight to sceptical views than would be, if you like, the balance of scientific opinion about the risks we face from climate change.
Paul Crick: That uncertainty, as I said a few minutes ago, creates a reason then not to take action. "It’s someone else’s problem. What can I do at a local level? It is far bigger. It is for national Government to decide or take leadership on."
Q217 Roger Williams: That uncertainty affects your effectiveness in doing your jobs, I guess. It makes it harder, tougher and more difficult.
Katie Stead: To a degree, yes, but I would say that we use different messages so there are different impacts. We know it is all going to benefit and the projects that we are doing all help in terms of reducing carbon emissions, but we would brand the projects differently, if you like.
Q218 Roger Williams: May I ask the Environment Agency, now that there is a different body in Wales-Natural Resources Wales-whether you still work with your colleagues across the border? I am meeting with constituents in Llangammarch Wells on Thursday night to reassure them about some of the messages that have been put over about flood risks in that area, but I am very keen that there is still good cooperation across the border because some of the flood risks associated with river catchment areas cross England and Wales.
Tony Grayling: We do still continue to work together and we have arrangements for particular crossborder issues, because you are right that a number of river catchments cross the England and Wales border. In relation to our Climate Ready Support Service, although it is primarily an England service, the tools and guidance we develop under that are available across the UK. It is available not just to Natural Resources Wales and people in Wales but also to people in Scotland and Northern Ireland. So, yes, we very much collaborate.
Q219 Chair: I have to say, Mr Grayling, that my experience of dealing with those crossborder issues on the Dee estuary shows a degree of inconsistency. Sometimes there are very high levels of cooperation and at others very parochial approaches are adopted. Is there anything you can do about that?
Tony Grayling: I do not know if you have more direct experience on the flood risk side, Philip.
Phil Rothwell: Certainly the change of the last year has been quite challenging, clearly-to create two organisations out of one-but none the less, the operational activity that we do to manage and forecast flood risk is very much a shared activity. We have endeavoured to put in place everything that we could to ensure that there is not a break in the service and that there is not something that would cause a problem, certainly at a local operational level. At a national level, we continue to work jointly with NRW and the Welsh Government on things like the Flood Forecasting Centre that we fund. I would bow in the direction of NRW and the Welsh Government as to the way in which they have communicated flood risk with communities. It has been extremely good, and in many senses I think in England we have learned quite a bit from what has happened in Wales.
Q220 Hywel Williams: Does any organisation have an explicit role at a local level to communicate about the effects and impacts of climate change?
Paul Crick: In Kent we just take local leadership in doing that. We do not necessarily have a prescribed role in that. As I said, we have a Kent Environment Strategy, which is one of our core corporate strategies to deliver our corporate plan, and we have some clear themes and actions within that. We take local leadership in terms of communicating back to residents and also what we are going to do about it with residents. I think the most effective form of communication, although it is resource-intensive, is face to face. That is what has been most effective in some of the projects that I talked about in the evidence that I submitted.
Q221 Hywel Williams: I was going to ask you this as a supplementary, but is the fact that you have lots of potential flooding problems a help, paradoxically, in that it concentrates minds?
Paul Crick: It is in a way. As I said earlier, we have the highest collective flood risk in the country as an authority, but we also have one of the longest coastlines. We have Kent Coastal Week, which is at the end of October every year, which is attended by about 5,000 people annually. We have a changing coastline, and that gets people engaged. It gets people interested, and, paradoxically, as you say, that in itself makes people more aware and allows us to engage with them.
Tony Grayling: The local climate change partnerships have a specific remit to communicate with businesses and communities locally. There are, I think, nine of those around England, and we partly fund them through our Climate Ready programme and do work in partnership with them. That is in addition to the work that local authorities do.
Q222 Hywel Williams: Can you give us any evidence about what happens in Wales-I am a Welsh Member myself-as far as Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru is concerned? That is what the NRW is called in Wales.
Tony Grayling: I confess not. Now that we are an Englandonly body, I am afraid I have not done my homework on Wales, so I cannot answer your question.
Katie Stead: I would echo Paul as well on local authority leadership. In terms of climate change, we did have, through the local area agreements, a number of national indicators that encouraged all local authorities to tackle their carbon emissions, declare their progress publicly and report back to Government. I would also like to say that we have a couple of very enthusiastic transition towns as well in Kirklees that have taken on that role very locally in communicating about climate change.
Q223 Hywel Williams: How effective do you think central Government is in getting its message across about climate change?
Tony Grayling: That is a difficult question to answer because I think communicating about climate change is a shared responsibility. The Government have a particular role but they are not the only ones with a role. There is a role for the scientific community-you are talking to the Met Office next-and I think people like the Hadley Centre and the Tyndall Centre have a responsibility. The Government responsibility is to have a clear policy framework and narrative about what needs to happen across the country both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to deal with the impacts of climate change. That is a communications challenge and difficult to do because, as we have discussed earlier, most information that people receive is through the media. The media is another part of civil society that has quite a responsibility here. I think Government are reasonably effective, but they are acting among a number of players in this field.
Q224 Hywel Williams: That is my concern. If Government communication is driven by particular policies rather than an overarching strategy, do you think that is a fair comment?
Tony Grayling: The Government have a lowcarbon plan, which sets out an overall narrative and strategy in relation to greenhouse gas reductions, and we have a national adaptation programme, which does likewise on dealing with the impacts of climate change. You can argue the degree to which those have been effectively communicated, but you could equally argue that some of the traditional methods of communication may not be very effective. You could make a case for a big national media campaign, but how effective that would be is open to question. I think that you need organisations with different roles to play their part.
Paul Crick: I agree. What regularly comes up when we are talking to the public is that the roles of local and central Government need better clarification and communication. Also, there is a real leadership issue. Clear messages from trusted sources are what win public support. It does not help, when their national adaptation programme is soft launched, that things like the feedin tariffs are changed and business cases that we previously had for solar panel installations that had a payback of three to five years all of a sudden have a payback of eight years plus. It is very hard then to make business cases like that work. That conflicting message comes out from central Government. It is about consistency, clear messaging and consistent policy.
Q225 Hywel Williams: Perhaps I could ask your local authority colleagues, who do you think the public think is responsible for taking action? Where do they point the finger when they say, "Something must be done"?
Paul Crick: They see it as a role of national Government. They do not see how they, as individuals, can affect climate change. They can affect it on an individual basis and that is how we engage with them about specific projects-such as Kent Coastal Week-but the public see the national Government as having that leadership role to which they look. I do not know if you would agree with that.
Katie Stead: I agree.
Q226 Hywel Williams: Do individual members of the public think that they have responsibility themselves? I have in my constituency a row of houses facing an 18inch rise in sea levels and they are going to be flooded. Their capital value is very low, there is just farm land behind them and they are probably going to go, but their owners think something must be done.
Katie Stead: Our latest survey identified that almost 100% of people agreed that they had a part to play in terms of an impact on climate change, but I think they are looking for local government and central Government to tell them what to do and how they can make that difference.
Q227 Stephen Mosley: Throughout the course of this inquiry and, to be honest, previous inquiries that we have done, we have heard that the best way to get complex scientific ideas across to the public is through twoway engagement and dialogue. How practical is that when you are talking about large organisations like Kent, which has a million people-or however many it is within your area-or the Environment Agency, where you are dealing with 60 million people? Can you do twoway engagement and dialogue?
Paul Crick: You can. It is better on an individual projectbyproject basis. As I said, facetoface communication, although resource-intensive, is the most effective. It is how you engage people at a local level and make something real to them. For example, with our Severe Weather Impact Monitoring System, when we tried to engage with businesses about climate change, they were not really that interested. When we talked to them about the impacts of severe weather and talked directly to 900 businesses, 78% of them became interested and wanted to do something about it. We made it real to them. You need to start that dialogue, and then you get consistent messages and policy and it begins to flow.
Phil Rothwell: That is certainly true, and you are right that there is a huge population out there. There are 6 million people at flood risk, so it is a lot of people to try and communicate with. The work we are doing at the moment is to try and set out who are the communities that are really at high risk and then set about a communication exercise with them. We can do that on a sitebysite, projectbyproject basis, and we invest quite a lot of energy in seeking to do that, but it is always tricky and communication is always expensive. There are cheaper ways of doing it and we increasingly use social media, not just as a way of putting information out to the public but receiving information back and beginning a dialogue about the information that we can give people. We have found, certainly in terms of recruiting people to our flood warning service, that the cheapest way of doing it by quite a long way is to engage people through social media. There is such a penetration now of social media-it might not be common to everyone, but a lot of people now use it-and we have found it very effective in getting our messages across and entering into that dialogue.
Katie Stead: I agree. Obviously our local authority is a lot smaller-we have a population of 400,000 in Kirklees-but we are keeping our website up to date. We have community newsletters and magazines, making sure that we put in our key messages. We recently ran a collective energy switch and used social media, and that was really effective in terms of takeup.
Q228 Stephen Mosley: Mr Crick, Kent county council has recently done a project with the University of Kent-the Climate 2150 Project.
Paul Crick: That is right.
Q229 Stephen Mosley: Why did you carry out that project? How has it affected the way that you operate?
Paul Crick: We wanted to ensure that we were going to communicate with the public on an informed basis, so we worked with the School of Psychology in Kent. There are a couple of reports that I can email to the Committee, but we have two here about the best way of engaging people and the psychology behind communicating something like climate change. The key things in terms of the public were that messages need to come from trusted sources to motivate action; people are generally more motivated by specific local risks, particularly in the short and medium term; scenarios should be as concrete and vivid as possible; and the rationale for engaging with the public needs to be clear. Also, identifying actions for communities where they can make a real difference in terms of preparing for climate change will help to engage them.
When we talk in terms of engaging with business, it is about, "Cut costs, cut carbon and win business." Making businesses more energy-efficient and reducing their overheads enables them to be more competitive and more successful. They were the key headlines, if you like, that came out of their report, so we have used that in terms of our communication with businesses and the public, as in Coastal Communities 2150, in our ECO project and with SWIMS and so on.
Q230 Chair: Are there any businesses that you are using to highlight that message, where businesses can demonstrate success by adopting that strategy?
Paul Crick: Yes, there are. On average, businesses in Kent have saved £2,000 a year by adopting more energyefficient ways of doing their business. There are some leading lights in Kent, which I can let the Committee have further details of after the meeting.
Chair: That would be helpful.
Paul Crick: But certainly using tangible examples helps to engage others and that is what we do as part of Low Carbon Kent.
Q231 Graham Stringer: I think that we are all agreed that trust in the organisation giving the message is important. To the three organisations we have before us, have you tried in an objective way to test whether your organisations are trusted when giving these messages, as opposed to your impression of whether you are trusted or not?
Tony Grayling: I think we certainly have at the Environment Agency on the flood risk side. I believe we are quite trusted.
Phil Rothwell: Yes, we are. The Floodline Warnings Direct service that we give tells us that 71% of people who had received a warning felt it was an effective and valuable way of being warned and found it simple to understand. Half of them then took action. Whether that means we are being successful or not, I am not sure. That certainly seems to work reasonably well. That is not to say we are the first port of call when there is a flood event, in that people generally go to the media, the local radio and television, and then perhaps later go to the agency’s website, which is why we work very hard with local media to ensure we get a seamless message going across in times of emergency.
Katie Stead: At Kirklees we have developed quite a strong brand through our Warm Zone scheme, which some of you may have heard of. It was the first in the country to roll out free loft and cavity wall insulation to homes. The funding came to an end for that programme a few years ago, and since then we have devised a number of other smaller programmes to target the homes that we did not treat under Warm Zone. The brand is absolutely what our residents trust. There are a number of popup companies. Business in those energy-efficiency measures is building, and a number of residents continue to ring in and check whether other companies are bona fide. They prefer to come through the council when a scheme is offered. They are unaware of whether the company is legitimate so they will come through to check.
Q232 Graham Stringer: Do you have any numbers as quantification of that measure of trust?
Katie Stead: I suppose only the numbers who take up the schemes each time we roll out. They have been fully subscribed and advertised under the council’s brand, but I would have to go back. I may be able to find something more substantial for you.
Paul Crick: I will give you an example of how we turned something round. I mentioned earlier the ECO project and we are rolling it out to pilot areas, over 100 homes each, in areas of fuel poverty, in socially deprived communities. It is the stereotypical situation of a man in a suit with a clipboard coming up the drive and people in those communities do not open the door. The way we have communicated with them is to use the KCC brand, showing that this is a KCC project, and that gives us access. That gets us access to talk to people and say, "Look, this does not cost you anything. This is free insulation and energy-efficiency advice in your home." Then, when the public see those measures-visible measures like external wall cladding-they contact us because they want to be part of it. So it begins, as I said earlier, and gets that snowballing effect. It is that initial facetoface communication and trusting the county council.
Q233 Graham Stringer: You have all said in different ways that the public engage more if you talk about energy efficiency or if you talk about the particular impact of extreme weather or flooding. In that context, is climate change a useful badge or is it a hindrance?
Paul Crick: I think it is useful because, ultimately, people need to understand why and it is a secondary benefit, the primary benefit being saving money. But I think they still need to understand why. Ultimately you come back to what outcomes you are trying to achieve for a project and the public need to understand that.
Q234 Graham Stringer: So it is for the good of their souls.
Paul Crick: Thinking of CC2150, it is really hard to picture what the coastline and the community might look like in the year 2150-or 2050, let alone 2150. But by talking to the public about local scenarios and how they can mitigate the impact of severe weather, for example, that gets them engaged in climate change.
Katie Stead: I would echo that absolutely.
Tony Grayling: We find that current extreme weather is an entry point, and from that you can start a conversation about whether weather may get more extreme in the future and whether, therefore, you need to take preventive actions now to mitigate risks that you may experience in the future.
Q235 Stephen Metcalfe: A lot of the area I wanted to explore has been covered, which was about business engagement in this whole debate, but perhaps you could just expand. Are businesses interested in the debate at all, or is it just, "Tell us what the problems are. We will do what we need to do and then we will get on with running our business"? Do they want to engage in the science and the wider debate, or are they just looking at how it impacts them individually?
Tony Grayling: I think it starts with impacts, absolutely, and the degree of interest depends on the type of business. Some businesses will have very shortterm planning horizons, and their own interest will be dealing with the impacts of current weather variation and climate risks. But other businesses have assets they have invested in for the long term and they will very much want to understand whether they need to take actions to protect those assets for the future. But it is about the organisational interest. It is the organisation-first approach. They are not necessarily particularly interested in the science, only in so far as it helps them to understand what impacts they may face.
Paul Crick: May I reemphasise the two examples I gave earlier? We have found when we have talked about climate change specifically that levels of engagement with businesses are low. However, when we reframe it around severe weather and business continuity, we get 78% of 900 businesses engaged. That is because it is about how severe weather affects their bottom line and how it can impact that. The other thing, as I said earlier, is our strapline, "Cut costs, cut carbon and win business," about making businesses more energy efficient. Engaging with them from that angle is what interests them. It is not the climate change side.
Katie Stead: I would echo that as well. We run an environment voucher scheme for our businesses in Kirklees. It has run for the last couple of years. It is resource-efficient with a 50% matched grant up to the value of £5,000. We have some fantastic results and businesses engaged instantly. We have reduced carbon emissions. We are helping in the fight against climate change, but ultimately, businesses were not engaged in the beginning around the climate change argument. It is about how they can run their business better, more effectively, save money and retain jobs in the current climate.
Q236 Stephen Metcalfe: Are there any particularly hardtogetto groups of businesses? Is there a particular sector that does not or has not engaged with this that really should have because of the impact it is having?
Tony Grayling: It is quite a difficult question to answer. In general, the small and mediumsized enterprise sector is harder to get at. But if you look at it analytically, what many of those organisations need to be doing is focusing on the present, not necessarily on the future. Their planning horizons are quite short term. It may not be appropriate to overly engage them in that. There will, of course, be a subset of those that you should engage with and they are quite hard to reach, whereas I would say if you are dealing with larger organisations-particularly organisations that deal with infrastructure-they tend to have already quite a sophisticated understanding of risk management and climate risks.
Phil Rothwell: Our experience in dealing with flooding, for example, is that for big retail organisations it is high up their risk register: they understand it, they get it, and they are planning for a long future; therefore, they build it in. The organisations that are harder to get to, or harder to get to take action, are the smaller enterprises, SMEs, where we have less penetration, and they think, as Tony has just said, in the here and now rather than where they are going to be. There is evidence that, postflood, SMEs take time or do not at all recover from a flooding incident. It is something that we are looking at very carefully at the moment, through things like chambers of commerce, as to how we get our information across and how we help them.
Q237 Stephen Metcalfe: Can you expand on that a bit? You said you are trying to engage with them through chambers of commerce. Is there any direct engagement-you getting out and literally tracking them down and telling them, "Events like that recent flood we had are possibly going to become more prominent as the climate changes"?
Phil Rothwell: Yes. When we are talking about it and communicating with communities at risk-and of course communities have small businesses within them-we see that as being part and parcel of the interface we have with those communities that may suffer. As to the information we put out on our website and the information that we distribute, we have a floods campaign every year that runs over four weeks, and each week we will take a different sector. This year in November, one week will be devoted to SMEs and small businesses, and we will be working very hard not just with them directly but also with people they rely on such as the insurance companies and the insurance industry, which also have a key role to play in raising awareness and understanding of what needs to be done to reduce risk.
Q238 Hywel Williams: With the 900 businesses you identified, did you have a particularly modulated approach towards very small companies and partnerships? That is the overwhelming pattern in my constituency. I do not have large business organisations.
Paul Crick: Yes. There are an awful lot of SMEs in Kent. We engage pretty much across the board and go through our SWIMS project and our STEM project-which is Steps To Environmental Management-but also I talked earlier about trusted sources and businesses. We have also engaged with the Chartered Management Institute, which we have used to help us in terms of conveying the message. Those 900 are probably much across the board in Kent.
Q239 David Tredinnick: To what extent is climate change the driver for what you do or would most of it be happening anyway?
Tony Grayling: Climate change is quite a big driver for the Environment Agency because we are ourselves in the business of managing risks for the long term. For example, when we are developing our longterm investment strategy on flood risk management we need to make sure that we have factored in our best understanding of how flood risk may have increased or changed in the future. When we are building individual flood defences, we need to build in allowances for climate change because we want those assets to be working at the end of their life as well as when they are being built. When we are working with water companies-and local authorities, actually-we need to ensure that they understand when they are developing their water resource management plans that we review how water availability may be different in the future. So, yes, the current climate is very important to us, but climate change is quite fundamental to our work, particularly because of our responsibilities in flood risk management, coastal change management, water resource management and looking after the water in wetland environments and its quality.
Q240 David Tredinnick: I am thinking of my own Bosworth constituency in Leicestershire, which is 100 square miles, and a lot of it floods at different times. We have just had a huge urban development extension at Barwell, which was very controversial locally, and there were question marks about whether the river system and the drainage system could cope with several thousand new houses. I was wondering how you generally allocate resources when you are dealing with issues like this. What sort of priorities do you give specific local concern?
Tony Grayling: Again, we would give that a high priority. We are a statutory adviser in the land use planning system.
Q241 David Tredinnick: I would like Mr Rothwell to come in on this too, if you would not mind.
Tony Grayling: We will make sure that we advise the local authority on any planning application for a major development. Our advice will include advice on flood risk from all sources, whether that is surface water or from rivers or the sea. If we do not think that flood risk is sufficiently taken into account in the planning application or the development is in an inappropriate place, we will register our objection to the development, and in the vast majority-96%-of cases, our advice is taken by the local authority in the planning decision that they reach. That may be because they persuade the developer to change their plans or it may be because they reject the planning application.
Phil Rothwell: That is entirely right, and I think we invest quite a lot of energy in ensuring that the planning system puts the development in the right place rather than the wrong place. However, I would add that, even in new development, there are things that can be done to reduce the risk of flooding, such as sustainable urban drainage systems-or SUDS, which is the terminology and is now a much more frequently used phrase-which are now applied through the Flood and Water Management Act, although it is yet to be fully applied. But each new development should have in place a design system that absorbs water rather than just sheds it into the nearest river as quickly as possible.
Q242 David Tredinnick: Is it a fair allegation to say that you do not focus enough on the basics, such as getting landowners to clean out ditches so that water flows away properly? There are statutory obligations on landowners and I have a problem in my area where ditches are just not properly cleaned out or they are overgrown. What sort of a priority do you give that?
Phil Rothwell: Priority depends on flood risk and the scale of the risk.
Q243 David Tredinnick: You prosecute occasionally. Do you ever say to someone, "You must deal with this; it is your duty to do it"?
Phil Rothwell: Where it relates to a main river, which is the responsibility of the agency, that would be the case and we police our main river systems heavily. Maintenance depends on the scale of risk, and maintenance programmes are developed to ensure that risk is managed as effectively as possible. Where those watercourses are not main river but local watercourses, that is the responsibility of the local authorities. We would look to them to be the lead player in local watercourse maintenance.
Q244 David Tredinnick: Fine. I put the question to Mr Crick.
Paul Crick: We do that in Kent. We have information for landowners and we take a hard line with regards to ditch cleaning.
Q245 David Tredinnick: You do.
Paul Crick: Yes, we do. In fact, we have also taken on SUDS. We have adopted SUDS in advance of DEFRA guidance on it. We just decided it was a good thing to do, particularly as part of new developments; we should do it, so we have.
On flooding and severe weather events, I would echo what colleagues from the EA have said in getting messages across and as a medium for engaging with people. That is a big driver. The other big driver, of course, is the financial benefits, which we have talked about earlier. But the overriding thing is to communicate how it affects people and to make it real to people. Whether it is a severe weather event or savings on the bottom line, it is about engaging with people by giving clear examples and clear benefits. However it is done, that is the way to do it.
Q246 David Tredinnick: I have one last slightly different question. Could Coastal Communities 2150 happen without climate change as a driver?
Paul Crick: Because the Kent coast is changing all the time, it makes it real to people. Focusing on an arbitrary date in the future and using local examples, giving those scenarios, engages people. I do not think it would happen without climate change being a driver. That is a key element when we are communicating with people and when we are talking to whole communities about resilience planning and planning for the future, rising sea levels and how it affects their living. You talked about the people living by sea rise. They would be, without a doubt, completely engaged by the CC2150 project and we would be talking to them about how they can do things for themselves in planning for the future and be more resilient.
Q247 Chair: May I ask the Environment Agency a question following on from that answer? In circumstances where you are being forced because of financial constraints to retreat from mitigation projects-and there happens to be one in my constituency where the agency are pulling away from pumping lowlying land that is behind the bunds, or the levees, of the Manchester ship canal, but the Environment Agency’s withdrawal is because of financial constraints, not that the need has changed-how does that square with the difficulty that Mr Crick and others have in getting messages across?
Tony Grayling: I cannot comment on the issue in your constituency.
Chair: Curiously, nobody seems to be able to.
Tony Grayling: I would say two things. One is that we are always going to have a limit on the amount of resource that we have available to deploy, so we are always going to have to decide where best to deploy it and it will not be possible to proceed with all good schemes immediately.
Q248 Chair: It has been going for 40 years-no, more than that, a lot longer, 80 years.
Tony Grayling: If you look at the result of the recent spending review, in terms of flood risk management, the settlement for the Environment Agency was a good one, which sees some increase in our resources for flood risk management and a guarantee of resources up until 2020, which is quite unusual. Phil, you would know more about that than I do.
Phil Rothwell: That is right. More money is always welcome and you can always do a lot more, but whether there is ever enough to go round, given the scale of the risk we have to face, is always a problem. Allocating that resource is equally tricky. The case you refer to is in Frodsham marshes, I imagine, an area where the flood risk itself is relatively low and the future investment is dependent on that, but we are very aware that there is a local need to manage those watercourses. In that case and in others in the north-west, we are working with colleagues in internal drainage boards, the NFU and local authorities to look at other ways in which the same service might be delivered in time.
Q249 Sarah Newton: I would like to talk a bit about the Climate Ready programme and a more Governmentstrategic approach. We have had a lot of very good examples of local leadership, with people not waiting for Government and getting on with things, but the Climate Ready programme does seek to have some national strategic oversight in pulling people together on the programme. As part of that, is there any national communication programme?
Tony Grayling: Yes, it is very much about communication but it is targeted. There is more than one element to our Climate Ready Support Service. The core of it is a webbased facility, where people can choose to come and find information about climate risks, guidance and tools that may help them to understand their own risks and what to do about them. It is primarily targeted at organisations rather than individuals.
On top of that, there is a more tailored proactive service, where we work under the priorities identified by the national Climate Change Risk Assessment and the national Climate Change Programme, and we work with the key sectors and on the key risks that have been identified. Often that is through intermediaries, so we have limited resource and we have to target that. We will work with trade associations, for example, to understand, working with them, what particular risks their sector faces and what they may need to do. For example, we are working with the paper and pulp sector at the minute to help them understand what their climate risks are and to develop the guidance and materials that they can then, as a trusted intermediary, as a trade association, disseminate to their membership.
We have been working with the electricity generation sector to look at how change in the availability of water resources may affect them in the future because they use a lot of water for cooling in power stations. There are lots of examples of that, but it has to be targeted because it is a relatively small amount of resource and we do a lot of it through partnership.
Another example is that we have seconded one person to work with the Local Government Association on their Climate Local initiative to work from the inside to help us understand what it is they need from us and then to develop what they need in partnership. Then, of course, the LGAs are more effectively linked with all local authorities than we necessarily are, although we have a lot of direct relationships as well.
Q250 Sarah Newton: That is a very comprehensive answer. The very same professionals that you are dealing with in the trade bodies are also people and consumers of the very same media that we were talking about earlier that is engendering quite a degree of scepticism. How are you tackling them as individuals? For example, a council is led by its councillors and they will prioritise levels of expenditure. You might be giving excellent advice to the officers and the officers are fully engaged, but then some of the key decision makers-or it could be companies within a trade association-are reading The Mail on Sunday or are susceptible to a lot of external influences. How do you think about how you can communicate some of the underlying science, which perhaps you did not have to 10 years ago because there was a more general acceptance of the underlying science?
Tony Grayling: I think that the communication of science is primarily for others to do. We communicate about impacts and adaptation, because that is what we find to be most effective in engaging organisations. What they are interested in is whether climate impacts are going to affect their ability to do their job, whether they are a public or private sector organisation. To some extent, arguments around greenhouse gas reduction tend to be better understood because, quite often, there is a clear financial case for investing in energy- efficiency measures. It is a bit more of a challenge in relation to adapting to what the climate might look like in the future in terms of dealing with its impacts. That is why our starting point is usually, "What are your risks from current weather and current extreme weather?" If we get that far, we can then get into a more sophisticated conversation. A lot of our work is through national bodies, though, through trade associations or the Local Government Association, rather than necessarily through lots of individual companies because we do not have the resource to do that.
Q251 Sarah Newton: I understand. If you are really focusing on weather, the Met Office itself is not always that trusted a voice any more because people have heard predictions that we are going to have barbecue summers and then it pours down with rain. Many people have a lot of scepticism about the Met Office’s ability to forecast weather. If you are using weather as a hook into both organisations and individuals to try and get them to think they must do something, how useful are you finding that, because of people’s scepticism about our knowledge about the weather?
Tony Grayling: We find that it varies over time. We have a lot of extreme weather events over time, so I think there is enough awareness of the risks of flooding and the risk that there may be heatwaves or droughts. But it is undoubtedly the case that interest waxes and wanes according to the weather. You know this very well, Phil, in your area of work.
Phil Rothwell: That is absolutely right, although in support of a lot of the Met Office’s work, particularly the joint Flood Forecasting Centre, the daily or weekly forecasts we get have been extremely effective and accurate. We use them a great deal in thinking and planning for flood risk management activity, as do a number of other organisations, infrastructure providers and local authorities. That element of our work, which was put together following the 2007 floods, has been very effective. But if you get a series of what I will call quiet weather years, with no drought and no flood, then undoubtedly public interest dies away and it is more difficult to recruit people into our flood warning service and more difficult to engage with people.
2012 was a horrendous year: it was both the driest and the wettest year on record all in one year, and it was, sadly, very effective at raising awareness. You rely on these weather events to give that burst of energy to the communication. As to the feedback you get, the response to the weather last year in terms of numbers of hits on our website, the number of people signing up for flood warnings, was immense. It was extraordinary and far more effective than any year we have previously had.
Q252 Sarah Newton: I have noticed in my own constituency, of course, that the minute there is flooding people are clamouring, "What more should be done?" But when I am trying to get support for a major flood defence scheme in a part of my constituency, because there has not been any flooding recently, it is right in the town centre and undoubtedly is going to cause a lot of shortterm impact, people are very sceptical about the need for it. Relying on the weather is a very difficult one because it is fine if you are paddling around: people want it now. But saying, "We have a one in 30year risk event and you need to do this now because it may or may not happen," talking about probability and risk is quite challenging. Among the business people and the public there is a high degree of scepticism, I would say. Unfortunately, it makes it very difficult for the Environment Agency and water companies to invest in these necessary improvements.
Phil Rothwell: Also, because of that, there is always a kneejerk reaction, "There has been a flood there in this town and therefore we ought to invest," when that might not be the best place to invest. That is very tricky, I agree.
Chair: Thank you very much for your presentations this morning. There are quite a few other documents that we are looking forward to seeing, particularly from the local authorities, and we will be contacting the LGA to see how your assertions that you are the leaders of the field stand up. I am sure we will have hundreds of other local authorities saying they are doing lots of other things. Thank you very much for your attendance.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: John Hirst, Chief Executive, Met Office, and Professor Julia Slingo OBE, Chief Scientist, Met Office, gave evidence.
Q253 Chair: Good morning. Thank you for coming in this morning. I would be grateful if you would introduce yourselves.
John Hirst: My name is John Hirst. I am chief executive of the Met Office.
Professor Slingo: I am Julia Slingo. I am the chief scientist at the Met Office.
Q254 Chair: What do you see your role as being in regard to the whole issue of climate change, and what other Government bodies do you work with?
John Hirst: Our role is to provide the underpinning of the science. We are contracted to explore the science and deliver models and predictions of future climate conditions. We are one of the world’s leading climate science centres, and I think, from your last inquiry into our operations, you know that, out of 46,500 geoscience research institutes, the Met Office Hadley Centre came out as No. 1 in the world. So we have a worldwide reputation for having deep science credentials. We work with just about every Government Department there is. Most of our climate science work is contracted by DECC and DEFRA, but we also do work for the Department for Transport, the FCO, DFID, the Ministry of Defence and the devolved Administrations and so on. So we are in contact with many.
Q255 Chair: What is happening at a strategic level within Government to help communicate about climate science?
John Hirst: That is a question that is difficult for me to answer because I do not have a role or an influence on the strategic communications of climate science on behalf of the Government.
Q256 Chair: Come on, you are leading the world’s No. 1 climate centre and you are saying you are not part of that strategic role. Surely you must be.
John Hirst: I am saying we do not have a mandate for the communication of climate science. We make sure that the climate science work we do is open, transparent and publicised, both in a structured sense from peer reviews in academic journals and also on websites, Tweets and all the rest. We have a responsibility, I think, as leading scientists to make that science available and in the public domain, but we do not have any role in the formation or the communication of policy.
Professor Slingo: It is fair to say that I personally work through the Chief Scientific Advisers Committee, so I have very good relationships with the chief scientific advisers across Government. As John says, we take seriously our responsibility of ensuring that the best science is communicated into Departments and often that is done through the CSAs. In fact, I have just come from Mark Walport’s breakfast meeting where I have briefed them on-
Q257 Chair: The breakfast meetings are continuing, are they-the Beddington tradition?
Professor Slingo: Yes. I have just briefed them on the latest findings that will come out at the end of the month from the fifth assessment report with a view to how that shapes their-particularly Sir Mark’s-approach to setting carbon budgets and all those sorts of things. We then had a discussion about the energy implications of that. Although we do not have a strategy-as John said, it is not part of our mandate-we do take it very seriously and make sure that, at all sorts of levels of scientific complexity, we communicate the science through certainly the chief scientist’s views.
Q258 Chair: Let us put the question slightly differently. If your mandate were amended to include helping to engage with the public on climate science, do you think that would be a helpful change to your mandate?
John Hirst: I think we would extend our work in terms of making things open.
Q259 Chair: Leaving aside minor issues like money-
John Hirst: We would certainly extend our programmes and the resources committed to communicating the science. That said, we do quite a lot. I hope I did not mislead you in my first response, because you were talking about Government strategy. We do a massive amount of communication of science. Last year alone we tweeted 30,000 times, and scientists did 1,000 radio interviews, 100 TV interviews and 20 documentaries. There is a lot of outreach in broadcast media but also in relationships through other organisations. So we do quite a lot of it already and we would extend that if we were given the role to do so.
Q260 Roger Williams: In the written submission that you made to us, you said that the public display an increasing appetite for detail about climate change. Where would your evidence for that statement come from?
John Hirst: Mostly from the contacts that are made with us and the questions that are posed either directly to us or through organisations we work with, whether that is the Department for Education in schools, business communities, or whoever it is, there is just an increasing-
Q261 Chair: You can demonstrate that over time, can you?
John Hirst: Absolutely, yes.
Q262 Roger Williams: When you say people-individuals-are communicating directly with you, what sort of form does that take?
John Hirst: It is website traffic, social media, in which we are heavily engaged, good oldfashioned letter post, and questions through Freedom of Information requests. All manner of different communications we have.
Q263 Roger Williams: You have touched upon this next point, I think, already, but you are funded by DECC and DEFRA to work on climate science, but you say you do not have a strategic duty as far as communication is concerned. Do you think you ought to have one?
John Hirst: I think we can help. You can separate the communication into communication of science or the communication of impacts and the consequences. Certainly we would welcome a greater responsibility for communication of science. When you get into impacts, you get into political and other business judgments. I think it is good for us to stand back from that so that we keep the science as clean of interference or influence from that source as we possibly can.
Professor Slingo: The other point on this is that, as John rightly says, what we do in the Met Office Hadley Centre is fundamental climate science. The translation of that into impacts often involves other science disciplines. As well as the policy side of it, it is also about linking well to other disciplines, particularly in the academic research council community in the UK and drawing on that expertise, as we currently do in weather forecasting through the Flood Forecasting Centre, as you heard from the EA just now, to translate the science that is our prime function into what it means for the man in the street. That involves partnerships at all sorts of levels, not just at the service end but also at the research end. That is partly why earlier this year we launched the Climate Service UK, which is a partnership between ourselves, NERC and the Environment Agency. It is to start setting in place a forum where those dialogues can go on. I think a key part for the Climate Service UK, going forward, should be about communicating not just the climate science but a much clearer narrative of what that translates into in terms of the risks that society faces. So we are on that road and I think it is not just a mandate for us. I would say it is a mandate for all the agencies, researchers and so forth who work in this space to do that.
Q264 Roger Williams: If you had that greater responsibility, do you think you would be able to do the communications better than the way people are doing it at the moment?
Professor Slingo: Yes, I think so, particularly if you did it within the framework of something like the Climate Service UK. One thing you have to be very careful about is not having too many multiple voices with different messages. That is one of the dangers we have, as we have found on the weather side, where we have created the Natural Hazards Partnership in the same sort of way. We then speak with one authoritative voice. We have opportunities for different views to be expressed. I think a framework like the Climate Service UK, where we can come together and express and communicate not just the science but what it means in a very clear and agreed way-an authoritative way-would be very helpful.
Q265 Roger Williams: Going back to something that Mr Hirst said about not wanting to go down the path of impact of climate change, surely, in a commercial sense, that is what a number of your customers want you to do. They want you to tell them what the impact of climate change may be on their businesses.
John Hirst: What they want to do is to come to us for an authoritative view on the best science available and then we work out with them what the impact is. It is very difficult for us to understand the impact in every single context, so we work with them to contextualise the science.
Roger Williams: I am encouraged to ask you, if you are not doing this, who in Government ought to? But I guess you are making a bid for doing it; so perhaps we will pass on that.
Q266 Chair: As to the data that you spoke about, Mr Hirst, about the patterns of traffic in public interest, it would be very helpful to have some figures on that.
John Hirst: We can let you have that.
Q267 Chair: If it is at all possible, we would like to have it broken down by the types of questions. That might be harder to ask, but I would appreciate it.
John Hirst: It is harder because quite a lot of the questions are overlapping. For example, we get a question about, "Was this storm climate change?" We would have to separate those things and give a fuller explanation, but we will do our best for you.
Q268 Sarah Newton: We are getting the overall impression from the previous witnesses and from others that we have hit on a major problem here. Nobody is strategically owning the authoritative voice, and trying to explain the science and then contextualise it for people. Everybody seems to be assuming that somebody else is doing it. There is a huge desire for clarity that we have seen, particularly from previous witnesses at local authority and Environment Agency level, to try their best to explain to people. But actually they are not; they are pulling away and they are then saying, "As nobody is taking on this fight or this responsibility to communicate the science and contextualise it, we will fall back on things like how you can save money heating your home, why insulation is a good thing and how businesses can save money. Would you agree with me that that is a fair reflection of where we are now-an absence of a trusted voice?
John Hirst: I was kind of with you until the last one, because when you come down to it we would consider that, on the evidence we have, our voice is trusted in these matters. If you do not mind me overlapping from a question to the last panel, you made a statement about the level of public trust in the Met Office. All the measures that we have about the issues we announce-and we do this through the public weather service customer and directly through LWEC and others-show that the level of trust in the Met Office is around 80% from the general public, and it does not vary very much depending on the circumstances. What sometimes happens-and I have my own cab driver’s test-is that people criticise the Met Office. I will say, "When was the last time you had a bad forecast?" and people generally cannot remember. While I think that is a natural reaction, the stats and the feedback we get do not quite bear it out.
Is there sometimes a set of different approaches that are taken through various partner organisations? Yes, there is. Would there be a benefit from having greater clarity and consistency? Absolutely there would, because we take lessons from our extreme weather forecasts, for example, where, if people get a warning, either through the Flood Forecasting Centre or others, of extreme circumstances, the first thing they do is corroborate it. If they cannot corroborate it, they tend not to take action. This falls into the same kind of context.
Q269 Sarah Newton: So, yes, the trusted voice is the Met Office, but there is more to be done in deploying your skills and your expertise and accepting you are trusted-more than anybody else we have heard so far anyway-with the public, and not only the public but businesses and Government Departments. More work needs to be done to have you out front, to put it crudely, taking on the argument about climate change, explaining and contextualising the science. You believe you would be the best organisation to do that.
John Hirst: I certainly think it would be helpful. You could not do it alone because contextualisation requires partnership work.
Q270 Sarah Newton: You could take the lead.
John Hirst: We could.
Q271 Sarah Newton: Are you thinking about this in relation to the forthcoming international climate change report that is coming out in October? Are you making preparations to take a leading role in responding to that and communicating?
John Hirst: We are taking a role in the sense-they are not reporting until the end of September-that we are preparing. We are not going to make any statements or communication before it happens, but I can pretty much guarantee that, as soon as it happens, there will be a lively debate and we will be fully engaged in that debate through all the mechanisms that we have. Our role, whether it is blogging or communicating in response to other people’s questions, is to try and make sure that the science is understood and that misinterpretations or misunderstandings of the science have an opportunity to be corrected.
Sarah Newton: That is very reassuring.
Q272 Stephen Metcalfe: Moving on from the issue of trust and trusted voices, you are trusted. As you said, 80% of the public trust you. However, there are some sectors of the press who have taken it upon themselves to use you as a bit of an Aunt Sally at times and you have come in for some stinging criticism. Why do you think that is, and do you think that criticism is fair?
John Hirst: It is a free press and people can express themselves as they wish. Whether it is fair or not, I can say it is sometimes bruising and it sometimes impacts the selfconfidence of some of our scientists. That said, we seek to demonstrate resilience in the face of some of this and bounce back. It is a continuous task and we engage very actively with leading journalists and the press to make sure that if they say things that we believe are incorrect, we seek to get them corrected. We enter into a dialogue, and progressively, that seems to have some impact. But people are entitled to their opinions and they express them.
Q273 Stephen Metcalfe: Why do you think you are a target for those opinions?
John Hirst: I can only speculate about this and I think it is a question that probably should be addressed to them because they will give you reasons why they are doing it. It is not uncommon in areas of science, whether it is medical science or environmental science in which we are engaged, for the consequences of the science to be quite serious and there are interests, whether they have genuine questions about the science or they have issues with the consequences, to challenge that science. I am very happy that the challenge to the science should be structured and through the right kind of channel, and our scientists welcome the challenge. Sometimes that strays into combativeness that is difficult to deal with on a scientific basis.
Q274 Stephen Metcalfe: You do not feel that the level of criticism that at times you have come in for has affected the way in which you communicate climate science to the public? It has not made you want to step back from communicating perhaps what is a difficult message?
John Hirst: In actual fact, it has made us much more determined to be scientifically robust and objective.
Professor Slingo: In fact, over the last four years we have made a really concerted effort to open up a lot more of our research. We now have very open research pages and there is research news on there. We have started to produce many more indepth science briefings. One thing that in the past you could have criticised many of us for-not just the Met Office but climate scientists in general-was oversimplifying the message and assuming that the public cannot access the deeper science behind it. That is absolutely not the case. One of our responsibilities as scientists is to produce briefings that are in depth and give the context, which fill the gap between the peerreviewed literature-which is for the working scientist mostly-and the quite simplified messages that we have put out in the past. We try and cover now a much broader spectrum of communication that includes some pretty indepth pieces.
A good example was three papers we produced on the recent pause in global warming that has received a lot of attention. As a result of those three papers, we did get much better reporting in the press than we would have done without them. The messages in those papers were picked up, understood and communicated on.
Q275 Stephen Metcalfe: Good; thank you. Has the Climategate affair had any effect on your work or the way you communicate, or have there been any advantages following that?
Professor Slingo: I was involved in this right at the start of my period as chief scientist. Again, I think it just emphasised the real importance of openness, transparency and openness of the data where possible. From that, we did a lot of work, as Committee members will know, around opening up all the observations that went into constructing the temperature series and so forth-and even the methods that we used. Out of that have come the sorts of things that I have talked about, which is our research being much more open to the public; you can see who is working on what and what they are doing. There is much more openness in terms of these indepth science things. Scientists have never been secretive, but what we clearly did not understand was that, in a situation as important as dealing with climate change, this whole business of openness, transparency, open data wherever possible, was critically important. I do not know, John, whether you want to add to that.
John Hirst: Just to confirm that we took some steps at the time. It is now kind of drifting back in time, but we took a step to write to everybody-every national met service in the world and others-who contributed their observations and requested that they gave us permission to look at their data to publish. With a handful of exceptions-some people said no-most people said yes, so observations and the records have been on the website ever since.
Q276 Stephen Metcalfe: Following on from that, why would a handful of people have said no?
John Hirst: I think because they thought they had value that they wanted to exploit. I do not really know.
Q277 Stephen Metcalfe: But as to this openness and transparency issue, do you think you are, first, achieving that, and, secondly, do you think the message that you-not you specifically, but the community-are now more open and more transparent is getting across to the public and that they trust that?
John Hirst: I think there is work to be done. It would be crazy for me to say that everybody understands and everybody trusts, because it is clearly not the case. What we can do is continue with the work on the transmission, not only just in what we need and its quantum but also the style. We have put in a lot of effort to understand-which is a continuing piece of evidence-how people accept probabilities and uncertainties. We have done worldwide experiments with academics on this kind of thing. We have done focus groups that learn how to communicate better. There is a whole range of things that we are doing, but I think it will take a while before it is a done deal and everybody understands and uses the same thing.
Q278 Stephen Metcalfe: But the direction of travel is right.
John Hirst: We are engaged in it, yes, absolutely.
Q279 Chair: There is a story in The Times today that says that the IPCC have appointed a psychologist to join their panel in helping to communicate some of the messages. It is rebutted by Benny Peiser, who says that this will weaken the IPCC. Do you have any comments, please?
John Hirst: You have the advantage over me. I have not read the article.
Q280 Chair: But, generally, do you think that these-
John Hirst: I can tell you that we have worked with experts at Cambridge and Bristol universities on the communication of complex issues and how people deal with them. We have worked with other commentators outside our organisation, who are experts in how to express these things to adjust our expression-not to change the fundamental thing we are trying to communicate but to understand how the message is better delivered. To be honest, if somebody is taking advice outside to get better expertise, it sounds to me like a sensible thing to do. There is a danger in all of the things that we discuss sometimes that we assume that all scientists are exactly the same. There are some scientists who have both a greater interest and aptitude at communicating with others and some scientists who are best talking to scientists.
Q281 David Tredinnick: There seems to be a clear split in the scientific community about how much they should be involved in talking about their work. We were at the Science Museum not long ago and these differences were highlighted there. To what extent should climate scientists become involved in the public debate about public climate change policy, please?
John Hirst: Again, it joins a little bit in part-
Q282 David Tredinnick: How much do you share your thoughts? To what extent should you keep mum and to what extent should you talk about your work? You are a very prestigious organisation. To what extent should you share your views? Here you are with the Select Committee, but what about the general public?
John Hirst: We talk about the science and its contexts with great pride and discipline. Because of the role we have of providing the underpinning science, we seek not to engage as an organisation or as a collective in the discussions about policy. That is a limit, I guess, on the individual roles, but it is a position we take, because the benefit of that is that our science is then taken away and trusted because of the science.
Q283 David Tredinnick: But is there not a clear distinction between policy and policy implications? It is fair enough to say, "Well, we can’t create policy. That is a Government task," but surely the implications of certain decisions are something that the public should be aware of. You could actually contribute too that.
John Hirst: Could you illustrate that, because there are quite a lot of policy implications? If you would like to illustrate that with an example, it will help me answer the question better, I think.
Q284 David Tredinnick: I am not sure I can pick a specific example off the top of my head, but what I am suggesting to you is that, when you have an issue that is clearly of public interest upon which Ministers or others in authority will have to determine a course of action, it would be helpful to the public if you set out the options in a dispassionate way.
Professor Slingo: Yes. I think we can talk about the implications. Whether or not it is policy implications, I do not know, but certainly we do not stick just to the basic scientific facts. For example, we know from what we are doing currently that a world that is 4° warmer by the end of the century is possible. Again, for the Foreign Office and other users, we created a very interesting map, which is, "What would a 4°C warmer world look like in terms of issues for food security, water security, health impacts and all those things?" That, in a sense, is the implications of what the science is saying, on which one can then say, "Well, actually, if I am concerned about food security or I am concerned about migration or energy security, I can look at this and take those implications and work through my policy." There is a sort of grey area in there. What I think we cannot do is talk about how people should behave and what they should do on the basis of our science. That is not for us to say. Whatever our personal views are, we are very clear on that.
Another example where I believe we work into policy is a very successful and important programme we did with DECC and the Tyndall Centre, the Walker Institute, and so forth, which is about looking at avoiding dangerous climate change. It says, "What sort of mitigation scenarios should you pursue if you want to stay within 2°?" That is not set in policy, but it has policy implications. It also needs the best climate science to say, "If I am going to follow that trajectory with my emissions of a whole range of things-gases and aerosols-what are my chances of being in this world or in another world, and what then would be the implications of that emissions trajectory for things like water security and food security?" Yes, we do work in that space, and so we should because we are contracted by DECC to provide the best underpinning advice for them to set policy. There is often a very close relationship between the science and the implications. The distinction for me is not saying what Government should do or how people should behave or what people should do.
David Tredinnick: Thank you. That is a very helpful explanation.
Q285 Stephen Mosley: Within the Met Office submission you talk about Climate Service UK. Could you explain what you are hoping to achieve, and why and how?
Professor Slingo: This is a partnership, so it is saying, yes, it is the Met Office who lead on climate science, working with the Natural Environment Research Council, who are very important partners for us in our climate research. But they also bring to the table other environmental science disciplines, and then, at least to begin with, the Environment Agency is very much a delivery organisation. We realise that society is increasingly vulnerable to climate, whether it is climate variability or climate change. There is an increasing need for services around the world that help people manage the risks of climate variability and change. The Climate Service UK, first of all, is the UK’s response to the Global Framework for Climate Services, which has been mandated by the World Meteorological Organization as something that national Governments should put in place. So it is the UK’s response to that, but, more importantly, it is about translation of the climate science and what will happen in the next year, or the next 10 or 50 years, in terms of advice and services that are relevant to the user. The Climate Service UK must start with the customer. It has to say, "What does the customer need to know for the decisions they have to make? What science can we bring to that? How can we shape and translate that science into what the customer requires?" It is setting in place a framework for a dialogue with the customer and it is working not just across Government but increasingly across the private sector, where we see massive opportunities for the private sector, not only to manage the risks but realise the opportunities of better use of climate science. John, would you like to add something?
John Hirst: In short, it is the creation of a shop window for the science so that people have a destination to go to, to get better access to the science and advice on it.
Q286 Stephen Mosley: I know in the submission you say that it presents a potential for innovation and communication. What do you mean by that?
John Hirst: People can get access to the science and the information and improve the management of their affairs, whether they are supply chain managers or supermarkets. We know, for example, that there is a lot of food waste around, and people who plan their affairs more effectively, either by weather or climate, will benefit from that. People can get access to that for better planning of engineering projects, for international development projects, a whole series of things that people can get access to. But the interpretation of the data and the science requires some innovation on behalf of us and others to make it accessible and useful for different users.
Q287 Stephen Mosley: How are you doing that? Is it social media, online or-
John Hirst: We hope to be engaging with a whole range of customers directly and indirectly to work up projects. Sometimes we will approach a retailer and say, "Look, here is some work we might be able to introduce to you so that you can manage your affairs better." Sometimes people will come to us and say, "We are working in the field of energy in Africa. Can we work with you to understand the climate change implications so that we can deliver the services better?" There is a whole range. If you want a selection, I can send you some of the projects that we have been working on with others around the world in that domain.
Q288 Stephen Mosley: Turn the clock back a bit. A couple of years ago this Committee did an investigation into the Met Office. One conclusion was that we recommended greater use of probabilistic weather forecasts by broadcasters as a way of improving the general public’s understanding of climate projections and weather forecasts. Has there been any progress?
John Hirst: There has been some. We discovered around that time and afterwards that there is a whole series of things to do. First of all, we know that, where in the US they use probabilistic forecasts quite a lot, when you talk to the consumers, not everybody understands. When it is stated that there is a 60% probability of precipitation, people do not really understand-even in the US, although they are used to that term-whether it is 60% of the time, 60% of the places or a 60% chance, which is what it does mean. So there are misunderstandings. We are trying to work through those.
You probably have seen on BBC weather forecasts that, rather than using the word "probability", people have said, "There is a chance of this happening. We are not sure. By the end of the week, this storm could go one route or another." We are introducing the uncertainties quite systematically into the forecasts and predictions, rather than using structured probabilistic expressions, which we find sometimes to be a barrier to understanding.
I use the following example quite a lot. Where people have an intuitive understanding of the subjectmatter, it is quite easy. If you ask any football fan in the UK whether Manchester United is likely to be in the top three of the premiership at the end of the season, everybody can have a discussion about it with some understanding. Every time my mother crosses the road, she processes a probability, although not explicitly, otherwise she would almost certainly be killed. It relates to where there are things going on in your life. When you start to talk about something about which people do not have any intuitive feeling or that they have no contact with and you do that in a mechanistic way, sometimes you lose them. We are trying to find ways of expressing those uncertainties that are accessible in both language and terms so that it improves people’s understanding. I think it is working.
Chair: We will keep off probability and the premiership and pass over to a Manchester Member.
Q289 Graham Stringer: With regard to psychologists, the IPCC will publish its fifth assessment report this year. What preparations are you making to deal with the public and the media when that report is published?
John Hirst: We have, as I said earlier, a whole series of efforts planned. To some degree, it will have to be reactive, depending on the questions and issues that are raised by the people who respond.
Q290 Graham Stringer: I am sorry to interrupt, but do you have a good idea of what is in the report?
John Hirst: Yes.
Professor Slingo: Yes.
Q291 Graham Stringer: It is not just reactive.
Professor Slingo: No, but it is a question of what end up being the hot topics, in a sense. We have obviously anticipated some of those and we have already done some work. As you know, there are the three papers on the pause in global warming that will surely be raised. I think the Arctic will be another one, and we have done quite a lot of work around climate sensitivity. We have quite a lot of work already well established. We have a number of people, of our scientists, being trained in media because it is really important that we have a whole range of scientists who can talk confidently and clearly in various forums about what the report says. We have a series of briefings to key organisations planned and in the diary. I do not know whether there is anything more, John.
John Hirst: We have the mechanisms in place for all kinds of communications which we will use as the topics arise.
Q292 Graham Stringer: Is a report every seven years-which is big and dense and it is a lot of scientific papers mediated by people representing Government-the best way to deal with the issue? Has the IPCC had its time? Should there be a different way of looking at how all the science is communicated?
John Hirst: We have to take it in the context that most of the science that is done is published as soon as it is available. The IPCC aggregates and draws collective conclusions about those things. While it is a oneinsevenyear event, it is an event in a whole stream of communications and exposure of signs as it goes. I think it is useful in any scientific domain to collect and say where we are now collectively. I would support some method of doing that, but I think it is a mistake to see it as the only thing-the only communication that happens.
Professor Slingo: I would agree with that. I think it has been vitally important in the whole process of the climate change story and the narrative around climate change, and there will be some, I think, very important additions this time. The scale of the activity is immensely challenging and there has to be, as there should, a look at whether this is the right way forward for the scientific community or whether there is a different mechanism we can look at.
John Hirst: It is important also to see it in an international context because the IPCC involves 195 countries, although it is fair to say that around 100 normally attend. We are, in a sense, in the UK quite resource and science-rich and, given that this is a world issue, having a forum in which the 195 countries can be engaged is pretty useful, I think.
Q293 Graham Stringer: We heard earlier that the councils and the Environment Agency, when they were explaining how they were engaging with people on this issue, found it easier to deal with particular weather events and extreme weather events. Do you think that is a fair way to get into the subject of climate change? Do you think you can relate one extreme weather event or even a number of extreme weather events to climate change?
John Hirst: Julia is better on the science. I think it is a fair but not wholly perfect way of beginning a conversation because, as you know, the science of attribution of specific weather events is evolving and we are not in the position of always being able to say, "This specific event is because of climate change." As we all know, there is a lot of climate variability and weather variability as well as changes that prolong through time. Julia will probably say more.
Professor Slingo: Yes. I was listening to what the Environment Agency was saying. When you have an extreme weather event, it raises people’s awareness of our exposure and vulnerability to these sorts of things. I think then we have to be very careful about not always saying that there is a contribution from the humaninduced climate change. The ability to comment on that is improving all the time, and a very nice paper has just come out in the bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that looks at the extreme events through 2012 and does a very careful attribution of each event. You can show that about half of them-and many of them are temperature-related, of course-have a contribution from human influence. But, for example, that paper also says that, for the 2012 summer rains, there is not a contribution from human influence. We need to be very careful that we do not oversell the climate change story. It has to be a very balanced response. It is a real success now that, scientifically, we are capable of making that distinction in a very objective and robust way. The more we can do that and communicate that, the more important-
Q294 Chair: So you are slightly moving towards the position that the local authorities gave earlier on when they said that, if you just approach it from a science perspective, some people disengage rapidly. They approach it from impact.
Professor Slingo: Yes, but we have to be very clear-we also need to employ the precautionary principle here-that there is evidence and that we understand the fundamental physics of this for things like increasing intensity of rainfall, of high rainfall events, which lead to flash flooding. The importance of that is that we see the impact today and what sort of adaptive measures we need to take for that. We have this overall underpinning science that tells us that heatwaves are very likely to increase in frequency and in intensity. We are beginning to acquire a lot of evidence around intense rainfall events on the sort of hourly/daily duration, and that is distinct from, say, a wet summer that says we need to be concerned about this.
Q295 Chair: But to match the two positions, it is not the precautionary principle we want; it is the impact of doing nothing that needs to be described to people.
Professor Slingo: Yes. I think that is right and we have still, if you are talking about communication to the general public, quite a lot of work to do to create these narratives that people can relate to. That is where it is not just about the climate science, but the translation of that and what its implications are, and then taking it down to the local level. Again, coming back to Climate Service UK, one very important thing that we can achieve there by bringing these different groups together under one umbrella is to create these sorts of narratives that allow people to understand more the risk that they are facing and therefore what sort of response they should take.
Q296 Graham Stringer: There is more energy in the system. When we went to the British Antarctic Survey earlier this year, I put that question to them because they were saying that a lot of the impact of the temperature would be at the poles, which would mean there was less temperature difference. I asked them whether that would mean less rather than more storms, which is usually assumed. They said the word "certain". Do you think the representation that we will get more storms because of higher temperatures is fair?
Professor Slingo: We need to distinguish between more storms and more intense storms.
Q297 Graham Stringer: Yes; sorry, I meant more intense.
Professor Slingo: As to more intense storms, then you come back to this business of the interaction between the water cycle as part of the energy cycle. The fact that warmer air can hold more water means that you can get more intense release of latent heat, which allows the storm to become more intense. Those are some of the arguments around that. It is a lot more subtle than just talking about equatortopole temperature gradients, because we know that there are regions where storms form and where storms grow and so forth, and there are some quite interesting local changes that would encourage more intense storms. In terms of taking a very simple view, it is often very misleading. The evidence is probably there that we could have more intense storms. Whether we have more storms is another matter.
Q298 Graham Stringer: I have one final question, which we have asked most of the witnesses. Can you give us a concise definition of climate change?
Professor Slingo: Climate change is, from my perspective, something that transcends the natural variability of the climate on a range of time scales from seasonal to multidecadal. Within, say, our lifetime or longer-say 100 years-is the climate different now than it was 100 years ago when averaged over several decades? That is how I would look at it. We can look at past climate change in that context as well. That is how I tend to look at it.
Graham Stringer: Thank you.
Q299 Hywel Williams: Do you think the way the media reports climate change and policy is changing, and is it for better or for worse?
John Hirst: We track interpretations of our science, both in weather and climate, in the media quite actively to make sure that we understand what is being said and how this is understood. It varies from journal to journal. Most reporting on climate change depends on whether it is written by environmental correspondents or general news correspondents. Most is reasonably balanced. Although there are errors from time to time, it is reasonably balanced. There is some reporting where it appears to be less balanced. Then, of course, you have to distinguish between correspondents and editorial positions. So there is a whole range of approaches here that we monitor. Our sense is that, in recent years, it has been getting somewhat better, but I cannot measure that particular conclusion objectively, I have to say.
Q300 Hywel Williams: Some witnesses have said that the debate is more polarised and more politicised these days. Do you think that is the case? If so, why?
John Hirst: I do not know whether it is more or less politicised. I give quite a lot of speeches at events and breakfasts, lunches and dinners round the place, and I have a slide that I carry with me that says that climate change is not a philosophy, a religious conviction or a question of metaphysics; it is a geophysical phenomenon that we observe scientifically. As I said earlier, the consequences of the science are quite important for the world and us, and therefore it is inevitable that people will take a view-and it is a good thing that we do. Some people in all subjects take views right across the spectrum. Sometimes it is some of the extremes at either end that get more exposure than the body of opinion in the middle because, by definition, being the body of opinion in the middle is less newsworthy.
Q301 Hywel Williams: There is some evidence, lastly, Chair, that the media in the UK and the USA are much more sceptical than in other countries. I do not know if you have any experience of this or if you have any views.
John Hirst: I only have anecdotal views, to be honest. I do not know that I have any structured understanding. People I talk to in the US get concerned and sometimes I hear anecdotal evidence such that, if you ask a Kenyan farmer, he is pretty sure what is going on. But I am not aware of any structured international comparison, I am afraid. Are you?
Professor Slingo: No.
Hywel Williams: Thank you.
Q302 Chair: On this Committee, there are four political parties represented and I think it is true to say for every one of us-although some might not say this as publicly as others-that none of us has ever been 100% in agreement with our ministerial colleagues when in government or in opposition. In your relationship with Government you cross paths with Ministers from lots of different Departments. How do you deal with the issues that crop up that are just like that, where you do not agree with the Minister on the policy implications?
John Hirst: Whether we agree or not, we follow a pretty consistent route. We seek to engage with both Government Ministers and officials. We accept that not everybody is an expert in climate science, or indeed physics, maths or chemistry. We try and invite them to come and see us. We talk about what we do, about the relationship between what we do and their responsibilities, and show how the science we do can be useful to them. To be fair, I cannot think of any particular circumstances where that does not facilitate a much better dialogue and a better understanding of the things that we have in common that we can do together.
Q303 Chair: So there have been issues where you have not been on the same wavelength as the Minister in terms of the policy implications.
John Hirst: If you asked the Ministers, they might say that there were occasions when we were not on the same wavelength as them. Clearly, people start in this usually by sitting on the fence.
Q304 Chair: Give me an example of an issue where that would have been true.
John Hirst: I am not sure it is helpful to give specific examples, but let me give you areas: impact of our services and our science on agriculture, defence, energy and on land use. Right across, there are Ministers in all kinds of areas who start at a different point of understanding of the science we do, and it is almost without exception that in the dialogue we can improve our mutual understanding of how we can be helpful.
Q305 Chair: So you have been successful in educating some of them-in all parties.
Professor Slingo: Yes.
John Hirst: I think through the dialogue comes a much better understanding and it is just a fact of life. I am an economist, for goodness’ sake, and you know what they say about economists lying end to end and never reaching a conclusion. We all start off with different levels of expertise, and by discussing things we get a much better understanding.
Chair: Professor Slingo and Mr Hirst, thank you very much for your attendance this morning.