Examination of Witnesses (Questions 105-119)|
10 MARCH 2004
Professor Sir David King, Mr Nick Grout, Mr John
Holmes and Mr Simon Crabbe
Q105 Chairman: Sir David, may I thank you
and your colleagues very much for coming to see us today. We are
being both webcast and broadcast. I think you have a list of the
interests declared by Members of the Committee. May I suggest
for the record that you introduce yourselves briefly.
Sir David King: I am Professor Sir David King,
Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government and Head of the Office
of Science and Technology.
Mr Holmes: I am John Holmes, Adviser on the
Energy and Environmental Issues Team in the Office of Science
Mr Grout: I am Nick Grout of the Scientific
Government Unit of the Office of Science and Technology working
in support of Sir David King.
Mr Crabbe: I am Simon Crabbe from the Global
Atmosphere Division in Defra, which deals with climate change.
Q106 Chairman: Sir David, is there any opening
statement that you would like to make before we start asking you
Sir David King: On the issue of climate change?
Q107 Chairman: Yes, on the issue of climate
change: our heading is "How the EU can move towards a sustainable
climate change policy".
Sir David King: I think only to put on my record
my view that this is the biggest issue for us to face this century.
Spencer Weart has recently written a rather lovely book on the
science of climate change. It deals with about one thousand scientists
who have contributed to our current state of knowledge. He concludes
in that book that scientists have demonstrated the nature of the
problems and what is causing them and now it is for policy makers
to make hard decisions, but he points out, if I may quote: "Our
response to the threat of global warming will affect our personal
wellbeing and the evolution of man, society and all life on our
planet". I do not think that is an exaggeration. When I say
that this is a major problem, it is in that rather global context
a major problem.
Q108 Chairman: I understand that. May I
say that there were moments in the last 48 hours when I wondered
whether we were going to see you today at all.
Sir David King: There was never any doubt about
Q109 Chairman: It is very nice indeed to
have you with us. Could I start by asking you two questions? How
much climate change can we avoid by acting now rather than later?
I have read with very great interest your article in Science
of January. I notice that you end with the sentence: "We
and the rest of the world are now looking to the USA to play its
leading part." Do you really think that there is a chance,
as you see it, of the USA playing a leading part?
Sir David King: There are two questions there.
The first question is about the extent, given political understanding
across the world of what the scientists are currently saying.
I believe that we could achieve reductions in CO2 emissions, which
would lead to a ceiling of about 450 parts per million of carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere. The historic warm period average is
about 270 parts per million. We are currently at 372 parts per
Q110 Chairman: That is an average over what
sort of period?
Sir David King: Over 12,000 years. The period
of our civilisation has been at 270 parts per million. Certainly,
we are now higher than our globe has had for at least 420,000
years, but probably since the Palaeocene 55 million years ago.
If I come back to the apocalyptic vision, the Palaeocene was a
period when life was substantially reduced. We had a massive reduction
in the amount of living matter on earth and the Antarctic was
the best place to be at that time. That was relatively hot compared
with most of the world today, but the rest of the world was uninhabitable.
Then the carbon dioxide levels were estimated to be higher than
they are today. To go back to your question, we could limit levels
per million if action were taken by the developed world well beyond
what was outlined in Kyoto and if that action were fully implemented
by 2020, but it would have to be action taken and decided on within
the next few years: 450 parts per million will still lead to substantial
risk ahead for us, but I do think at that level we would avoid
all of these sudden climate change events that are of concern.
One such sudden climate change event is the switching of the Gulf
Stream. Thermohaline current and the melting of substantial amounts
of ice could lead to a switching of the Gulf Stream. That is a
thermal conveyor of enormous magnitude, which raises the temperature
of our local region by five to 10 degrees centigrade. If that
is switched, we would, conversely to the rest of the world, suffer
an ice age in Europe. There are substantial sudden climate change
events. Another one is the loss of the Indian monsoon, which would
be a traumatic loss for the Indian economy. I think these events
would become critical probably above 550 parts per million, but
these are very difficult calculations to make. One would really
want to take a precautionary approach and avoid even testing whether
we are likely to go into those sudden climate change events. The
second part of your question was connected to the United States.
I personally have little doubt that unfortunately, as time moves
on, the global warming events, such as the very high temperatures
in Europe over the last summer and the flooding that occurred
two years before, these severe events, will occur more frequently
and the understanding of what is driving this will become more
apparent. I think nations around the world will understand that,
in order to reduce the risks, action will have to be taken. Amongst
those nations has to be the United States, which is currently
responsible for emitting about one-quarter of the world's carbon
Q111 Chairman: In point of fact, although
one is very well aware of the refusal of the United States or
President Bush at the moment to sign up to Kyoto, an awful lot
of money is being spent by industry on trying to reduce carbon
Sir David King: There are two great positive
things happening in the United States, at least, two large categories.
One is action from the centre on the development of technologies,
and in particular in the Department of Energy, where I have very
close contacts. The work on the hydrogen fuel economy and other
work on renewable technologies, which we are engaged on with them,
is being very heavily funded from the centre. I do believe Under
Secretary David Garland is going to place himself into a position
where if the Administration is saying, "We will have to reduce
our emissions by X amount", they would be able to deliver
as a result of the technological developments that are occurring.
The second really positive factor is happening in the individual
states in the United States, particularly down the eastern and
western seaboards, but Texas, interestingly enough, has recently
joined us, where individual states are committing themselves to
actions similar to that which the United Kingdom is taking, to
reduce emissions themselves. When California commits itself that
is a very substantial contribution to CO2 reduction that we can
see in the pipeline.
Q112 Lord Carter: Do you think the elements
of uncertainty that exist still in the international community
are due to there being gaps in the science exploring climate change,
or is it the case that there is much research, but it is not being
used effectively by policy makers to develop an appropriate response?
Sir David King: In terms of where the scientific
community stands, this has been a very long-running process. Arrhenius,
a theoretical chemist whom Lord Lewis will certainly know about,
was the first person to do a calculation to indicate, if CO2 levels
rose due to fossil fuel burning, what the temperature rise around
the globe would be, and he estimated that a doubling would lead
to a 5o centigrade rise, and that was in 1896. We have been looking
at this for some time and in some detail. The latest calculations
bear out Arrhenius rather accurately. In 1938 the British meteorologist,
Callender, said: "Global warming is already occurring. Arrhenius
was right and it is due to fossil fuel burning." We have
had Jim Hansen say to the United States Congress in 1988 that
he was 99 per cent sure that global warming would occur and it
would be due to fossil fuel burning. I could repeat through the
years the number of times scientists have made these statements.
I have to say that over the last 10 years we have now had 10 of
the hottest years on record over the last 2,000, and all of those
predictions are now coming true, unfortunately, so we are getting
the experimental results that were predicted. The scientific community
has reached a consensus. I do not believe that amongst the scientists
there is a discussion as to whether global warming is due to anthropogenic
effects. It is man-made and it is essentially fossil fuel burning,
increased methane production, largely due to the way we produce
food, and also NOx gasessulphur dioxide, CFCs and so on.
It is largely man-driven, and there is a consensus. However, there
is still a need for further science, not to delay action but there
is a need for further science because, for example, the United
Kingdom needs to know what we need to do to put up defences against
the effects of climate change that will occur. In order to do
that, we need the best possible estimates of what changes are
ahead for us. I think that the answer to your question is: the
science is done, it is complete and Weart's book is a beautiful
account of how that has been done. It is a matter of political
understanding. I am not simply putting it across to the politicians;
I do think it is up to the scientists to explain as clearly as
they can what the issue is.
Q113 Lord Carter: If the scientific evidence
is so strong, would you like to explain to the Committee why you
think the policy makers are either not understanding it or not
acting on it?
Sir David King: I think there is a very real
concern that there will be a substantial cost to economies in
meeting the reductions in CO2 emissions that are required. Our
own estimates in the UK Government are that, in order to reduce
our emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, it is likely that it would
cost no more than 0.52.0 per cent of GDP, or half of an
annual growth in GDP over that whole period. That is a very small
amount and absolutely in the noise of the economic forecast. In
fact, we can also argue that triggering new technologies into
process could improve the economy. I think it is very difficult
to call the economic arguments but I do think that is the biggest
problem . I do not want, though, to ignore the lobbyists who do
fight very hard. There is a very frank lobbyist whose name is
Frank Luntz, who has a website in which he appeals to his supporters
for action. I just quote from his most recent website. It says:
"The scientific debate is closing against us, but not yet
closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the
science". These lobbyists I think are funded not by the oil
companies based in the United Kingdom but very largely by an oil
company based in the United States.
Q114 Chairman: Who is that?
Sir David King: Exxon.
Q115 Lord Lewis of Newnham: Briefly, I would
not disagree with anything that Sir David has said. I do feel
he has given a very good assessment. I do feel, of course, the
main difficulty with science is that you can never actually prove
anything; all you can do is disprove something. You are in a dilemma
here when you are trying to deal with certain types of arguments
that come forward. May I just ask the question: it seems to me
that one of the important features to me about this particular
area is that we are talking about timescales of 2020 or 2050 and
the possibility of new technology appearing is really quite significant.
I am reminded of the fact that if you now look at one of the modern
techniques to get rid of NOx, which is to take TiO2 and bury it
in concrete or something of that nature, and then you utilise
a chemical reaction of light activation. This is now being used
by the Japanese as a method of reducing NOx emissions. This has
also been applied to paints, for instance on buildings. These
are quite revolutionary concepts which are not within our present
ken. My point is: I hope that there is money being put into various
of the research councils to ensure that this sort of work will
be continued. It is very speculative, I realise, but it does seem
to me that you only have to get one of these things turning up,
for instance the storage of hydrogen would be a very important
consequence and possibility, or even the storage of electricity
other than by batteries, things of this nature, and you have an
open-ended question in front of you.
Sir David King: May I take the two questions?
The first was "you can prove anything"; I might take
that as a note of scepticism and so let me respond to it.
Q116 Lord Lewis of Newnham: I said you cannot
prove anything by science.
Sir David King: What I simply wanted to say
is: however, what is very sound science is to have a theoretical
methodology and experimental measurements. That is precisely what
has been done here with prediction. The predictions from the Hadley
Centre, for example, back in the 1980s have really come true.
They predicted the temperature rise that has occurred over the
last ten years and, within this theoretical framework, we have
a rather good understanding of this complex climate change. However,
non-linear effects come in and that is what leads to sudden climate
change. That is why more research needs to be done. The new unexpected
technologies: that is absolutely right. When I first got this
job, I set up an Energy Research Review team to look at the current
state of energy research in the UK. We found, my Lords, something
very unnerving, which is that, faced with the climate change issues,
the UK's investment in energy research had dropped very sharply.
The reason for that is very simple. The Central Electricity Generating
Board had been privatised and the utilities, as they took it over,
shut down the research laboratory that they had inherited. The
net result is that our major repository of energy research, which
was within the Central Electricity Generating Board, has closed
down. We proposed the establishment of a new UK energy research
centre. I am not arguing against the liberalisation of our energy
resource but what we did not do at that time was forecast what
would happen to energy research as a result of that. We are picking
up on this. A new UK energy research centre I hope will be announced
within a few weeks. There has been a competition. That UK energy
research centre will have quite significant funding. In the first
few years, the funding may not appear sufficient, looking at the
size of the problem. Nevertheless, there will be something of
the order of £50 million there. I would like to see, and
I am talking to the utilities about this, the utilities contributing
to the funding of energy research. It is in their own interests
and I am talking to them along those lines, and also, our big
energy companies: BP, Amoco and Shell. I think that we can persuade
these companies to join with the research councils in funding
Chairman: Sir David, thank you very much. We have
to move on in a moment to what the EU is doing, because that is
Q117 Baroness Maddock: Sir David, you have
talked about the situation in America. I wonder if you could tell
us about Russia and how the scientists there view this issue and
how they interact with politicians and policy makers?
Sir David King: We are interacting at many levels
with Russia. Let me preface my comment by saying that our interaction
with Russia is terribly important because if Russia signs up to
the Kyoto Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms will come into
play automatically. It is critically important that we persuade
the Russians to sign up. We were expecting them to sign up when
they organised a climate change conference in Moscow in November,
but they did not, and so I can take your question in the manner
of: why did they not sign up? I believe one reason was given by
their Economics Minister who referred back to this question of
the cost to the country. Previously it was thought that Russia
would gain financially from the emissions trading because their
emissions since 1990 had actually gone down as their economy had
spiralled downwards. However, their economic forecasting now indicates,
with the re-charging of their economy and its growth, that they
may become economic losers in the longer term. Although there
is a short-term financial benefit, I am afraid I think the economic
argument is overtaking the scientific argument in Russia.
Q118 Baroness Billingham: I have two very
quick points. I was interested in your response about the United
States where you said that you felt your litmus test was when
California started to take note. I suspect it will more important
when Florida does. The second thing that I would like to say to
you is this. One of the things that we have given ourselves is
a determination that we want to be useful in this report in influencing
public opinion. You have obviously led the way in this in the
last few days, but your public opinion is of a certain strata.
In order really to be positive and helpful in this area, we felt
that, in shorthand, we had to look at the Daily Mail audience.
We really do feel that we want to engage in the public debate
on this in a way that there has not been a debate in the past.
One of the reasons why there has not been a proper debate is as
you have already said: there is conflicting evidence and people
switch off when they hear one side and then the other side and
they do not know which side to take. As the evidence grows stronger
and stronger, we feel that our report should be stronger and stronger.
I would like you to comment on that.
Sir David King: I think that this is an area
where the scientific community is at one. I do not think there
is a conflict here within the scientific community that really
measures up to the basic question: is climate change serious?
Is it caused by our use of fossil fuels? I do not think you will
find any significant scientist questioning the answers to those
questions. In terms of the public debate, I could not agree more.
In fact, my visit to the United States that has caused a bit of
interest was really built around the premise that it was rather
important to reach out to the American public. Through the visit,
which was organised through our Embassy in Washington and also
through the Foreign Office and the British Council, we made an
enormous impact at the AAAS meeting in Seattle. I certainly had
an audience well in excess of 1,000 peopleand these are
people who are movers and shakers in the United States. Contrary
to what you might have heard, I did face quite a few press briefings
and in the United States press quite a bit of what I said at those
briefings was quoted widely.
Q119 Lord Crickhowell: Sir David, in your
memorandum, not surprisingly with your background, you put enormous
emphasis on the need for research. You talk about the need for
a step change in energy efficiency and a radical shift from the
use of fossil fuels to low carbon energy generation. You talk
about in the longer term the EU policy goal of new and renewable
energy sources, the new carriers, such as hydrogen. We have talked
about the United States and about Russia. We have talked about
the UK research. I want to bring you now to the subject of our
own inquiry, which is: how can the EU enhance the research and
development efforts that are already under way in Member States,
and indeed outside Member States? What is it that the European
Community can do to get the kind of research effort that we really
need on the scale that clearly you indicate is required?
Sir David King: I will take your question in
two ways: one is through the Framework Programme funding. The
current level of funding is
over four years. This is a fairly significant sum, but then I
have to point out that in the previous framework programme it
2.125 billion, and so it has not increased as we
have moved along in time, and we do need to keep pressure on Brussels
to see that this budget is increased, in my view. It is, however,
a significant budget. I think the UK is beginning to attract a
bigger proportion of that funding, just to take a UK view of it.
m. Source: Indicative budget FP6 COM 2002 draft of
Interservice working group on communication.
3 Note by Witness: The EU/UK aim is to stabilise
greenhouse gas concentrations at a level which prevents temperatures
exceeding 2°C above pre-industrial levels and that stabilisation
of CO2 at concentrations below 550ppm should guide mitigation
efforts. The IPPC synthesis report (to the Third Assessment Report)
shows a range of impacts that we can expect for different stabilisation
scenarios but does not suggest a stabilisation target that should
be adopted. Back
Note by Witness: FP6 Budget; sustainable development, global
change and ecosystems-2120 Back