Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Examination of witnesses (Questions 128 - 139)

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH 1999

MR HENRY DERWENT, MR LESLIE PACKER AND MS GABRIELLE EDWARDS

Chairman

  128.  This is the Committee's second session on the United Kingdom climate change programme. I welcome you to the Committee and ask you to identify yourselves.
  (Mr Derwent)  My name is Henry Derwent. I am Director of Environment: Risks and Atmosphere in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I have with me Mr Leslie Packer on my right, who is Divisional Manager with responsibility for sustainable energy policy and on my left is Gabrielle Edwards, who works in our Global Atmosphere Division.

Mr Forsythe

  129.  Why does the United Kingdom climate change programme not consider measures to deal with adaptation to climate change in addition to policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases?
  (Mr Derwent)  It is a little early to say that on the basis of the consultation paper which we put out. The consultation paper focused very much on mitigation; in other words, things that could be done in various parts of the economy to reduce the total of our emissions. Obviously, we have an international obligation to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases in the United Kingdom, and adaptation is not a substitute for that. However, adaptation is an extremely important part of any country's overall response to climate change and the new programme that we shall be putting together in part as a result of, and certainly informed by the consultation process, will cover adaptation responses as well as mitigation. We have established research programmes—in particular the UK Climate Impact Programme at the University of Oxford—to help any form of organisation to assess what their own vulnerability is to climate change and to help them plan appropriate adaptation strategies. We are talking about flood defences or whatever. I think you will find that adaptation becomes more part of the argument and more part of the overall message from Government as this process of formulating our programme goes through its stages.

  130.  I want to ask you something about the costs. What work has been done to estimate the costs of, for instance, the policy to reduce emissions, the impacts of climate change and policies to cope with the direct impacts of climate change?
  (Mr Derwent)  We have attempted, in the consultation paper itself, to address the costs associated with the various mitigation policies that we have talked about in the consultation paper. Obviously, one of the main purposes of the paper is to get people's reactions to, in some cases, the very tentative figures that we have put on the table. If they say, "No, it is not like that, it will cost us a great deal more", or "it will cost us a great deal less", then the purpose is to take that on board and feed that into the creation of a full scale programme. As to the costs of adaptation, the work that we are doing within the research programme that I have mentioned, and that other departments are doing, is aimed at working out some ball-park figures for various forms of adaptation, but it is, frankly, early days yet. These are very difficult figures conceptually to get right with any degree of accuracy. We accept the need to work on them and improve them and that is what we are doing.

Chairman

  131.  Could we actually have some figures?
  (Mr Derwent)  Some figures for——

  132.  The cost of reducing emissions, for example.
  (Mr Derwent)  I think you will find that there are figures throughout the paper addressing the costs of possible measures that might be taken, typically on a cost per tonne of carbon basis. Given my answer to the previous question, I am not sure whether it would be easy for us to put together a full set of costs for all the policies which we are adopting now exclusively for the propose of climate change. Perhaps I am misinterpreting the question.
  (Ms Edwards)  At the moment we do not have a total cost figure for meeting the total targets in the UK. We have been doing a bottom up analysis of the costs of particular options.

  133.  Could you speak up, please?
  (Ms Edwards)  Where we have costs for the options we have put them into the consultation paper to try to get views on those figures. As we move to a full programme, we shall have to start costing up the total cost of the programme which is a far more detailed piece of work. We shall be setting that in train as we develop the programme over the next few months.

  134.  Do you not think that it is important to give people a clear idea of what the programme might cost?
  (Mr Derwent)  Massively important. The trouble is that at the moment we really do not know. We have made the best estimates that we can for some of the proposals and policies that clearly ought to be part of the range of polices considered, but we are not yet at the stage of saying, "We are going to do this, this and this, and the total cost of all that is X". We shall certainly be much closer towards that ideal when we have taken on board the results of the consultation paper and when we have put together a programme for the UK climate change response. We are under no illusions about the importance of the answer to that question.

  135.  When do you expect to have that answer?
  (Mr Derwent)  We shall be putting together the draft programme in the light of the consultation paper responses over the next few months. As to when the paper will come out—the next stage is likely to be a draft programme, and we shall be seeking people's views on that draft programme—later this year is about the best that I can say at the moment. Obviously, Ministers want to know exactly what has been said in the consultation exercise so far and want to come to a view about what needs to be said in the programme itself.

Mr Brake

  136.  Presumably, within the same sort of timescale you will be producing the costs of not doing "this, this and this"?
  (Mr Derwent)  As best as we can. The costs of not doing "this, this and this" break down into two types, if I may say so. The first and most obvious is the cost for the UK of being overwhelmed by changes in the climate which could have been avoided as a result of the world adopting a number of policies of which our contribution is but a part. Trying to get that figure with any accuracy, I think you will see, on the basis of the way that I have described it, is harder, but we shall do the best that we can. The other cost is not so much a monetary cost as essentially a legal, international cost. We will be under an international obligation to meet a particular level of emissions reduction and the cost of not achieving that in terms of our international standing is that we will be open to accusations of breaking international law, which will not be negligible.

Mr Gray

  137.  We are talking about cost benefit analysis. You are actually saying, "What is it going to cost if we do it?", and in relation to your answer to Mr Brake, "What is it going to cost if we do not do it?" What are the benefits? Let us move on to the benefits and the targets. Am I right in thinking from my brief reading—although not all that brief—of the consultation paper that the baseline figure is already 10.5 per cent out of our 12.5 per cent target by 2010?
  (Mr Derwent)  We are doing pretty well in terms of the six gas basket mainly as a result, as is well known, of changes within the energy supply sector. The overall picture again in terms of the six gas basket is that at the moment we are about 7 per cent below the 1990 emission levels which are taken as a base for the purpose of the international procedures. We think that by the year 2000 we shall be at 12.5 per cent. However, by 2010 we think we shall be at about that 10 per cent figure. That probably reflects what you have seen. I should stress, however, that if you look from the point of view of carbon dioxide, carbon dioxide is not falling at quite the same rate. By 2010, in respect of carbon dioxide, our emissions are forecast only to be about 3 per cent below 1990 levels. In other words, we have done rather well from the inclusion in the target for the international procedures of the non-CO2 gases.

  138.  Off the top of my head I cannot remember the target, so could you remind me? Under Kyoto we had a six gas target of what and a CO2 target of what?
  (Mr Derwent)  I am afraid the answers to all these questions tend to be rather complicated.

  139.  I am a simple chap. You have 10 per cent of six gases by 2010. At the moment it looks like being 3 per cent of CO2? Is that right?
  (Mr Derwent)  From an international obligations point of view, it is 12.5 per cent below the 1990 levels for the six gas basket. We have focused a lot on CO2 here, partly as a result of the way that the commitment was put together for the Government's manifesto and partly because CO2 is, despite what I said about the supplemental benefit that we got from the other gases, the biggest, 80 per cent of the UK emissions and it is going in the wrong direction comparatively. It is something on which we are focusing. There are complexities about the status of the UK's current obligation under the Kyoto Protocol which is minus 8 per cent, as is the case for all the EU members, but there is a process, known in a rather unhelpful piece of jargon as "bubbling", which means that the EU re-defines its own targets between the Member States, so that 12.5 per cent is the UK figure.


 
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