Examination of Witnesses (Questions 116
WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2000
MEACHER, MP, DR
116. Minister, welcome this afternoon to the
Science and Technology Select Committee and welcome too to the
colleagues you have with you. In just a moment, perhaps, I will
invite you to introduce them but can I just give you the setting
in which we are going to take evidence this afternoon? We embarked,
in this Committee, some time ago on a major inquiry into the scientific
advisory system to government. We decided that we would publish
the chapters of each section as and when we had completed them
and we had conclusions. Our first one was on genetically modified
foods, as you may recall. Our second one was on mobile telephones.
Our third one was on diabetes and the driving licence. Our fourth
one is scientific advice on climate change. I hope that you have
been briefed on the fact that we are not going to debate the whole
issue of whether there is or whether there is not climate change.
We are assuming there is climate change; we are assuming there
is global warming; and we are assuming that it has come about
by increased CO2 and other climate change gases. Having
those givens, we can then look at what advice government is receiving,
the quality of it and how it is reacting to it. We do not wish
to go into a great, lengthy debate about whether there is or is
not, because we will never get through it. This is our fourth
chapter and our final chapter in this scientific advisory system
inquiry that we are very nearly finishing at the moment. That
said, Minister, having welcomed you, would you kindly introduce
your colleagues to us?
(Mr Meacher) Thank you very much, Chairman.
It is a great pleasure, if rather a daunting one, to appear before
a Committee all of whose members are prefixed by "doctor".
I am not one myself. On my left is David Warrilow, who is head
of science policy of the Global Atmosphere Division of the Department.
On my right is David Fisk, who is chief scientist and responsible
for central strategy.
117. And is a doctor?
(Mr Meacher) Yes. I am daunted by that too.
118. You submitted a memorandum to us last March.
I wonder if you would like to update us on developments of climate
change since that memorandum was sent to us?
(Mr Meacher) I am sure my colleagues will know more
about this than me but one document which I thought I would bring
with meI had not expected it to be so immediately relevantis
this which is Climate Change, an Update of Recent Research
from the Hadley Centre, dated November 2000. This had a remarkable
effect. I just returned a few weeks ago from a bruising week in
The Hague discussing this matter and again in the last couple
of days in teleconferencing with the United States and others
on the same subject in Brussels. One of the issues which came
up at The Hague was the evidence presented by the Hadley Centre
there on the predictions of accelerated climate change resulting
from interactions with the carbon cycle, the fact that the gradually
accelerating pace of climate change affects the operation of carbon
sinks, because it accelerates the speed at which forests die back,
and that has an immediate impact on the degree of sequestration
in absorbing carbon and therefore being permitted as one of the
means by which countries can reach their targets. Perhaps I could
read this paragraph, since it had quite an impact at the conference:
"However, the results do clearly show that the beneficial
effect on climate of the additional carbon sinks created by afforestation
and reforestation"which many countries have been relying
on quite extensively"may be at least partially offset
by changes in the surface reflectivity as dark trees replace land
cover that was lighter in colour. Consequently, in many areas,
the climate benefits of planting extra trees will not be as great
as their carbon sink potential suggests." Since that was
probably the single biggest issue of contention between the European
Union and the umbrella group, particularly the United States,
that is a glowing testimony to the impact of the Hadley Centre
as a prime contractor of research in impacting on the policy process.
It had a major impact at The Hague.
119. This is a new argument that has only appeared
in the last few months or so. It is a very challenging argument
in the sense that everybody thought that afforestation or cutting
down tropical rain forests were intimately linked, part of the
problem and part of the solution. This idea of surface reflectivity
is a physicist's idea, not a biologist's idea and I think it gets
at the root of what may be a problem in the Hadley Centre in that
is that it is packed with mathematicians and physicists and does
not really have the biologists. I am very sceptical of this. Is
there not potentially a big problem in the Hadley Centre in that
it is physical science based and does not have the biological
(Mr Meacher) My understanding is that it is increasingly
taking account of biological processes.
(Mr Warrilow) I would confirm that the Hadley Centre
is taking account more of biological process, but it is doing
this not by working in house so much on it but by working with
others who have expertise in this area. For example, the work
which is quoted in here and was published recently in Nature
on the feedback effects of the carbon cycle in climate change
was work which was carried out in conjunction with scientists
from the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh and
Wallingford, which indeed include people with a biological background.
We also have links with biologists who work at the Institute of
Oceanographic Scientists in Southampton, who are looking at the
carbon cycle in the ocean.