Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2000
MEACHER, MP, DR
120. Minister, the United Kingdom Government
appears to be one of the first to accept that there has been a
major contribution to climate change brought about by man's activity.
Do you think that was because there was scientific advice on it?
Do you think it was a political decision that was thought to be
appropriate for political PR reasons, or do you think it was a
precautionary principle? For what reason do you think we have
been so in the vanguard of climate change action?
(Mr Meacher) The quality of performance of the Meteorological
Office and in particular of the Hadley Centre is highly relevant
here, but the persuasive impact on opinion worldwide does come
from IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which
provides the overall assessment of the science and of the impacts
and socio-economic responses to climate change. The Hadley Centre
is a prime contractor of research. It does research which is relevant
to IPCC, but IPCC of course is an international body; it is supported
by the work of several thousand scientists; it is peer reviewed
both in the journals and in the whole process. I would say that
that has been the major driver scientifically for changing opinion,
plus of course in the last three to five years actual experience
on the ground which has persuaded the general public that something
different and more serious is happening. The reason I think why
we have been able to take the lead in that processand after
all Sir John Houghton was the chair of working group one, which
is the most important of the three committees of IPCCis
because of the work done in this country, particularly by the
Hadley Centre which I would have said was a world leader, if not
the world leader.
121. One would hope that science well done and
properly presented could survive the change of government from
one political party to another, but bearing in mind that many
of the decisions that were taken on climate change were taken
by the previous administration, have you found any need to have
second thoughts about any serious aspects of what was done by
the previous administration? This is not a political question;
this is a science question.
(Mr Meacher) I would never think that of you and I
think that is a perfectly fair question. I am not aware of any
way in which we have changed our direction of policy. There have
been institutional changes but they might well have occurred anyway
under the last administration, not connected with the ideological
flavour of the Government. I entirely agree with you that I think
the science base is very secure; I think it is respected by all
the parties that form government and I do not think that any of
those parties would seriously interfere with the thrust of that
work. Certainly we would not.
122. When you want advice on some climate change
issue, do you always go to the Hadley Centre first or are there
other centres of excellence in particular areas that you would
go to first? How does it actually work in practice when an issue
comes up where you have to have a position?
(Mr Meacher) I repeat that the main source of information
is IPCC. The work of that body is based on a number of models.
They are increasingly being refined. If you say how do I get my
advice, I get it from the Department. That is based on the contracted
research, particularly at the Hadley Centre, but also on external
research and also on international peer assessment, for example
through the IPCC process again. In addition, I do have the privilege
of meeting scientists, albeit for too short a time. I opened the
Tyndall Centre in Norwich on 9 November and I did have some significant
discussions with scientists on that occasion. I only met them
for an hour or two, which is a very short period of time, but
those are the sources of information.
123. What is the Tyndall Centre going to do
that the Hadley Centre is not? Why should we have another centre
(Mr Meacher) It is an independent source of data.
It brings together climate change scientists, engineers, economists,
social scientists from nine higher education research institutions.
The aim is to develop radical new responses to climate change
and to try and inform the policy process better. In addition to
IPCC, in addition to the Hadley Centre, it is a way of brigading
research on climate change in an integrated way of relevance to
government and industry which is very helpful. However good the
Hadley Centre isand I think it is extremely goodto
rely exclusively on one body would be unwise in an area which
is so multifaceted and where it is so difficult to achieve an
absolutely comprehensive picture. There is also the point that
we are not just talking about understanding of facts and causes;
it is not just about cutting greenhouse gas emissions. It is also
about adaptation and that is a much wider issue. It is not just
about science; it is about socio-economic impacts and involving
public and local authorities.
124. How is the Tyndall Centre being funded?
What degree of permanency does it have?
(Mr Meacher) The Natural Environment Research Council
in the last spending review, SR2000, received an extra £39
million which funded investment in e-science applications in the
climate change field. It also paid for, I understand, research
into rapid climate change in north west Europe, which we are doing
alongside Norway. That is about changes in the North Atlantic
Ocean, but thirdly it paid for the Tyndall Centre. I am being
told it is £10 million over five years, but the source of
it is out of this last spending review.
125. How is the Hadley Centre reviewed? I believe
there is a ten year cycle. Where are we in that cycle now?
(Mr Meacher) It is being reviewed at the present time
because all major public institutions where significant sums of
public money are involved over a period of years are subject to
a rigorous review. The cycle is five years.
126. How independent is the Hadley Centre of
government? It sounds as if you are in love with each other.
(Mr Meacher) Only because of the quality of its advice
and because of its generally superior performance over other models
and its improved performance with further versions of the Hadley
model. All of that is for factual comparison with other models.
It is certainly not a private or personal view. To that extent,
I think we are dependent on it but I repeat it is all peer reviewed.
More and more material is written into the models on solar variability,
volcanic aerosols, the forcings due to major changes in land use,
carbonaceous aerosols. All of these are increasingly being incorporated
into the model and indeed I believe increasing comparisons with
palaeoclimate. In preparation for this, I was pleased to understand
that there is quite a lot of data about the climate in the mid-holocene,
9,000 years ago, and at the last major glacial maximum about 21,000
years ago. All of that is being incorporated increasingly to refine
the quality of the model and I think it is being done better here
than anywhere in the world. It is not perfect. Until we get an
absolute, total match between looking at what the theory predicts
on the basis of data should have been the pattern of global temperatures
over the last hundred years and it totally matches what we actually
experience, we will not have a completely perfect model, but it
is getting close to it. The addition of sulphate aerosols has
increased its effectiveness considerably.
127. There are some people who question peer
review now and it is maybe time for a good old look at it again,
at how effective it is, because science has changed very much
from the earlier days when peer review was first evolved. I want
to ask you about dissidents in this field. It is a field where
there is a lot of argument. Where do you pick up the dissidents
and the people who do not agree with the Hadley Centre or the
(Mr Meacher) I repeat again that we rely primarily
on the IPCC which uses a number of models, not one. To that extent,
you can say that we use a number of different models. The United
Kingdom climate impact change scenarios were largely modelled
on the Hadley change model, although with some adjustments, and
we have commissioned our own independent valuation of the Hadley
Centre through the Climatic Research Unit at the University of
East Anglia. Again, we have been careful not to put all our eggs
in one basket but to look for independent valuations, where appropriate.
I have to say I think the Hadley Centre comes out of all of this
128. Our main inquiry, of which this is part
four, is on scientific advice to government. Generally, these
advisory committees are independent of government, staffed with
academic experts and so on. In this area of climate change, the
role of the Hadley Centre and its closeness to government is a
very different model compared to some of the other committees
we have been looking at. Do you accept that the Government depends
very strongly, even overwhelmingly, on the Hadley Centre and that
there will be dangers if other advisory committees work so much
hand in hand with government?
(Mr Meacher) I do not feel that we are unduly dependent
on the Hadley Centre or that there is some close nexus which you
seem to be suggesting into government policy. There are many other
relevant bodies which are involved here.
(Dr Fisk) My enthusiasm is really to speak on behalf
of the IPCC. The IPCC is pretty well the formal equivalent of
the advisory committees that you are referring to. It provides
summary advice across the whole field, using probably what is
a gold plated process compared with the normal way of assembling
scientific advice in the United Kingdom. The Hadley Centre is
a research contractor that helps us on interim positions. But
there is no position that the Government has taken in any major
White Paper which is not actually to be found in the IPCC process,
which is, as colleagues have said, one of the most inclusive international
peer review systems in an open, transparent process that you can
find anywhere. That would be our model. If the Committee is looking
for models of advisory process, it would be the IPCC. The Hadley
Centre is part of that process. If the IPCC were to conclude that
the Hadley Centre model was worthy but not excellent, then we
would be taking the IPCC advice.
129. The danger of what I say is an incestuous
relationship with government in this area of advice would be compensated
for by the fact that it draws from the international advice?
(Mr Meacher) Can I ask why you feel that there is
an incestuous relationship? The very fact that it is all peer
reviewed in the journals and indeed through the peer review process
of IPCC means it is not as though they have an inside track into
government policy. I am not sure why you do not regard them as
independent in a proper, scientific manner.
Dr Williams: If there were other advisory committees
on, let us say, GM foods, BSE, nuclear power or in more controversial
areasfortunately here there is a wide consensus that goes
with the advice from the IPCCbut if this was the model
for other advisory committees being too close to government that
would have dangers of excluding dissidents as my colleague from
Norwich pointed out earlier, or just drawing the advice from something
that is government-funded and government-responsive, you may miss
130. Are the peer reviewers also government-funded?
(Mr Meacher) Not as far as I know. All of this material
is published and all of it can be reworked, examined and checked
by any others. That material will itself be published. This is
the normal scientific process. To that extent, it does seem that
the Hadley Centre is free from the claim of an over-cosy relationship
with government. I do not think it could develop, given the openness
and transparency of the whole process.
131. If the Hadley Centre is well set up and
well thought out in its staffing and the emphasis that it gives
to different fields, that would be fine, but the accusation has
been made that it is too much concerned with climate modelling.
There are very good mathematicians and physicists, very good models
of world class standard, but maybe it is missing out on biological
inputs. Could you give some idea as to the staffing of the Hadley
Centre in terms of these scientific disciplines? What proportion
of its employees, of its scientists, are from the biological,
ecological or environmental sciences as opposed to maths, physics
(Mr Meacher) I will ask my colleagues to answer that
because I cannot, but it is the case that there is a growing body
of work which has looked at the carbon cycle on oceans and land
and, in particular, the Hadley Centre has recently published a
paper about the interaction of the land biosphere and climate.
They have published material which showsand I was partly
quoting itthe large feedback that exists between climate
change and CO2 emissions from the biosphere. I do not
think it is over-dominated by physicists and mathematicians. David,
what proportion are there in the biological disciplines?
132. Mr Warrilow, you have touched on it earlier.
If you have difficulty giving a precise answer, we would be very
pleased to receive a letter from you but if you could give us
a ball park answer that would be very helpful.
(Mr Warrilow) I cannot give you a precise answer at
the moment. It is not admittedly the traditional discipline of
the Meteorological Office, of which the Hadley Centre is a part.
There is inevitably a preponderance of mathematicians and physicists.
That is correct, but the aim is to compensate for that by working
with other bodies who have the right expertise outside. We have
in the programme joint work with for instance the Institute of
Terrestrial Ecology, which is part of the NERC Centre for Ecology
and Hydrology and other organisations as well. That is the way
we compensate for that. There have been some people brought into
the Hadley Centre who have a background in the biological sciences
and in chemistry as well, because that is another important aspect
of climate change, but it is certainly not an attempt to make
the Hadley Centre do everything that can be possibly done in the
scientific disciplines because they are so wide and it is strategically
better to work with other bodies.
133. You will write to us?
(Mr Warrilow) We will.
134. If you could, when you write, not only
tell us what the situation is but tell us what your target would
be to change the situation in, say, two years' time, that would
(Dr Fisk) The Department's view is that one of the
strengths of the Department's programme on climate change is that
we have not focused all our funding on the Hadley Centre. The
Hadley Centre is probably a world class resource of the underlying
climate change predictions which are used by the climate impact
research community, but we have tried to avoid the Hadley Centre
being too closely involved in climate impact because it is not
a core skill inside the Hadley Centre. The programme over the
years developed by David Warrilow and his colleagues has been
to have a fast track process by which the Hadley Centre predictions
are put out into a very wide network in the United Kingdom and
elsewhere. You will notice that when the new Hadley Centre model
predictions come out, they are associated with an assessment of
what their impacts are, not by Hadley Centre staff, but by key
operational people within the wider NERC research community. That
has never been done anywhere else before and it is one of the
reasons why the Hadley Centre predictions are widely referred
to in American research literature. They are much more useful
to a much wider community. I think our own feeling is probably
that of the Committee's, that if we had simply made the Hadley
Centre the centre of everything it would become unstable and not
open to the broader challenge of the scientific community.
135. My line of questioning is in order to draw
out this criticism made of the British position in The Hague summit
that the role of carbon sinks is insufficiently recognised. Is
there a danger here that we are underestimating or misunderstanding
or government is not being sufficiently informed of the role of
(Mr Meacher) There was a great deal of discussion
about carbon sinks at The Hague and again this last weekend in
Brussels. The problem is that while sequestration undoubtedly
does occur through afforestation the degree to which you can attribute
percentages against targets for countries due to human management
of forests over and above natural phenomena is very uncertain.
There are also the key problems of scale, uncertainty and risks
involved with carbon sinks. It was our calculation that, whilst
Kyoto at a five per cent reduction would imply something like
a reduction of 250 million tonnes of carbon in a year, if we were
to allow sinks both in northern countries, in annex one countries,
and in the CDM and developing countries, that could increase the
permitted generation of CO2 by something like 1.8 billion
tonnes. To that extent, the whole question of scale is extremely
worrying. That is why we wanted a very, very cautious attitude
to this until the science can reliably show the relationship between
afforestation or reforestation and genuine absorption of carbon.
There is of course the whole question of high level burning of
biomass which we saw in Indonesia and Brazil a year or two ago,
where again more CO2 was discharged into the atmosphere
than probably the total savings of CO2 by action taken
by all the European countries. That is our concern, not to deny
it as a scientific process, but to say that it is very uncertain
as to what those relationships are. Secondly, the fact that accelerating
climate change may reduce the effectiveness of carbon sinks quicker
than we would like. Thirdly, destruction of rain forests by fire
is a double whammy in the opposite direction. You lose sequestration
of carbons and it is all generated into the atmosphere.
136. Was the deal brokered by the Deputy Prime
(Mr Meacher) Since I was heavily involved, I would
137. Could you explain to us the workings of
the IPCC and its relationship to government policy forming in
the United Kingdom and tell us why you evidently think it to be
an effective body?
(Mr Meacher) These reports which are authored reports
by scientists from around the worldI think 3,000 to 5,000
scientists are involved; it is on a very substantial scale and
they represent some of the most distinguished scientists in terms
of track record that you can find anywhereare the best
evidence available worldwide. We therefore take them extremely
seriously. Our own Hadley Centre and other bodies flow into that
but it is the sheer range and quality of the work. If you are
concerned with international acceptance, which is absolutely integral
here, if one is looking for openness, if one is looking for comprehensiveness,
I think IPCC is a very good process. It is very cumbersome and
time consuming, but where there is a degree of controversy, where
it is a very complicated, multifaceted subject, as it is here,
and where there is a need for nations to work together, I think
IPCC is just the right process.
138. Do you think there is a risk associated
with the consensus approach in that it may dilute the advice and
underestimate problems or results from global warming in the interests
of suppressing opinions to arrive at consensus?
(Mr Meacher) I think this is an area where dissidence,
as far as I know, is certainly not suppressed, where it has plenty
of opportunity for expression, where the media, somewhat perversely,
are probably giving far more inflation to the views of the dissidents
because it creates a story, because it is cocking a snook at the
general conventional wisdom than those who are refining what is
I think an extremely well founded and increasingly reinforced
core theory. I do not believe that dissidents' different views
are concealed. In fact, any serious, new evidence would not be
suppressed; it would become a major issue for scientific examination
and investigation across the world until it either could be explained
or, if it withstood the test, the theory needed to be changed
in some way.
139. How are national scientists selected to
participate in IPCC? Is it by the IPCC itself or does government
(Mr Warrilow) We are invited to nominate scientists.
We went to a large number of people, asking them if they would
like to be part of the process. There were something like 120
scientists who we nominated in the United Kingdom. The roles which
they actually play once they have been nominated are up to the
IPCC to choose. It is possible for people to nominate themselves
as well, so they do not have to go through government, although
it is important, usually because the IPCC is an inter-governmental
process. That is the first point of contact the IPCC has with
countries. Also, international organisations are invited to nominate
experts, so there is quite a wide range of input from across the
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