Memorandum submitted by the Biotechnology
and Biological Sciences Research Council
1. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences
Research Council (BBSRC) was established by Royal Charter in April
1994. It is a non-Departmental public body principally funded
by the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science
and Technology and through the Science Budget. BBSRC-sponsored
Institutes receive a proportion of their funding from the Ministry
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) by means of research
commissioned on a consumer/contractor basis and research support
from other Government Departments, the EU and industry.
2. The Council's mission is:
to promote and support high quality
basic, strategic and applied research and related post-graduate
training relating to the understanding and exploitation of biological
to advance knowledge and provide
trained scientists and engineers which meet the needs of users
and beneficiaries (including the agriculture, bioprocessing, chemical,
food, healthcare, pharmaceutical and other biotechnology-related
industries) thereby contributing to the economic competitiveness
of the UK and the quality of life; and
to provide advice, disseminate knowledge
and promote public understanding in the field of biotechnology
and the biological sciences.
3. Research is supported through responsive
mode grants to universities and academic analogues and through
provision of the Competitive Strategic Grant (CSG) to the BBSRC-sponsored
4. BBSRC research on climate change has
largely been focussed on the effects of change on microbes, plants
and animals, the potential impact on UK agriculture and strategies
for mitigation. The Agriculture and Food Research Council (AFRC)
initiated a programme in Biological Adaptation to Global Environmental
Change (BAGEC), which was taken up by BBSRC during re-structuring.
The programme ran in parallel to the Natural Environment Research
Council's (NERC) TIGER (Terrestrial Initiative in Global Environment
Research) programme. It provided support for research in the following
areas, relevant to agricultural systems:
the interaction between biological
processes (plant, animal and microbial) and fluxes (energy, water,
nutrients, gases) which influence climate;
the impacts of climate change on
plants, animals and microbes at the molecular, cellular, whole
organism and population levels, and;
the response measures that can be
taken to deal with such changes.
5. The programme was launched in 1992 at
a cost of £8 million over four years. In March 1997, at the
end of the programme, BBSRC held a dissemination event to communicate
results and conclusions to Government, the user community, other
scientists and the media.
6. Aspects of the programme have been taken
forward under the initiative "Resource Allocation and Stress
in Plants" which provides support of £3.7 million over
7. In preparing this response, views were
sought from Horticulture Research International (HRI) and the
following BBSRC-sponsored Institutes engaged in research relevant
to climate change: Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR),
Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), and
Silsoe Research Institute (SRI).
8. IACR includes within its portfolio work
concerned with the impacts of climate change on agriculture and
the associated environment and possible mitigation measures involving
changes in land management. The main topics of research are: climate
change impacts on crop production; opportunities for carbon sequestration
in soil through changes in land management; production of biofuel
crops to replace some fossil fuel use; effects of agricultural
practices on fluxes of the trace gases nitrous oxide and methane,
and the UK Environmental Change Network.
9. Research at the Institute of Grassland
and Environmental Research relates to the entire production cycle
for grassland-related agriculture. It includes studies on soils,
plants, animals and microorganisms and covers both mechanistic
and systems studies and integration with the needs of industry.
IGER North Wyke is also a participant in the Environmental Change
10. Silsoe Research Institute supports innovative
research in engineering, mathematics and physics for the agri-food
industries. Its business falls into four main areas: environment,
crop production, livestock and engineering for hygienic food processing.
11. Work on climate change at HRI has focused
primarily on the response of horticultural crops and systems to
components of climate change, for example UV-B.
12. BBSRC Office provides input into climate
change policy through its membership of the Inter-Agency Committee
on Global Environmental Change (IACGEC) and the Cross-Council
Group on Climate Change (CCGCC).
13. IACGEC was established in 1990 by the
Government's Chief Scientific Advisor and NERC provides the secretariat.
The Committee provides UK agencies funding GEC research with a
forum for discussion of relevant science and policy developments.
It published a national strategy in September 1996 and made a
report to the Chief Scientific Advisor in November 1999.
14. CCGCC was set up following the closure
of the Global Environmental Research (GER) Office in March 1998.
The GER Office had been established in 1990 in recognition of
the growing national and international interest in GER issues
and the need to coordinate UK responses to research opportunities
and challenges across the Research Councils. In taking the decision
to close the Office, it was recognised that as GER has expanded
to address impacts and solutions as well as detection and understanding
of change, there would still be a need to coordinate activities,
hence CCGCC was established. CCGCC ensures a collective brief
is provided for activities such as the International Group of
Funding Agencies (IGFA) and is charged with taking forward recommendations
of IACGEC, as required.
15. Results from BBSRC supported research
are published in international, peer-reviewed scientific journals
and reported at conferences and, in some cases, in media interviews
or articles in the popular scientific press or agricultural press.
All of this work will be accessible to Government advisors. It
would be anticipated that relevant data would be incorporated
into high-level models.
16. Government Departments, such as MAFF
or DETR, commission work at BBSRC-sponsored Institutes. In addition
to scientific publications, results from these projects are written
up in the form of reports to the funding body, thus the Department
concerned receives rapid and direct information on the findings.
17. Scientists from IACR have participated
in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "Carbon
dioxide emissions from soil: national inventories working group"
and Working Group II of the IPCC "Climate Change 1995Impacts,
Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical
Analyses". Specifically, they have contributed to:
The 1996 IPCC Revised Guidelines
for National Greenhouse Gas Accounting.
The Special Report on "Forestry
Land Use and Land Use Change" due for publication in 2000.
This is a key document that translates scientific information
into policy options for Government.
Climate Change 1995Impacts,
Adaptations and Mitigation of Climate Change: Scientific-Technical
Analyses, IPCC Working Group II Second Assessment Report, 1996.
18. The UK Environmental Change Network
was established in 1992 and now comprises 12 terrestrial and around
30 freshwater sites. The objective is to monitor environmental
changes, including climate and pollutants, and measure their impacts
on ecosystems. IACR-Rothamsted is one of the terrestrial sites
at which a standard set of measurements is made regularly using
standard protocols. Many of the terrestrial sites have long histories
of similar monitoring, some of the records at Rothamsted go back
over 150 years. Undertaking current monitoring and related research
within the context of well-characterised long-term sites maximises
the opportunities for detecting slow changes in ecosystem function
caused by gradual environmental change. Summaries are made widely
available via the ECN web site and annual reports are made to
19. The work funded under BAGEC has had
some effects upon impact predictions and it is likely that more
data will emerge, particularly associated with differential responses
between species and with soil-plant-atmosphere interactions. The
potential problem is that outputs are "random" being
based on new scientific information and thus there is no clean
policy line between funding, research outputs and impact predictions.
20. Emissions of the "greenhouse gases"
methane and nitrous oxide from livestock are thought to contribute
to global warming and MAFF has funded a series of studies to produce
a UK inventory of the total production of these gases from farmed
livestock and to identify possible abatement measures. The work
has resulted in a methodology for producing inventories of emissions
which is technically in advance of IPCC methodology and more accurate.
Results will be used by MAFF to develop policies and guidelines
to reduce emissions from agriculture to meet national and international
targets. The work highlights the need to model the overall effects
(over a variety of scales) of any measures that may be recommended,
before drawing up a policy; a systems approach is essential.
21. IACR has developed mathematical models
for assessing agricultural risk due to climate variability and
climate change. Studies on crop growth have covered both UK and
Europe with funding from MAFF and EU. As a basis for this type
of research, it is essential that the crop growth models used
are thoroughly validated. IACR scientists have been heavily involved
in international activities to test a range of models against
22. The only major international effort
to test soil carbon models using data from long-term experiments
was organised at IACR-Rothamsted.
23. IGER was involved in the development
of refined climate change models which also involved Universities
and the Met Office. IGER's MAFF contract was based on IPCC scenarios
and Met Office models to predict climate change. However, new
data is continually being produced which needs to be incorporated
and is a driver for new models.
24. More integrative studies have been supported,
eg by MAFF, which attempted to bridge the gap between mechanistic
studies and the basic predictions that were part of the early
IPCC models. Unfortunately, resources were limited confining investigators
largely to the application of existing models. It is suggested
that integrative modelling is still a major weakness.
25. DETR, for example, commissioned scenario
and impact assessment studies which were quite influential and
did represent a determined attempt to integrate across scales
and between sectors.
26. All the necessary building blocks for
a coordinated approach appear to be in place, from directed research
through to policy scenario and impact analysis. But there have
been problems, for example:
insufficient discussion of uncertainty
at any stage;
insufficient integration of research
provision into the analysis of impacts. This has been particularly
true of "scale-up" modelling;
impact analysis and the weighting
for policy purposes of rare but catastrophic events. Most impact
analysis applies the "trends in means" approach and
this may not be the most relevant for climatic variables; and
it was not always clear to those
generating the data who was going to use it and how or why.
27. All models are subject to uncertainty
and revision of global change scenarios will be a continuing feature
of advice on climate change.
28. IACR agrees with the IPCC analysis that
the upward trend in the earth's temperature is, at least in part,
driven by human-induced increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
It is aware that there is some evidence to suggest that non-anthropogenic
processes, such as changes in the energy output of the sun may
also contribute to the observed global warming. However, it is
fully in agreement with the IPCC view that the evidence for a
human-induced contribution is compelling and that the consequences
of climate change are so profound that it is essential that drivers
that are influenced by human activity be tackled.
29. Other researchers are more cautious
suggesting that there is considerable uncertainty about all but
the most global projections on climate change impacts. Since individual
groups of scientists have been asked to comment on specific functions,
the overviews tend to be fragmentary. In addition, Government
Departments tend to commission their own studies and it is unclear
how much cross-fertilisation there is.