Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)


  1.  The Economic and Social Research Council is a research funding agency, established by Royal Charter. Our mission is to promote and support high quality basic strategic and applied research in the social sciences, which meets the needs of users and beneficiaries. Over 65 per cent of our investments are guided by themes that reflect scientific and national priorities. These themes are reviewed regularly and are developed in consultation with academics, learned societies and research users in business, government and the voluntary sector.

  2.  At present, the ESRC has nine themes, one of which is Environment and Sustainability. Under this theme, two major investments that encompass issues of climate change have been funded over the past 10 years. These are the Programme on Global Environmental Change (GEC) co-ordinated at the University of Sussex and the Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE) at the University of East Anglia and University College London.

  3.  The ESRC has funded a considerable volume of high quality research that has acquired national and international recognition for its contribution to the understanding issues relating to climate change.


  4.  A list of the specific research grants, programmes and centres related to climate change research may be found in Annex 1. The focus of the research at CSERGE has been to examine the inter-relationships between social and economic factors and the resulting climatic changes, rather than on specific climate models. However, CSERGE note the relative shortfall of research on "regional" scale predictions, in particular the uncertainty of the magnitude of climate change impacts on this scale. A complete listing of the projects and outputs derived from CSERGE may be found in their detailed response to the Committee's concerns at Annex 2.

  5.  The GEC Programme has supported a broad range of research related to climate change. Topics include examining government regulations and economic instruments, transportation challenges and renewable energy impacts on climate change. One specific award to Robin Grove White and colleagues at the University of Lancaster supported under the GEC Programme and recorded in Annex 1 has addressed uncertainty with specific reference to the use of climate change models. Notable conclusions of this work include: "the common relative ordering of different climate models—which champions global climate models as the "ultimate" climate model—is not fully justified by scientific arguments alone, at least not for the simulation and projection of future climate change . . . the mutual reinforcement of particular scientific and policy approaches . . . will also raise questions about the relative merits of alternative scientific methods and styles . . . the definition of "good science" has held back some of the alternative approaches which could be further developed and used profitably in the widening climate science and policy domain." (Quotations from Shackley et al, Uncertainty, Complexity and Concepts of Good Science in Climate Change Modelling: Are GCMs the Best Tools?, Climatic Change 38 pp 159-205, 1998).

  6.  The ESRC in partnership with the Natural Environment Research Council and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, will be investing in a new Climate Change Centre this year which will provide new options for examining the interdependencies between the natural, social and economic environments.


  7.  The focus of ESRC-funded research has been on the economic and social contributions to—and consequences of—climate change, including the implications of scientific uncertainty, as noted above. However, the ESRC is not in a position to comment directly on alternative scientific explanations of climate change trends.


  8.  ESRC funded research has contributed considerably to government policy at both national and international levels. These contributions have been made in publications, commissioned research and reports, submissions to inquiries, and through politician and official participation in numerous workshops and seminars organised by CSERGE and the GEC Programme. Many different communication methods have been used according to the audience. Full details of the outputs from CSERGE, for example are listed in Annex 2.

  9.  Of particular note are the contributions by CSERGE to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (both in 1995 and the current work) and its advisory role to the United Nations Environment Programme.

  10.  The Department of Environment, Transportation and the Regions have provided funding directly to CSERGE to develop scenarios which would assist regional and national policy-making. In addition, regionally based policy makers have participated in workshops to evaluate proposed socio-economic and climate scenarios in the East Anglia region and important contributions have been made to work on a European level. Paragraph 12 in Annex 2 gives further details.

  11.  The GEC Programme has been actively involved in making submissions to several parliamentary Committees. In 1999 these included the Environment Committee's Inquiry into the UK Climate Change Programme and the Environmental Audit Select Committee Inquiry into the UK Sustainable Development Strategy (1999).

  12.  The GEC Programme also published a Special Briefing in 1997 entitled "After Kyoto: Making Climate Policy Work" which was disseminated to almost 4,000 interested academics, government agencies as well as non-governmental organisations.

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