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

Annex 2

The Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment

  1.  Research on climate change has been a central theme of both economic and interdisciplinary research within CSERGE. The objectives have been to examine the causes and consequences of climate change at global and local scales and to derive policy implications for the UK EU and other regions. The research has led to theoretical development and understanding of climate as a global environmental issue as well as insights into the fundamental role of mitigation and adaptation strategies and resilience capacity across different spatial and temporal scales. The importance of this research area reflects the reality that climate change is a key long term environmental regulatory issue. This is both because of the importance of adaptation to increase climate risks and because decoupling of economic activity from energy intensity is an important sustainability goal in both climate and other contexts. Some of the most important collaborative links in this field have come through interdisciplinary research such as with the Climatic Research Unit and Centre for Environmental Risk at UEA. These links have ensured that researchers from both social and natural science traditions have developed understanding of the broader climate change policy and scientific debates while ensuring that they remain at the forefront of cutting edge developments.

  2.  This research work has not concentrated specifically on the question of the scientific validity or otherwise of the global climate circulation models. However, much of the work has highlighted the need for "regional" scale climate predictions and problems caused by the current uncertainty that surrounds the magnitude and significance of climate change impacts at the "regional" scale and below. The Centre has also looked at decision-making procedures given the existence of this scientific and social/political uncertainty.

  3.  CSERGE's work has not been orientated towards an assessment of alternative scientific explanation of climate change. However, it has been investigating the interconnections between the different factors that in combination provide the impacts profile. For example, there are strong impacts links between climate change and ozone depletion in the context of lifestyle and recreation/tourism adaptations and potential human health risks (see CSERGE Working Paper PA 98-05: I Langford, S Moulden-Horrocks, R J Day, A L McDonald, I Bateman and C Saunders, 1998. Perceptions of Risk of Malignant Melanoma Skin Cancer from Sunlight: a comparative study of young people in the UK and New Zealand, pp 20).

  4.  The majority of CSERGE work in the area of climate since 1991 has focused on two issues—the relevance of a climate change agreements as a international means of reducing potential impacts; and the impacts of climate change. By way of illustration, research on the first of these (mitigating measures and reduction of emissions explored both emissions and policies directly as well as exploring the integration of emission reduction with other environmental goals—the so-called secondary benefits of climate control and the double dividend debates. This latter work demonstrated empirically that policy measures in the European context are desirable from a broad environmental perspective, hence contributing to the debate on potential carbon taxes in Europe. Policy research in the period following the signing of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) in 1992 also demonstrated potential double dividend benefits of carbon taxes.

  5.  A large amount of research concentrated on the important interaction of greenhouse gases with land use. This issue highlighted the equity and historical responsibility issues in the causes of climate change. Comprehensive research in this area developed an understanding of policy measures and models of the carbon cycle through changing land use. The first inventory of total carbon fluxes from the UK which included land use change, hence relevant to commitments under the FCCC, was published in Ambio. Interdisciplinary modelling showed that UK afforestation and other land use change in the post war period had been a net source of carbon to the atmosphere rather than a sink. Policy measures for methane reduction were also considered. These were published in interdisciplinary journals and in a major monograph entitled Land Use and the Causes of Global Warming.

  6.  The major economic efficiency argument for policy action on climate change requires an assessment of both costs and benefits of avoiding potential climate change impacts. CSERGE researchers pushed forward the boundaries of knowledge in this area by developing models based on stochastic distributions of likely impacts rather than previously used assessments of mean or best guess impacts, which the climate change scientific community had highlighted as being inadequate. At the global scale this work generated controversy in the political context of the IPCC, but argued categorically that economic analysis has a clear role to play in policy development and understanding of the issue. CSERGE has looked further into the efficiency and equity trade-offs that were highlighted during the IPCC debates. Major papers in this area were published in interdisciplinary journals such as Environment and Planning A. Energy Policy, Energy Journal, Environment and Development Economics, and Environmental and Resource Economics, and a successful Earthscan volume entitled Valuing Climate Change: the Economics of the Greenhouse.

  7.  CSERGE research on climate change has been responsive to the changing policy environment and in tandem has developed theoretical insights. The FCCC through the 1990s has shown that monitoring and enforcement and implementation are key issues. In addition, the 1995 IPCC second assessment report concluded that there was perceptible anthropogenic climate change and hence the world is committed to future uncertain impacts. Thus the CSERGE climate research agenda has developed in the current phase of CSERGE to examine issues of compliance and monitoring and understanding of adaptation and resilience of social systems.

  8.  Research funded by the GEC Programme has focused on developing an interdisciplinary understanding of social vulnerability to climate change. The empirical part of this work has focused on Vietnam and small island states. CSERGE was a major contributor to the Commonwealth Secretariat's work on vulnerability, including the vulnerability to climate change. Through present day and historical analogy the Vietnam work has demonstrated that the social resilience to climate change is determined by the structure of the economy mediated by the institutional context. In Vietnam this institutional context is evolving rapidly in the transition from central planning to market economy and has been demonstrated to lead to significant changes in dimensions of vulnerability and social resilience to climatic extremes. Vietnam is an agrarian centrally planned country in the process of transition to a market economy. The impact of short term variability and extreme events in Vietnam is maximised when it coincides with external social forces which cause disruptive change. The analysis has highlighted the winners and losers in adaptation, based on the concepts of entitlement and social vulnerability. Vulnerability is defined as the exposure of individuals or collective groups to livelihood stress as a result of the impacts of climate extremes and climate change. The field based research in a district in northern Vietnam indicated that baseline social vulnerability has been increased because of the economic transitions to a market economy ie the breakdown of collective community-scale action to mitigate coastal flooding and erosion; incremental income inequality, and increased investment in enterprises such as aquaculture, which in some ways is more at risk than more traditional farming enterprises. Offsetting these trends are other institutional changes which are serving to decrease vulnerability on a longer term basis. This research was appraised as "outstanding" which signifies "high quality research making an important contribution to the development of the subject" (ESRC evaluation, March 1997). The wider development context and the management of environmental risk in the context of rapid economic growth is explored for this critical region in a forthcoming volume in the Routledge Global Environmental Change series.

  9.  Research on the amenity value of climate has focused on using revealed preference techniques to uncover the value of marginal changes in climate variables to households, agriculture and British tourists. A paper has analysed the links between land prices in Italy and seasonal values of climate variables such as sunshine, mean temperature and precipitation. In addition research sponsored by the Department of the Environment (now Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, DETR) has explored present day analogies to climate change by examining the impact of the 1995 hot summer in the UK in an interdisciplinary study including health, agriculture, tourism and other sectors; and has appraised the impact of mean sea level changes on the UK coast.

  10.  CSERGE has also undertaken research which integrates several academic disciplines, such as epidemiology, psychology, economics and statistics to gain insight into the links between social, economic and health impacts of global issues such as climate change and ozone depletion. These impacts are intricately interlinked, as perception of risks feeds into attitudinal and behavioural responses to environmental threats which have impacts on people's health and socio-economic status. Methodologies have been applied from epidemiology, using population—averaging approaches to estimate the risk burden from a particular environmental factor; from psychology and economics using individual-based approaches; and from sociology and anthropology, including cultural theory using group-based approaches. These results have then been integrated to give a more holistic picture of the nature of environmental risks, the potential impacts on a particular society and the responses which can be made to counteract adverse effects.

  11.  Epidemiologically, CSERGE has investigated the health impacts of climate change, such as changes in winter and summer morbidity and mortality from changes in temperature due to global warming, and has undertaken meta-analysis of air pollution. Particular attention has been focused on food poisoning risks, and evidence points to the fact that higher summer temperatures increase the risks to consumers right through the food production process, from the infection burden carried by animals on their way to slaughter, through the food processing industry to the consumer and retail outlets. The impacts of exposure to ultra-violet radiation from sunlight and the incidence of malignant melanoma skin cancer have also been investigated, and different relationships between exposure and incidence have been found in different European countries. These differences depend on attitude to sunbathing, behaviour in hot weather, clothing style and genetic differences, with fair-skinned populations in Northern Europe being at particular risk. Research in CSERGE in collaboration with the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cell Mutation Unit, University of Sussex, has also linked sunlight exposure with increased mutations in human cell lines which may be important in other forms of cancer. Another research strand has focused on the social burden and health impacts of a variety of air pollutants.

  12.  To date many studies have worked on a combination of future climates scenarios based on present human activities. However, as climate changes, so will the underlying economic, social and environmental contexts in which change is experienced, in a "co-evolutionary" fashion. A new area of research has developed within CSERGE in the last year on the use of scenarios as a tool for exploring adaptation and vulnerability to climate change. UK scenarios developed by SPRU for the Office of Science and Technology were adapted for use in three related projects. The first of these was a DETR funded project to develop non-climate scenarios for a more comprehensive assessment of future possibilities, intended to aid climate change impacts research and national and regional policy-making. Secondly, socio-economic and climate scenarios for the 2020s and 2050s were developed for the East Anglia region in conjunction with the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Expertise of regional stakeholders were called upon in individual interviews and two group workshops to assess the usefulness and practicality of the scenario approach, as a research tool and an aid for decision makers in thinking about the future climate with a view to their present activities. Also, the framework of the scenarios developed at UK level was used as a basis for setting out a range of possible "futures" of Europe in terms of social, economic and political characteristics. The aim was to spark discussion among policy-makers and actors on the impact of their operations in the long term and possible changes to their current operations in the view of different possible future outcomes. So far this work has been written up in a report on the ACACIA project (A Concerted Action Towards a Comprehensive Climate Impacts and Adaptation Assessment for the European Union), Parry, M, (ed,) 1999. Assessment of the Potential Effects of Climate Change in Europe (ACACIA Project), October 1999, and in a Report with SPRU to the DETR. It will also feature in contributions to the IPCC Third Assessment Report.

  13.  Interdisciplinary coastal zone management research at CSERGE, bridging socio-economic and natural sciences, has been undertaken on a range of geographical and institutional levels (global, regional, national and local levels) through partnerships with a number of organisations and networks. At a global level, for example, the Centre remains a leading contributor to initiatives such as the Coastal Zone (LOICZ). Core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). One of the long-term objectives of this initiative is to assess how the responses of coastal systems to global change will affect the habitation and use by humans of coastal areas and to develop further the socio-economic basis for the integrated management of the coastal environment. CSERGE has been and continues to be instrumental in the development of such methodologies (including the publication of guidelines/handbooks) for evaluation in integrated coastal zone management in order to assist managers and decision-makers. These methodologies are currently being assessed utilising case studies by institutes across the globe.

  14.  Of the studies undertaken at a national level one example is a project, still in progress, evaluating trade-offs between users or marine protected areas in the Caribbean. Islands such as these are heavily dependent on their natural resource base and as such are vulnerable to environmental change. This work is developing a methodology for assessing conflicts and trade-offs between different uses and user groups thereby providing information about development options to decision makers. Funded by the DfID this work builds on collaborative work between the UEA (Overseas Development Group, School of Development Studies), CSERGE and the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Department of Zoology.


  15.  Central to CSERGE's activities is a commitment to communicating and sharing the outputs of its academic research programme as widely as possible and especially to stakeholders and decision-makers in relevant sectors. CSERGE staff have therefore devoted much time and effort to creating and maintaining effective communication and dissemination links. The purpose of the dissemination strategy is to cater for the wide variety of needs displayed by the Centre's user groups, to communicate the findings of the research programmes in different formats and through a range of channels; to be flexible enough to adapt to the changing requirements of established users; and to identify and service new users. CSERGE also sees the sharing of research findings and ideas within the ESRC's GEC Research Programme and other relevant networks as an important component of its work.

  16.  Consequently, CSERGE climate change research findings have been disseminated widely via a combination of publications of the highest academic standard in peer-reviewed journals and as books/book chapters; publications which are specifically targeted at broader non-academic audiences; public lectures, seminars, conference presentations, training courses and direct advice to government, NGOs, business and other users; networking with others (locally, nationally and internationally), notably in government, NGOs and the active civil society on environmental problems; and in some cases through appearances in the broadcast and print media, and by direct mailing.

  17.  Through such means the climate change research field has been strongly influenced by CSERGE work on for example international environmental agreements, damage valuation and vulnerability. This has been achieved through the Centre's major contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other fora. In the IPCC Second Assessment Report of 1995, CSERGE researchers were convening, lead and contribution authors in four major chapters across Working Groups II and III. CSERGE's climate change work has also received recognition in membership of the Scientific Organising Committee, United Nations Staff College Project on International Environmental Agreements, Turin, 1997-98 and an advisory role to the United Nations Environment Programme, Effectiveness of Multilateral Environmental Agreements Committee 1997-98. The high profile of this work has continued recently with contributions to IPCC special reports and working groups, including the 1998 Costa Rica meeting on Adaptation to Climate Variability and Change. CSERGE researchers also contributed to the Batelle Institute study of social sciences and climate change, as well as to a number of International Geosphere Bioshpere (IGBP) programmes, most notably Land Ocean Interface in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ) and the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP). In Europe, research has been carried out for EU DGVI (Agriculture) on climate change mitigation strategies for land use resulting in the volume Climate Change Mitigation and European Land Use Policies.

  18.  In the UK the regional climate change scenarios work mentioned above has been disseminated via two presentations: a Workshop: "Future changes in the East Anglian region", hosted by the Environment Agency Anglian Region, Peterborough, 30 April 1999; and a Conference "A better quality of life. The future of sustainable developments in the East of England", 22 October 1999, held to launch the new East of England Sustainable Development Round Table.

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