Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)



  260. We are keen to understand as clearly as we can the process and the scheduling of the project. In December what some have described as the "pro green nature" of the report was effectively leaked. Were you under any pressure at all to put a slightly different gloss on it from that point?
  (Mr Aldridge) There were no fundamental changes to the conclusions in the report through the successive drafts.

  261. No fundamental changes?
  (Mr Aldridge) No fundamental changes. Clearly, depending on the comments received on the report, it may be that one would want to reconsider particular conclusions, but in this case the draft conclusions did not change during the drafting process. What did change—various comments were received, for example, from members of our advisory group—was comments that helped us to improve the structure of the report and helped us to improve the analysis of the evidence that supported the conclusions and recommendations. Also a lot of work was put in to ensure that the report was as clear and as readable as it could be, so that the basis of the conclusions came through clearly to the reader.

  262. Were there any non-fundamental changes made to the report after the draft had gone to the Prime Minister?
  (Mr Aldridge) No, I do not think there were. It depends what you mean by "non-fundamental".

  263. I am using your own term.
  (Mr Aldridge) Clearly we were trying to improve the flow of the argument in the way in which we were deploying the analysis throughout the report. As I say, throughout the drafting process there were no fundamental changes.

  264. You then gave a presentation to the Prime Minister. What was his reaction?
  (Mr Aldridge) The Prime Minister's main reactions are summarised in the foreword to the report. To recap, they were about three particular issues. One was that the issue of diversity and security of energy supply is no longer just a matter of ensuring an abundance of energy sources within the UK, but it is a European and an international matter. Secondly, he emphasised the increasing role that climate change issues will play in energy policy. Thirdly, there was recognition that both issues of security of supply and climate change were issues of an international nature and that any future energy policy would have to reflect that.

Mr Barker

  265. In putting the report together, how much weighting is there on the views, either individually or corporately, coming from the DTI?
  (Mr Aldridge) Clearly, the views of the DTI, as with the other main Whitehall departments, were a key part of the project.

  266. What do you say to people who say that there is an institutional bias in favour of nuclear power within the DTI?
  (Mr Aldridge) In terms of the review and the project that we produced, we encountered advocates for all kinds of energy supplies and a broad range of views. I do not think that there was a particular emphasis.

  267. Do you see the DTI as a strong advocate of nuclear power?
  (Mr Aldridge) Not exclusively of nuclear power.
  (Mr Hartley) The DTI's initial view was put to the PIU, and published on our website. Their vision of the way in which different objectives should be pursued and ours is there, openly available on the website.

Mr Jones

  268. In one of Mr Francois's questions he referred to changes that you describe as-non-fundamental. Were there any changes in the drafting specifically on nuclear power?
  (Mr Aldridge) I think there were changes to most sections.

  269. Including nuclear power?
  (Mr Aldridge) Including nuclear power.

Ian Lucas

  270. I am interested in the fundamental motivation for pursuing particular policy lines. What is the rationale, as far as you see it, for promoting renewables? Why are we promoting renewables?
  (Dr Mitchell) One of the key recommendations in the report is that we should maintain or open up options for the future so that we can better understand how those different options would be able to take us to a low-carbon future in 2050. Those low carbon options that we were thinking about were nuclear power, carbon sequestration and renewables, energy efficiency and CHP. We think with renewables that the option is not yet open and that in order to open up that option—to invest now for the future—we should set a longer-term target of 20 per cent by 2020 so that the renewables industry and all those institutions and industries around which renewables have to develop can have security for the long term and know that they will go forward in the long term. We see that as a need to open up the option and to invest in the future.

  271. Do you agree that if we successfully promote renewables and energy efficiency that would mean that it would not be necessary to develop further nuclear power?
  (Dr Mitchell) Yes. From our underlying analysis, we modelled costs going out into the future and from that analysis in 2020 it seemed that the combination of renewables, energy efficiency and CHP would be one of the most low-cost options. In that sense, one can imagine a future without nuclear power, but on the other hand we think that in order to maintain as many options as we have, given the importance of climate change, that we should maintain the nuclear option.
  (Mr Hartley) We need to look to the long term and to the likely targets that the world as a whole is likely to commit itself to in the long term. We were given as our starting point the conclusions of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. That commission suggested that the developed world would have to make cuts of 60 per cent in CO2 emissions by 2050, and that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere should be stabilised at the levels that scientists recommend. We did a lot of scenario work in the report and we have a chapter on scenarios. It is an important building block of our analysis. Our conclusions there are that if the UK has to make a cut in CO2 of 60 per cent in 2050 that can be done. But it cannot be done simply and easily. It is not something that will happen naturally within the economy or within the energy system. One way in which you can pose the challenge is to say that even if we had a zero carbon electricity system, and even if we had much greater energy efficiency—the kind of increase in energy efficiency that we suggested—one would still need to address the carbon emissions from the transport sector. That points to the vital need in the long run to look towards, if not a zero carbon electricity system, a very low carbon electricity system. I started off by talking about the uncertainties that we face in making energy policy. It is hard to know exactly how far renewables can be developed over the next 50 years. To have a system that is totally renewables-based is quite a challenge. In the longer run, exactly what is the right role for nuclear power as a low carbon system, or carbon sequestration as a low carbon system, or renewables as a low carbon system is something that can be developed only as we see how the costs and the potential develop.

  272. Is it the case that the Government and the report focus very much on wind when talking about renewables?
  (Mr Hartley) Yes.

  273. You appear to have missed exploring the different renewables options.
  (Dr Mitchell) One of our recommendations is that that should not be the case. There are broad range of renewable options, many of them far less developed than wind energy. We need that range of options so that the most suitable renewable technology for a particular place or situation can be developed. Our recommendation is to develop a diversity of renewables technologies.

  274. Do you think that the 10 per cent target for 2010, given some of the planning difficulties in the wind context, is achievable?
  (Dr Mitchell) From a resource point of view, it is clearly achievable. The report clearly states that we think that there are three barriers to the development of renewables. Unless those barriers are overcome, we think that it is unlikely that the 10 per cent target will be met.


  275. To recap, both of you are therefore plainly saying that the needs of a low-carbon economy are the main driver of your conclusions. We want to get to a low carbon economy and that is the centrepiece?
  (Mr Hartley) Yes. Gordon might like to say something about the rather important part of our report where we talk about the need to redefine the overall objectives of energy policy.
  (Mr MacKerron) Perhaps I can elaborate on that slightly. The spirit of your question is correct. We looked at the Government's objectives in relation to sustainable development, which, as you know, contain economic, social and environmental objectives, and we asked the question: to what extent can energy policy contribute well to each of those three strands of sustainable development? We came to the conclusion that although energy policy can contribute somewhat in both social and economic spheres, there are other policy instruments available to Government to achieve both social and economic objectives. Because we were interpreting environmental objectives in terms of climate change and because we are concerned that greenhouse gas emissions result from energy production or use, it seemed to us plain that to the extent to which climate change remains an important Government objective, the energy system will increasingly have to be reoriented towards achieving climate change objectives simply because there is not another delivery vehicle available—other than the energy system—if climate change remains important. That was the underpinning logic that led us to the view that the low carbon future was the important one to think about.

  276. As opposed, for example, to low-cost, diversity of supply, security and other drivers of policy.
  (Mr MacKerron) Clearly we believe, as the Government do, that in general it is necessary to pursue as far as possible the three strands of sustainable development. I shall pose one particular hypothetical case. If one achieved a small environmental gain in relation to climate change at a high economic cost, our report would not imply that it should be pursued. But on the whole, where there is an otherwise even balance, we would take the environmental approach.

Mr Jones

  277. You spoke earlier of looking at a 50-year timescale and yet your report did not endorse the Royal Commission's recommendation for a target of 60 per cent reduction. Why did you not do that?
  (Mr Hartley) We had no views on, and it was not our place to have views on, the scientific judgment taken by the Royal Commission. That report stands as a major contribution to that scientific debate. Our role was to consider how energy policy should be adapted both in the short run and in the longer run to meet the longer-term needs that they see for the country to cut CO2 emissions. In looking at energy policy making one has to balance the range of different objectives: the economic, the environmental and the social. One also obviously has to take decisions about how it is that the UK should pursue policies in relation to the policies pursued elsewhere in the world. It is clear that a major element of climate change policy is that it is a global problem. It was essential to the conclusions that we drew that it should be pursued as part of a global coalition.

  278. I recognise that, but with the targets that you say we should try to achieve, if we are to achieve the 20 per cent target by 2020 and nothing else changes, and bearing in mind the likely rate of the rundown of nuclear power over that 20-year period—in other words, the combination of running down that nuclear power, that will naturally occur, and meeting the 20 per cent renewables target—that is likely to produce a situation in which we produce more carbon than we do now. So that is not adequate, is it? That does not get us anywhere.
  (Mr Hartley) The existing commitments under the Kyoto protocol are clearly the current focus of Government policy. I do not know when the world as a whole will agree the next step of the Kyoto agreement, but at that point, when the world as a whole does agree that, and when we see what the overall target looks like for the EU and for the UK, we shall then see what kind of measures are needed in the UK.

  279. My point was that we will not meet the Kyoto targets to which we have already agreed if we simply go for the target that you have put in your report.
  (Mr Hartley) I think we shall meet the targets for 2008 to 2012.
  (Mr MacKerron) The point about scenario analysis for 20 or 50 years ahead was to explore different possibilities.


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