Select Committee on International Development Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the British Geological Survey


  Geoscience is a critical factor when considering many of the aspects of sustainable development and global climate change. Geoscience is key to understanding medium to long term climate change patterns and drivers. It also provides the basis for mitigating many adverse impacts.

  From an environmental perspective too little emphasis has been made of global climatic change by DFID or agencies supported by them. It is important to recognise that whilst many climate change issues may only influence populations over decades (and thus may presently attract less attention than development issues that function on a seasonal or annual basis), the implications of ignoring them may have severe consequences.

  Geoscience must underpin policy development in relation to the human impacts of issues such as:

    —  Flooding: Vulnerability, and the extent of the impact of past extreme events, past sea-levels.

    —  Desertification: Pre-historic and historic changes in vegetation and land use.

    —  Soil Erosion: Susceptibility of soil erosion and breakdown in diversity.

    —  Groundwater change: Changes in groundwater levels in relation to changes in precipitation or increased irrigation. Changes in chemistry related to sea level change.

    —  Coastal changes: e.g. erosion, habitats and siltation associated with sea level rise.

    —  Contaminant remobilisation: in relation to sea level rise or changing river discharge.

    —  Ground level change or slope stability: caused by changing water tables.

  Geoscience records also provide unique evidence of past climate change over time scales from centuries to millennia and so can give a picture about how natural environments have responded to past climatic change in a region. Recent work has shown that many climatic cycles occur over these time scales. It is important to establish patterns of past global change and test climatic models used to predict climatic change before policy changes are made.

  In most developing regions, there should be emphasis on assisting developing nations to adapt to change. In particular, the emphasis should be on sustainable development and hazard avoidance, such as:

    —  Hazard mapping.

    —  Habitat and vegetation change.

    —  Coastal vulnerability to extreme and accumulated normal range events.

    —  Groundwater exploration and protection.

    —  Soil and agriculture degradation.

    —  Practices by which man interacts with the landscape and marine environment to enhance the consequences of natural changes.

    —  Understanding which parts of the world and populations are most vulnerable to expected changes and planning remedial action within a framework of poverty alleviation.

  Large scale naturally induced climate changes, with significant impact on human populations, have occurred in the past and will continue into the future. Additionally a pattern of man-made changes is also likely to occur. Man has a short memory and for the last few thousand years has lived in a relatively stable climate. Geoscience indicates that such stability is not normal.

British Geological Survey

January 2002

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