Examination of Witnesses (Questions 94-99)|
30 MARCH 2004
Q94 Chairman: Good morning, Sir David.
Professor Sir David King: Good
Q95 Chairman: Thank you very much for
joining us. Could you introduce your colleague?
Professor Sir David King: Yes,
I have brought Claire Durkin along, who is Director and Head of
the Energy Innovation and Business Unit in the DTI.
Q96 Chairman: You are both welcome. We
want to look today at the whole question of climate change and
your approach to that, and also touch on energy policy as well.
I will, if I may, open up by asking a question which I am sure
you are expecting and have probably answered before, which is
whether or not you stand by the remarks that you made in your
article for Science magazine where you said that you believe
climate change was a more serious threat than terrorism?
Professor Sir David King: And
to add in the word that was included there, "even".
I say that because I cover all of science in government and this,
of course, includes our post-9/11 activitiessetting up
a working group to examine our resilience to post-9/11 type activitiesand
this became formalised as the Science Advisory Panel for Emergency
Response, which I chair. So I work very hard on that front. Nothing
I said was intended to underplay the importance of that agenda.
My direct answer to you is no, I do not withdraw any of those
comments, nor have I been asked to. At the same time, what I was
trying to draw attention to was the severity of the warnings from
climate change scientists at the moment. I will not spend too
much time on this, but if we look back in time for the globe we
probably have to go back 55 million years before we find carbon
dioxide levels as high as we are now at, and, of course, our carbon
dioxide levels are still rising. Fifty-five million years ago
was a time when there was no ice on the earth; the Antarctic was
the most habitable place for mammals, because it was the coolest
place, and the rest of the earth was rather inhabitable because
it was so hot. It is estimated that it was roughly 1,000 parts
per million then, and the important thing is that if we carry
on business as usual we will hit 1,000 parts per million around
the end of this century. So it seems to me that it is clear on
a global and geological scale that climate change is the most
serious problem we are faced with this century. The science is
telling us about it. We are beginning to put together what we
have to do to meet the problem, and it is now a question of policy
makers getting together internationally and dealing with it.
Q97 Chairman: You are absolutely clear
that the cause of this lies with mankind's activities and not
with some natural phenomenon?
Professor Sir David King: Yes.
This is an extremely complex problem and there are at least 1,000
scientists who have, over the last 200 years, contributed to our
understanding of the earth's climate system, but there is a very,
very strong consensus that the 0.6 to 0.7ºC global temperature
rise that we have seen over the last 100 years is largely attributable
to anthropogenic effects; it is attributable, largely, to increased
production of carbon dioxide, methane, NOx, SOx, and CFCsall
of these larger molecules which are greenhouse gases.
Q98 Chairman: Going back to the comparison
you made with terrorism, which I think has been criticised as
an unhelpful comparison by government sources, what precisely
prompted you to draw that particular comparison? Were you thinking
in terms of the number of people who have already died as a result
of global warming and rising water levels, or the potential number
of people who may be affected in the future? Were you drawing
a numerical comparison in terms of a scale of tragedy?
Professor Sir David King: Let
me first of all respond by saying I join in the criticism of the
response to that sentence, in the sense that it is not fruitful
to discuss whether terrorism is a more difficult problem than
climate change; I think we have to get on and deal with each of
these major challenges. At the same time, I think I have just
spelt out why I think that the climate change issue is such a
tremendous challenge to all of our societies. Yes, 31,000 excess
fatalities in Europe during last summer's heat wave. We have extreme
events that we always have had and always will, but the frequency
of these extreme events is going to increase with time, and is
already increasing with time. So we can look at these events and
say these are climate-change related events. Equally, the flooding
that we had two years previously. Climate change scientists have
made it quite clear that linkages between severe flooding and
severe hot summers are climate-change anticipated effects.
Q99 Chairman: It was reported after your
article appeared that No 10 attempted to gag you or to stifle
your remarksshut you up in some way. Were you aware of
Professor Sir David King: I certainly
read about it in the papers but there was