Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Research Councils UK (U38)


  1.  Research Councils UK (RCUK) is a strategic partnership that champions the research supported by the seven UK Research Councils. Through RCUK the Research Councils together with the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) are creating a common framework for research, training and knowledge transfer. Further details are available at

  2.  This memorandum is submitted by Research Councils UK on behalf of four of the Research Councils, and represents our independent views. It does not include or necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Science and Technology (OST). RCUK welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry from the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

  3.  This memorandum provides evidence from RCUK relevant to the terms of reference of the inquiry, in addition to supplementary background material from the following Research Councils:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Annex 1
Council for the Central Laboratories of the Research Councils (CCLRC) Annex 2
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Annex 3
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Annex 4


  4.  RCUK notes that the Committee intends to focus among other things on Defra's review of the UK Climate Change programme, and on policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Defra's recent publication "Scientific and technical aspects of climate change, including impacts and adaptation and associated costs" demonstrates the urgent need for the Government to adopt and promote national and international policies that will effectively combat climate change. The Defra publication also highlights the need for more scientific study to improve estimates of likely changes and to support the development of alternative, eg low-carbon, technologies.

  5.  RCUK welcomes the fact that the Government recognises the challenge of climate change and the importance of technological innovation to reduce its severity and to adapt to new climatic extremes. Climate change is a particularly strong driver of innovative research and development in renewable-energy technologies, energy efficiency and options such as the hydrogen economy and carbon sequestration. There is a clear need for continued Government support for research in these areas.

  6.  The Research Councils support many initiatives and projects addressing both the study of climate change and the technology and behaviour required to combat and adapt to it. Some of these initiatives are described below.

  7.  Three Research Councils (EPSRC, ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) and NERC) fund, and another (CCLRC) participates in, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research[86]. This UK centre for trans-disciplinary research on climate change focuses among other things on policy development. The Tyndall Centre is responding separately to this inquiry to provide policy suggestions addressing issues such as the predicted growth in air traffic and the need to adopt more energy-efficient building technologies.

  8.  Another of the most significant Research Council initiatives relevant to climate change is the "Towards a Sustainable Energy Economy Programme"[87] (TSEC) funded by the EPSRC, ESRC and NERC, with the participation of the BBSRC, CCLRC, DTI, Defra, the Carbon Trust and others. The TSEC programme is interdisciplinary and supports a whole-systems integrated approach to energy research, including research into renewables, carbon management and keeping the nuclear option open.

  9.  The TSEC programme builds on another cross-Council programme known as SUPERGEN (Sustainable Power Generation and Supply)[88]. This was initiated by EPSRC in 2003 with an anticipated investment of £25 million over five years, with the aim of establishing research consortia to tackle key challenges in improving the sustainability of the power supply industry. The activities have been expanded into the social, environmental and life sciences, and the programme is now a collaborative activity supported also by BBSRC, ESRC and NERC. The programme has initially funded research into biomass, wave and tidal power, hydrogen generation and storage, and future distribution networks.

  10.  Through the TSEC programme the Research Councils have set up the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC)[89]. The UKERC will bring coherence to the diverse range of UK energy research activities through the establishment of a National Energy Research Network. It will support a multi-disciplinary approach to research in the area of sustainable energy, contributing to the development of alternative, low-carbon technologies.

  11.  Other relevant Research Council programmes and projects are detailed in Annexes 1-4. Data from these and from the programmes described above will help inform Defra's Review of the Climate Change Programme, as well as policy development generally, a process which obviously requires ongoing feedback from the research community.

8 October 2004

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