House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE
Tuesday 12 June 2007
PROFESSOR SIR DAVID KING
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee
on Tuesday 12 June 2007
Mr Martin Caton
Dr Desmond Turner
In the absence of the Chairman, Joan Walley was called to the Chair
Witness: Professor Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser, Head of the Office of Science and Innovation, H M Government, gave evidence.
Q58 Joan Walley: Sir David, a very warm welcome to you. Thank you very much indeed for coming before our Committee. We understand entirely that this is a second bite of the cherry for some members of the Committee who I think were at the Climate Change Committee. We are very grateful to you for coming along after the publication of the Energy Review. We are very mindful of the process that the Energy White Paper sets out and the Climate Change Bill. We will shortly be doing a further inquiry into the machinery of Government which relates to all of these issues. We feel it is a particularly relevant time for you to come before our Committee. I want to kick off by asking you about the Government's 60 per cent reduction in UK carbon emissions by 2050 proposals. I know some of this was covered at the joint committee last week. Many observers have argued that this target ought to be increased in order to give ourselves a better chance of limiting a global rise in temperatures to 2ºC. Indeed, we had David Miliband before our Committee only last week and he made much of the fact that the Bill describes the target as being "at least 60 per cent", thereby suggesting it could be increased in the future. I know you have previously suggested that bigger increases are needed. You have also made great play of the time factor so that when you get further along the road more becomes possible and more quickly. We are interested to know whether or not you feel that that 60 per cent ought to be increased at this stage.
Professor Sir David King: I think it is very important that we set a tough but do-able goal. Quite clearly, if it becomes apparent after ten years that we are simply not going to manage the goal then the confidence in the goal will fall away. From a Government's point of view that is critically important. One reason why a goal has to be set is because investments are made on the basis of the goal and provided confidence can be given over a long period of time then the right investments will come through. That is a critical pathway to managing the process. If after five or ten years it becomes apparent that, firstly, there is global action because, as you rightly said, this is a global problem, Britain and Europe are not the only people who are trying to manage the problem, and secondly, if the science is indicating that a tighter goal is required and the technology is coming through strongly with carbon free alternatives to energy production and energy efficiency gains are coming through, then of course it would be absolutely right to tighten up the goal.
Q59 Joan Walley: Do you think we are okay as we are at this stage?
Professor Sir David King: I think it is a very good goal at this stage. If we could achieve a similar goal with all of the developed world countries we would be making tremendous headway. I think that is another part of the whole equation. When Britain declared it would reduce its emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 it partly broke the deadlock in the negotiations with other countries, particularly around the G8 plus five because we were saying this is our objective and what are you going to do, rather than saying we are waiting for you to take action. So I think the 60 per cent was a very good symbolic figure, but at the same time I think it is a challenging and a do-able figure. It is in the right ballpark.
Q60 Joan Walley: Do you not think we should just go that bit further and increase it to 60 per cent at this stage and enhance our international leadership status by virtue of the fact that we would go for a higher target at this stage, knowing what we know has changed since maybe that 60 per cent was first formulated?
Professor Sir David King: I think what we have to bear in mind is that we need action and we need it quickly. Frankly, whether it is a 60 per cent or a 70 per cent target at this point is probably going to make little difference to the outcome. I believe that in 20 years' time new technologies will come through that will enable us to tighten down on the objectives. My analogy is with the Montreal Protocol on COCs where the initial protocol was not seen to be over-stringent and so all countries signed up to it, but as soon as they had signed up to it the objectives were tightened up and actually COCs became a done problem. I think that is a very good model to use going forward.
Q61 Mark Pritchard: Sir David, you mentioned about the new technologies coming forward in the next two decades. Would you include in this country cleaner coal technology within that statement?
Professor Sir David King: Absolutely.
Q62 Mark Pritchard: In that case, given the Prime Minister said recently that coal has a future, would you say it would be premature for Britain to start open-cast mining and the deep-cast mining of coal without having those technologies in place beforehand?
Professor Sir David King: There are two things to say about carbon capture and storage which underlies your question. The first is that in my view it is an acceptable technology if you are using dried up oil wells to store the carbon dioxide. The rock formation for those oil wells will be pretty safe to store the carbon dioxide. When it comes to saline aquifers we are in new territory and I think the saline aquifer usage will have to be subject to demonstration. In other words we need to see whether it actually works in operation. As you know, there is a competition being set up for a carbon capture and storage project in the UK and I think that is a very important step forward. I would not want to prejudice the outcome of the competition, but it would be useful if it was based on a saline aquifer.
Joan Walley: I would like to save a bit more detailed discussion on carbon capture for later and stick to the 60 per cent targets now.
Q63 Colin Challen: Just on that 60 per cent target which is predicated on 550 parts per million stabilisation in the atmosphere, you have said on many occasions that that is do-able. I think to a certain extent that is a political statement rather than a scientific statement. I have never really been able to figure out in my own mind whether you see that yourself as a political statement or a scientific statement. Is it not your job to tell us what the science is and leave the politics to the politicians? If you are saying that this is do-able and acceptable and that is the scientific version, it seems to be at complete disagreement with all the science that we have read. I read your evidence to the joint committee last week and it is very, very confusing. What is the scientific perception of where we need to be?
Professor Sir David King: Let me just take you through the three reports that have been produced. There is the EU report which is based on a 50:50 chance of staying at or below 2ºC as a temperature rise and which they associated with a 450 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent limit. They say that there will have to be a reduction globally of 50 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050 and then you have to factor in the UK's level alongside that. The Stern report says that to reach 450 requires emissions to peak at 70 per cent below current levels by 2050, so Stern quotes a rather higher number than the EU report. According to Stern, stabilisation at 550 requires 45 per cent below the current levels. Then there is the Ecofys analysis that has recently been completed for Defra. According to them, 450 parts per million requires a 40 per cent reduction by 2050 and 550 parts per million requires a global reduction of ten per cent by 2050 with UK reductions around 70 to 90 per cent. So we have a broad range of figures from those three groups. I am not suggesting that the science is contributing to this broadly economic and scientific analyses coupled together. What I am suggesting is that leaving science in a box is not the right way to progress. I think the science in the political sphere has to interface with the politics otherwise it is just left on the sidelines. My advice is also given on the basis of the understanding of the political and social situations that we are faced with.
Q64 Colin Challen: I recall the Meinhausen table in the Stern report, which was quoted from the Exeter report, which shows that our current plans have a one-third chance of success. Would you agree with that? That is in the Climate Change Bill, a 60 per cent target by 2050, a one-third chance of success. The report said it is more likely than not that we will fail to keep temperature levels to within a two degree increase.
Professor Sir David King: I agree absolutely. As a matter of fact I was the source of that information.
Q65 Colin Challen: I think that table was developed out of several sources of information. It was a survey after all. In that case, how can we go along with this idea that 60 per cent is do-able because we think it is going to save us some money now, but the adaptation costs are going to come back and bite us very severely if we go down that route, are they not? Is that not what you should be saying?
Professor Sir David King: I do not think you and I are actually disagreeing. I think I have been saying, ahead of most of the people around this table, that the adaptation costs are going to be extremely severe if we do not proceed with a very tough mitigation programme. I agree absolutely. The outcome and objective of everything that I am working towards is to see that we have a realistic agreement globally that gets the kind of action that means that we have true global mitigation. I think I have explained my position with respect to the Montreal Protocol. I think that demonstrated that you can set a target and then you can ratchet it up and that is precisely what I expect will happen here. So the 60 per cent reduction that I believe is a good target at this stage is a target that might have to be ratcheted up as we move into the future. Let me just amplify on this statement about the 2oC. The best scientific analysis to date indicates that with a five to 95 per cent probability interval at 450 parts per million the most likely temperature rise will be 2.2oC and the range is 1.7 to 3.7oC. In other words there is still a chance of 450 that the temperature rise would be even 3.7oC. That is the sort of probability limit we are having to live with and work with here at the moment, but as we move forward in time we will be able to narrow that down. So what I am saying is as we move forward in time we will have a better understanding of the challenges. The cost of adaptation is with us anyway. We are having discussions up and down the country and around the world now about mitigation. I would like to see more discussion about adaptation because this climate change is in the pipeline. The next 30 to 40 years are almost independent of what global action is taking place now because of the inertia of the climate system. We need to begin those adaptation measures. We cannot pretend that this problem is going to go away as we reduce our emissions.
Q66 Colin Challen: The 60 per cent figure for the UK should be a net reduction of 60 per cent for the UK. That being so, should we allow ourselves the luxury of allowing within the Bill the possibility of offsetting some of that 60 per cent, which we say is obviously a strong possibility, so that if we cannot make the 60 per cent ourselves we can buy some credits and meet the target in that way? Is that really a sensible option?
Professor Sir David King: If I may I am going to divide your question into two. There is the question of offsetting and then there is the question of capping trade. I think your question is more about the second. I believe cap and trade is exactly the right mechanism for the following reasons. We set ourselves a target within the European Union for an emission reduction over a period of time. On the basis of that accepted target, if we exceed it we have to trade with other countries. If we are below it we trade inward. This puts a price on carbon dioxide and that price could be relatively high. The price I would like to see would be about €50 per tonne of carbon dioxide and it should generate an excess of funds which can be banked to run the clean development mechanism. So we have a fund which enables us to assist the developing countries. I would point to Africa in particular where funds will be needed for technology transfer as a mitigation process and adaptation because Africa is the area of the world that is going to suffer most from climate change impacts. I think the cap and trade process is, first of all, a proven process. We have seen with acid rain how that was managed. Secondly, it is a process that provides a global mechanism for tackling the problem. I am not a fan of offsets. I do not think they have been properly regulated. I welcome the statement from the Secretary of State for Defra that he will be looking into the possibility of regulating offsets.
Q67 Colin Challen: Really the question is, of our 60 per cent target in the Climate Change Bill, should that be a net UK domestic reduction or should we be able to buy credits, whether we call it offsetting or cap and trade, in order to meet that target or should it simply be a UK net reduction?
Professor Sir David King: The UK is setting itself that 60 per cent target and if that target is below the EU cap then in meeting that target we will be trading at a net profit to the UK. In setting that target I believe it is very important that we achieve the target. I think this is part of the process of gaining confidence in investment in these alternative technologies. I do think it is important and, of course, that is where the Climate Change Committee comes into play.
Q68 Colin Challen: The stuff that I have read generally looks at the future and does not portray a very pretty picture. How do you think we should convey to the public the messages about climate change? We do not want to terrify people, obviously not, but is the message at the moment not far too soft and not really focused on the sheer scale of calamity that awaits us if we do not take far more stringent and tougher actions?
Professor Sir David King: The message that climate change is the biggest challenge our civilisation has ever had to face up to is now getting out there. The worry I have is that it has become almost fashionable to talk about it and fashions come and go. This is a problem that we are going to have to tackle over the next 100 years or so. I very much hope that this is a sea change in culture that we are seeing rather than just a blip. Your question was about what we should be drawing attention to. I think the concerns and the icons of the climate change community are to do with what the big changes are ahead of us that we should try to avoid. First of all, there is the loss of ice on Greenland. If all of the ice melts and there is a six and a half metre rise in sea levels London will go under water, there is no defences we could put up and certainly Holland would be well under water. It is worth pointing out that the climate change impacts are already with us. The summer of 2003 is the single biggest natural disaster in Central Europe on record in terms of the number of fatalities. 32,000 people lost their lives. That would be a one in a 1,000 event. It was probably the hottest summer in Central Europe for about two or three million years, but it is there because of the baseline temperature increase. So it was an extreme event, a hot summer sitting on a rising baseline and that is what made it so extreme. So already the average central European temperature is very close to the hottest summer in Central Europe of the 20th Century, which was 1947. So we see that, with that rising baseline, when we have a very hot summer it has extreme impacts. By mid-century the average central European temperature will be the same as that extremely hot summer of 2003. So when we have an extremely hot summer in mid-century it is almost difficult to imagine the sort of crisis that will be presented. The reason I am referring to events that are already happening - I think that is important to do - means that adaptation is crucial. The 2003 hot summer in Central Europe took the French, the Spanish and the Italian governments by surprise. There was no preparation for an extreme event of that kind. So we need preparations to be put in place. Once we begin adaptation processes I think it also focuses the minds, particularly of governments, on the need for mitigation.
Q69 Dr Turner: Let us just stick to the science around 60 per cent for a minute and leave out the politics for a moment. As you have already said, the variance between the projections of different models is absolutely enormous. The one thing they all have in common is they all assume that the world's carbon cycle will continue to function as it always has. There is disturbing new evidence, as I am sure you are aware, from a study by the British Antarctic survey, I spoke to their lead author last week, which has produced evidence that the uptake of CO2 by the Antarctic, which is the most important carbon sink, has substantially reduced. The full implication of the importance of that work was not completed in time to be incorporated in the most recent IPCC report. Her view was that the actual acceleration of CO2 increase is actually probably about 30 per cent more than we had thought and there is further evidence that atmospheric CO2 levels are rising much faster than we had realised. The Bill does say effectively that the target is open for revision in the light of the science. Would you not agree that there have been indications from the science already that we should be looking for that revision and not just a revision of the 2050 target but taking a very long hard look at the interim targets on the way, because if we have only got to 25 per cent by 2020 then getting towards a higher target is going to be that much more difficult?
Professor Sir David King: I am fully aware of the paper that has arisen from the work that you have mentioned. It indicates, worryingly, that the uptake of carbon dioxide by the southern oceans has been significantly reduced over the last decade and is certainly less than the models that have been used in predicting climate change events over the next 100 years. This is the southern oceans and it is therefore a partial analysis of the oceans of the world and the effect, interestingly, is due to increased wind operating in the area. So wind is removing the ability of the surface oceans to take up the carbon dioxide that is being emitted. As a result of that paper I checked the latest data from Maunaloa in Hawaii on carbon dioxide levels globally and I can see no impact globally on that effect. So carbon dioxide levels on average are still rising at just over two parts per million per annum. I do not see the effect coming through at the moment globally, but I stress at the moment. This is an important piece of information and obviously it needs to be kept a close watch on and the reason for that is that the anthropogenic increased emission of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere but also into the oceans and it is roughly 50:50. If less is going into the oceans more will go into the atmosphere. This is clearly a very important factor. I think we need to see a lot more work in that area to know what the global impact will be. Your general point I take absolutely. If we look at the various tipping points of concern into the future, I think the worry is from methane emissions from the Arctic region. The Arctic region is warming up faster than the rest of the planet. As ice is lost so the reflectivity of radiation goes up and the heating goes up and this means the ocean absorbs more energy than ice because ice reflects it back. So as the ice starts receding so we are seeing the warming speed up. The Arctic is heating up faster than the rest of the planet. The worry is that these methane path rates that are currently caught up in the ice are going to be released and that will speed up the rate of warming of our planet. We might see the point where tropical forests begin to die off and again we would have a massive feedback which would lead to a rapid rise in carbon dioxide emissions due to the loss of the forests and their pumping effect. I think we have a number of worries. That level of carbon dioxide of 550 parts per million is becoming iconic as the level beyond which we are really approaching this dangerous limit where these events might take place. We should not test these models beyond that. It would be marvelous if we could keep at the 450 level but I am not sure that is do-able. We have really got to avoid going beyond 550 otherwise it would test all these models.
Q70 Dr Turner: They would be experiments that mankind or the world has never done. I think I would reach for the precautionary principle for once and say that you cannot reduce CO2 levels fast enough if you are going to avoid getting into that zone. Would you agree?
Professor Sir David King: Yes.
Q71 Mark Pritchard: My question is about the demands on Government all the time and scarce resources. I just wondered what your thoughts were as to how Government of whatever political persuasion can balance those priorities. We all agree this is an issue of climate change, there is a consensus on that. The mantra seems to suggest that Africa may not have food tomorrow but, as we know, much of Africa does not have food today and it is about balancing those environmental priorities against foreign policy, economic and social priorities that the government of the day might have. I just wondered what your view is on how that balance can be struck in the right direction.
Professor Sir David King: Let me take your question as directed at Africa and Africa's development. I have published a paper and also contributed to the Commission for Africa report on this. My own belief is that obviously we need to give assistance where assistance is needed in terms of food and medicine at the moment, but neither of those things is part of sustainable development. In my view sustainable development is about a process where if you stop the aid process something continues in its place. I think skills development in Africa is absolutely vital. In my view our aid process should be more carefully directed at assisting the development of skills in Africa. What Africa needs is more qualified doctors and nurses, agriculturalists, health workers generally, economists, social scientists, people who can raise their level of economy so that it becomes a self-sustaining economic system. I think that is a very important part of the process. Just recognising the additional impact of climate change on Africa is one more stress placed on that continent. If you take malaria, HIV/AIDS and the problem of food provision and then add on to that the impact of climate change, it adds massively as we move forward to the stresses on that continent.
Q72 Mark Pritchard: You mentioned earlier about the Italian and French governments being taken by surprise by the hot summer of 2003. We have just had a very hot April indeed and you have said measures need to be put in place to deal with this in the future. Can I ask what measures you feel have been put in place and what lessons have been learned from the French and Italian experience here in the UK should we have a hot summer this year? What measures have been put in place so we can mitigate that impact on the UK population?
Professor Sir David King: Interestingly, I think one of the measures is information. For example, I went to Paris in October 2003 and gave my own analysis that this was a climate change driven event. The media there reported it as the first report linking this to climate change. The point I am making here is that if people are aware of the potential dangers of very hot summers they can take actions that avoid putting themselves in danger. So I think information itself is very important. In terms of the impact on Britain, I think the most serious impacts come from flooding effluent. Basically the Victorians left us with wonderful sewerage and drainage systems that were very good for the soft rainfalls we used to have, but they cannot cope with the more torrential downpours that we are seeing and beginning to see more frequently and will see into the future more frequently. We will have to have considerably more investment into re-doing those systems if we are really going to manage them.
Q73 Mark Pritchard: As you will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs currently has a consultation underway about drainage and sewerage systems in the UK. Are you going to have input into that consultation?
Professor Sir David King: In 2001 I set up a Foresight Programme on flood and coastal defence for the UK looking out to 2018 and using the best climate change models. It took two and a half years. One hundred scientists, engineers, economists and social scientists worked on that project and reported in to Defra. I would say that as a result of that the increased expenditure for the £300 to £500 million a year on flood and coastal defence management is already in place, but the project indicated that as we move forward in time that expenditure will have to be increased.
Joan Walley: We want to look a little later on at the whole issue of management of governments and that will relate to a future Committee inquiry that we will have. I think what we have just seen is the interrelatedness of all the different aspects of this debate. It is about trying to get the regulators to link sustainable development into future investment in water. It is a huge agenda. We want to go back to the issue of sectoral targets in respect of 2020.
Q74 David Howarth: I hope the estimates you mentioned are not just coastal because the effect you mentioned is visible every week in Cambridge and it is a long way from the sea.
Professor Sir David King: As a matter of fact, the report demonstrated that the cities were at least as vulnerable as coastline towns and villages.
Q75 David Howarth: I want to come back to an issue that Des Turner raised which is about the profiling of the targets. Yes, there is a 60 per cent target, but there is also the interim target of 26 to 32 per cent target by 2020. You were suggesting that the 60 per cent target might well have to be raised at a later date. What implication would that have for the interim target? Would it even be possible to raise the interim target sufficiently soon in order to be able to maintain a sensible profile of reductions if the 2050 target were 80 or 90 per cent?
Professor Sir David King: That is a very good question. I think the main point is that the interim target should not be reduced. What I am keen to get across is the idea of the granularity of this process.
Q76 Joan Walley: What was the phrase you used?
Professor Sir David King: The granularity.
Q77 Joan Walley: It might be helpful to have an explanation.
Professor Sir David King: It is not just a continuum. If we look at the energy power on the grid, it comes from a finite number of power stations. If one of those power stations one year goes out of commission it can completely alter our carbon dioxide emissions in that year. For example, if a nuclear power station is needed to be taken out of commission for repairs and a coal fired power station is turned on to replace that electricity you get what I am calling a granular change, ie a sudden change in carbon dioxide emissions. Equally, it is going to take until 2017 for any new nuclear plant to come on-stream and when it comes on-stream there is going to be a sudden reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. By granularity I simply mean it is not a continuous slow rising curve, the curve has bumps in it because of the large scale of some of these factors. The built environment is going to take until 2050 to play through because of the timescale required to get a significant percentage of new buildings up following the new regulations and to refurbish the old buildings. All of those are rather longer timescales. I am simply going to say that I doubt that the interim target is going to be shifted very substantially.
Q78 David Howarth: I am familiar with the point about lumpiness and that you need some sort of allowance for that lumpiness in a target, but you cannot make a best estimate as to what existing policy is going to achieve. One of the puzzles I have is that Dave Miliband told us last week that existing policies, given various assumptions about the effects of the EU trading system, will lead to reductions in the range of 26 per cent anyway, whereas some of the evidence, say from Mike Grubb to the Climate Change Pre-legislative Committee, says that 26 per cent is going to be really hard to get to. What I am looking for is a feel about exactly what needs to be done to achieve the target in the higher part of the range of 26 to 32 per cent as opposed to the lower part of the range or even not meeting it. What policy measures, in addition to the ones we are doing now, will we need to reach the 32 per cent of that reduction by 2020, admitting it is lumpy?
Professor Sir David King: In my view the answer to the question is really back to the economics. We know what the marginal abatement costs would mean for different strategies. For example, in the built environment it would be simply changing the lighting. If you change the efficiency with which buildings use energy generally, how will ---
Q79 Joan Walley: We live in hope of this place becoming a place that leads by example!
Professor Sir David King: The less said about that the better. I think the point here is that if you look at one of those abatement cost curves, taking it segment by segment, looking at different parts of the energy using systems, you can see that there is a large amount of low hanging fruit, ie the negative abatement cost areas of all areas of energy efficiency. I would say this is a tension deficit. Following the model of labeling white goods, I have recently been out buying a fridge and it is true now that you can no longer see on a shop floor any white goods that are not labeled A or A*. In other words it has had exactly the right effect, simply telling the consumer what the energy consumption of the object is, so it becomes a matter of choice. As we move forward we will have to see much more of that coming through to catch that low lying fruit. Then we look at the positive abatement costs, that is the marginal cost of achieving different levels of abatement and we have to bite into offshore wind, which is going to be factored in at a relatively high cost level, which makes a substantial improvement. We need to see improvements of all sorts that go up to a positive abatement cost of the level of €50 per tonne of carbon dioxide. I am using that figure because it brings me back to carbon capture and storage. What would drive a utility economically to use carbon capture and storage on a coal fired power station? €50 per tonne of carbon dioxide would do it in my view. It is a marginal cost question. This works exceptionally well in the competitive industries involved with energy. They will always cut their marginal costs and look to marginal costs. The problem is in the transport sector, for example, where many individuals seem to choose ways of traveling which is nothing to do with costs. We need to look at regulation as well as carbon dioxide costs. Both instruments are needed. I think the answer to your question lies within those instruments.
Q80 Mark Pritchard: Coming back to your fridge experience, do you welcome this morning's announcement that Dixons will be ceasing to sell products that have a standby mode? Secondly, do you agree with me that perhaps the best thing British consumers can do when buying white goods to save on white good miles is actually to buy British, which would help to see a renaissance in British manufacturing and indeed in other products for that matter?
Professor Sir David King: It is a yes basically to your question. What I am very encouraged by is a whole range of the businesses in the consumer area. Tesco's, for example, is moving rapidly to a situation of labeling where the "cradle to grave" carbon cost of the item would be on display. I think that meets the point you are raising. I would like to see an extension of white goods labelling to all of the consumer products so that we could see whether something made in Britain was of lower carbon cost to the planet than something that was transported around the world. I think it is also a matter of packaging. In my view packaging has become a major consumer tragedy almost. The amount of throwaway product that we have and the carbon that that is causing to the planet is very substantial.
Q81 Dr Turner: What is your view on the possibility of setting sectoral targets as well as a global target, to break things down into bite sized chunks per sector, possibly making it more achievable and easy to identify physical measures that need to be taken but which would also throw into starker relief sectors that show little or no sign of contributing to carbon reduction, notably transport?
Professor Sir David King: Your point is a very good one. My own feeling is that we need simple fiscal processes to drive this process through. The cap in trade, the carbon dioxide price, the market in carbon dioxide is the first and most important and the second would be good regulatory behaviour. If you go too far down the sectoral route the danger is that you are going to do this at significantly greater cost. Having said that, I agree with you about the transport sector because that is the sector that is probably going to have the greatest difficulty in getting a behavioural change. We need better drivers of proper technologies coming through. The technologies I am referring to are not only the use of fuel but certainly, as we move forward, what will be needed to facilitate the hydrogen fuel economy. We need to look at that because car manufacturers are going to come through with commercial vehicles in around 2012 to 2015 and we need to make sure that we enable that process with the proper infrastructure. We need to do what we can to encourage fuel efficiency on the road. There is another side to this which in a way is the answer to Mark Pritchard's point and that is the "cradle to grave" carbon cycle of car production. We are all used to driving around in these steel vehicles where the temperatures of production are very high. What about new lighter and durable materials that would decay when buried into matter that could be used in other ways. We need to look at the whole life cycle of the moving vehicle. I see massive opportunity for science and technology playing through to a very different sort of driven environment. What are the actions needed by Government to pull that through? Quite honestly, this is one reason why I think a Climate Change Committee is a good idea. We need a committee that focuses on achieving these reductions.
Q82 Dr Turner: If we do not set them specific targets do you think anything would happen?
Professor Sir David King: If we do not set them sector by sector?
Q83 Dr Turner: Yes.
Professor Sir David King: The transport sector will have to be dealt with through good regulation and not just on carbon dioxide pricing. That is my own feeling at the moment.
Q84 Tim Farron: Technological change is very important and so is lifestyle choice and taxation and subsidy and so on have a big part in that. One of the reasons why we have failed on transport for the last 20 years is because people live further and further away from where they work and technology in particular - I am talking about broadband here - has changed certainly in places like mine in the Lake District where you can now live and work there. I wonder what things you would advise Government to do to incentivise people to use that technology so we go back to a situation where people live much closer to where they work and perhaps even work at home.
Professor Sir David King: We have conducted a Foresight Programme looking at integrated transport systems. Integrated transport systems comes right into the built environment where people work and this question of using modern technologies to enable people to work close to their place of living. We are back to pointing out that climate change involves almost every aspect of Government. When it comes to the way we set about urban design, it is absolutely vital that we do our urban design in the future not only in terms of creating a zero carbon built environment but also in terms of minimising transport and maximising leisure. We have to look at all of these things in an integrated way. By the way, modern computer technology enables us to do this. We can now use modern computers to tackle these highly complex systems, but we need to move more rapidly into making good use of them.
Q85 Joan Walley: I want to press you a little bit on that because I think the inter-relatedness issue is on all our agendas. Everyone seems to be very focussed on the Comprehensive Spending Review. In terms of what you have just said about urban design and changes in respect of investment and sustainable communities, is that something that you are particularly focused on with the Treasury at the moment that you could perhaps elaborate on?
Professor Sir David King: Certainly the work with the Treasury is always ongoing. The issue of support for all of these measures depends critically on having a clear view of what needs to be done. This strongly integrated view is quite a difficult one to get through in a government system which is traditionally divided into departments with massive silo walls around them. The question that Tim Farron asked really goes into transport, DCLG, energy, the Department for Work and Pensions, it goes into all parts of Government, but parts of Government originally were set PSA targets that were different. The encouragement to talk to each other has not been terribly effective.
Q86 Joan Walley: Would you say it needs to be given a lot more attention by the incoming Prime Minister?
Professor Sir David King: Yes. The Treasury has been the one point of contact through those government departments. It would be good for the incoming Prime Minister to take that knowledge into Number 10.
Joan Walley: I absolutely agree.
Q87 Mr Caton: Let us move on to the role of the world's carbon sinks now. What is your current assessment of the risk to worldwide forestry, the peat bogs and other carbon stores? What is the nature and scale of the threat posed to those sinks at this time?
Professor Sir David King: One of the most difficult areas in terms of managing the mitigations is avoided deforestation. If you look at Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil in particular but all of those equatorial countries with massive forests, deforestation continues apace. After having discussions with the governments there, it becomes very clear that we will have to look at avoided deforestation in terms of the marginal abatement cost. In other words, quite simply and crudely, what would it cost to pay off a logger to leave off logging? If you look at it in that way then avoided deforestation is up there at around €40 to €50 per tonne of carbon dioxide. It is not out of the question at a value of €50 per tonne of carbon dioxide, the number I mentioned earlier, that we would be able to generate the sort of funds that those governments would need in order to keep the loggers at bay. That is only one part of the equation because paying them off is not a realistic way to proceed. What needs to be done is adding value to the forests. Two months ago I took a team of five leading British scientists out to Brazil and I initiated a UK-Brazil year of science and this really was stimulated by a meeting I had with President Lula here in London. His challenge to me was that he had the world's greatest biodiverse system in his forests and we have some of the world's leading pharmaceutical scientists and biotechnologists so why do we not get our act together and see if we can add value from the biodiverse systems from the forests and that is what we are projecting forward to do based in Manaus in Brazil. This is quite a long process and it will require an enormous amount of work, setting up towers through the tropical forest, observational towers so that loggers can be spotted as they move in, observational towers that would also monitor carbon dioxide levels, levels of organic materials around the forests, crucial numbers for our modellers of climate change, but at the base of the towers they would also be monitoring the biodiverse system and seeing what value can be drawn from that. So we are working on it, but I am glad you raised the point because the deforestation issue is absolutely critical.
Q88 Mr Caton: What is the latest scientific understanding of natural positive feedbacks and "tipping points", such as the thawing of the Siberian permafrost, and the drying out and burning of the Amazon?
Professor Sir David King: Professor Schellnhuber, who is at Potsdam and who is the science adviser to the German Chancellor on climate change, has recently published an analysis of all of these tipping points and he has asked the experts by the end of this century what is the probability that we will have passed the tipping point for, for example, the tropical forests actually simply dying because of changes in rainfall patterns or changes in temperature. Looking at about six of these, each of them was rated no higher than 20 per cent. However, each of them was rated at about 20 per cent. So if you take six of them at a probability of 0.2 that means there is a likelihood that perhaps one of them is going to hit the tipping point. My concern and focus really has been on the melting of ice from Greenland. The latest data indicates that we are losing about 200 cubic kilometres of summer ice from Greenland per annum. 200 cubic kilometres is a big chunk of ice. If Greenland begins to irreversibly melt then we have will real difficulties in sustaining our coastline cities.
Q89 Mr Caton: You mentioned the importance of stopping deforestation and there seems to be wide international consensus on that, but what are your views about the benefits of afforestation or reforestation?
Professor Sir David King: The benefits of reforestation in the tropical areas, the areas around the equator, are undoubtedly positive, there is absolutely no question about that. I think much more effort should go into reforestation. For example, the Atlantic Rain Forest in Brazil has been very substantially deforested. A large area there is not used for anything, it is not being farmed, and I think reforestation processes would be a substantial step forward. Reforestation outside the tropical areas is probably of fairly marginal positive benefit. Outside the tropical areas the change in albido, the change in sunlight reflectivity due to the growth, can outweigh the benefits from the carbon dioxide taken out by the forests, so it is more marginal away from the tropical forest area.
Q90 Colin Challen: Just following on from that discussion about forests. There has been a loss of confidence lately in forestry offset schemes and a lot of doubt about their value in terms of really making a difference in reducing carbon emissions. Are there any ways in which you think science could address this issue and is it worth addressing or should we just abandon that particular kind of offsetting?
Professor Sir David King: I am not a fan of offset, that is a personal view, precisely for the reason you are alluding to, that it is actually very difficult to calculate a long-term benefit of particular offset processes, and we must be looking at the long-term, by which I mean several hundred years. I would question many of the offset processes that are currently being used but, as I said before, I very much welcome the introduction of a regulatory process and it will be interesting to see in that process just how many offset schemes make it through that.
Q91 Colin Challen: Could the same criticisms really be levelled at some of the CDM schemes that we have seen as well? There have been a number of criticisms of some of their values regardless of whether they are related to forestry or not.
Professor Sir David King: Absolutely. Some of the criticisms are correct. There are two types of criticism. One is that it is not truly clean development and the other criticism is that it is something that would have taken place anyway, which is not meant to be funded under the CDM. We all realise that the CDM system itself needs to be better regulated.
Q92 Colin Challen: Are you confident that the reform of the CDM, which is being looked at at present, is actually going to deliver the goods in future or do you feel that the reform is not going to go far enough?
Professor Sir David King: I can answer your question by saying that I think despite what we have been saying about the problems with CDM there have been considerable benefits played through from the CDM. Anyone who has visited a country which has made good use of CDM will be made very much aware of it. For example, if you visit Rwanda and you see the reforestation that has taken place in that devastated country, it is not only good for the environment but it has become a very attractive country to visit. I think the CDM process is a good one and I very much hope, therefore, that we are going to see a good regulatory system coming through.
Q93 Mark Lazarowicz: Notwithstanding the good examples of the CDM process, which I accept, we have just had the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser telling us personally speaking he was not too keen on offsetting, about the CDM process and there are lots of problems with it, and we have heard NGOs in earlier meetings saying that as well. Are you really confident that we do have a sense of urgency both domestically and internationally addressing these questions about offsetting and the CDM?
Professor Sir David King: Am I really confident? I think I would like to see a better focus on this issue.
Q94 Mark Lazarowicz: I will not pursue that particular line but I think that is quite a telling statement. Can I just go back to the discussion about deforestation in the sense of the way it highlights another area where we need to look at the whole lifecycle consequences of certain policy choices, such as biofuels. The Government has got the five per cent target and has indicated it wants to go to a higher target if the right circumstances allow, but you will also be aware that there is considerable controversy, particularly from the NGOs, about the effects of the growth of biofuels on deforestation. What is your perspective on that conflict?
Professor Sir David King: The first thing is I think we would all recognise that sugar cane is not grown on deforested areas. Sugar is grown on the savannah areas, for example, in Brazil. It is further south that sugar is grown. However, sugar growth can displace soya growth into deforested areas, so it is a second order effect but it is there. It is obviously an issue that we need to watch. At the same time, I have been responsible, working with the Brazilian Government and governments in southern Africa, for generating a tripartite UK-Brazil-southern Africa agreement to transfer the Brazilian bioethanol capability in southern African countries. I am clearly stating my position as a fan of the sugar cane to ethanol process. It has got two advantages to it. One is that its cycle of growth makes it almost carbon free. Sugar cane to alcohol is an extremely efficient process. If you want to see that in operation go to Brazil and watch how it happens in real time creating rivers of alcohol. At the same time it is an economic advantage for developing countries because they can cut back on oil imports. It is a very important potential method of developing the economies of southern African countries to turn land that is not currently being used for growth into sugar cane growth. We worked in southern Africa to work out where sugar cane could be grown without causing displacement of other agricultural products. While we are on the subject of bioethanol, let me say that sugar cane to alcohol is the only bioethanol process at the moment that is practically zero carbon in its lifecycle production. Other methods of producing bioethanol are not nearly as efficient. Maize, for example, is not a good way to go. In the longer term I think that the most promising source of bioethanol is going to be converting cellulose material into ethanol and that is a technology that has not yet been developed through. There is a Shell process that is being developed in Canada that looks as if it may come to the market fairly soon and that would be a massive step forward because you are then taking a food crop waste product and converting that into ethanol. I think that is potentially a very strong solution.
Q95 Mark Lazarowicz: On the specific question of the link between biofuel production and deforestation, you mentioned that you did accept there were possible indirect effects by the displacement of soya production. Are you reasonably confident that both national mechanisms in other countries and international arrangements are in place to control those knock-on effects?
Professor Sir David King: I know that the Brazilian Government is having some success. For example, year-on-year over the last five years the amount of deforestation has been reduced. Although there is still deforestation, the amount year-on-year is being reduced and this is Brazilian Government surveillance. We know this using satellite observation, we can confirm the figures from the Brazilian Government, but it is a vastly complex process to control deforestation and it quite clearly does require funding through the Clean Development Mechanism or other to come through to see that it becomes much more effective.
Q96 Mark Lazarowicz: If I can turn to another energy related issue and perhaps take you back to your earlier discussion at the beginning of the session about carbon capture and storage. I picked up a considerable degree of caution from you as to the degree at this stage that we should rely upon the development of carbon capture and storage technology and perhaps contrast some of the enthusiasm which we have seen displayed in some circles as to the potential of that technology. What is your own assessment of the potential based upon the scientific knowledge and research that we have at present?
Professor Sir David King: Let me preface my reply by just reminding you that the International Energy Agency is saying that by 2050 the carbon capture and storage reduction of carbon dioxide emissions globally could contribute about 28 per cent, so enormously important in achieving carbon dioxide reductions that we get carbon capture and storage up and running. In terms of depleted oil wells, the technology is effectively proved, it has been used by the oil companies to squeeze out the last drops of oil from these oil wells. They have already proven the technology. In terms of saline aquifers we have still to see that proved. There are just three countries proposing demonstration projects: the United States with their FutureGen project which will be up and running in 2017; Norway with their Morganstad project which will be up and running in 2014; and the UK, I would imagine the UK project will be up and running in 2011/12. Those projects are therefore critically important. I am not meaning to imply that they will not work but they are crucial demonstration projects based on saline aquifers.
Q97 Mark Lazarowicz: Until we know the outcomes of those projects we will not know whether a 28 per cent reduction by 2050 is a feasible one, or contribution, would that be fair to say?
Professor Sir David King: I think it is fair to say but it is a little bit more complicated than that, if I may say. When you set up a demonstration project you are almost invariably faced with problems that you had not foreseen so it is tackling those problems that are going to be critical. I believe it will be successful, the question is just how soon will all the technical problems be solved in the use of saline aquifers. Saline aquifers are vital for that 28 per cent figure of the IEA because we do not have areas other than saline aquifers with sufficient volume to meet the demand.
Q98 Mark Lazarowicz: In those circumstances is it not regrettable to say the least, and I think you said it was scandalous, that the UK's demonstration project procedure has been delayed so that we will not see the results until 2011 or 2012?
Professor Sir David King: I think that is a political statement that I will back off from commenting on.
Q99 Mark Lazarowicz: If I cannot pursue that, can I ask one other question. Is there a danger that because of the enthusiasm, correct enthusiasm, for carbon capture and storage that there will be a redeveloped interest in coal-fired power stations in the expectation that the technology will be there to deal with emissions which we cannot at this stage be sufficiently confident will have the impact we hope it will?
Professor Sir David King: It is an interesting point and obviously a good one. My own view is that the cap and trade process should be a stronger disincentive than the incentive that might read into the future success of carbon capture and storage. I do think that the utilities are likely to get in good technical advice on the timescale over which they might expect carbon capture and storage to play through as a useful technology for them. At the same time, I think it is worth commenting that the EU proposal that all new coal-fired power stations should be carbon capture and storage ready is a good one, in other words we should proceed in the hope and in the expectation that carbon capture and storage technologies will come on- stream. I fear that my earlier comments may have sounded a little too sceptical. I am simply saying the technology is not a certainty at the moment.
Q100 Tim Farron: Just a quick question on deforestation and to look at one specific driver, and obviously the market pressure and market incentives are behind deforestation, it would not happen without those pressures and incentives. I look at one particular driver with regard to deforestation which is the creation of additional pasture for livestock farming in South America specifically. I observe, I guess, the counter, which is in this country vast amounts of land, which is open land, are being de-stocked and there is a lack of grazing taking place here and, if you look at it on a worldwide level, what a waste that is. What role do you think international trade agreements have in trying to tackle the consequences of a good market position which leads to deforestation of tropical areas and at the same time livestock de-stocking in our part of the world?
Professor Sir David King: Mr Farron is the one who asks the complex questions! Your question is a very good one, again. What happens to global markets if only the developed countries reach an agreement on cap and trade and meeting the obligations? We would see naturally from the economics an export of the smokestack industries, the heavy manufacturing industries, to the countries that are not signed up and we would certainly see the trade in farming, particularly livestock farming, also moving to those areas. That is precisely why it is critically important that we have a global agreement. The agreement cannot work if we exclude half the countries of the world, so it is absolutely critical that we have a global agreement. This means the agreement has to reach out to India at 1.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per annum and the United States at 24.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per annum, and at the same time seem equitable to both. That is the complex nature of the negotiations that we are in at the moment. I do think the G8 plus five grouping of heads of state is the place where that agreement can be hammered out and then handed over to the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change for a more detailed agreement. If you take it only through the UN FCCC, if I can just make this point, 190 nations with six representatives each in a great hall is not the best way, in my view, to hammer out an equitable process. I think that is a very complex process that we cannot avoid meeting. If we push the button only in the developed world we will see the consequences that we really do not want to see coming through.
Q101 Joan Walley: I want to bring us a little bit closer to home in respect of the Committee on Climate change. I know that you have been giving evidence to the Joint Committee and I am sure that you are familiar with the schedules which list the different expertise, if you like, that the Secretary of State will have regard to in respect of the actual Committee on Climate Change. What we are interested in is that we have had comments back, for example, from the Energy Saving Trust that knowledge of increased energy efficiency ought to be right up at the front of the schedule, also from the RSPB that there should be a duty for sustainable development. I very much remember the economic development legislation going through this House some years ago and there was a failure then to have sustainable development as part of a duty of that Act. Finally, the Tyndall Centre have expressed concerns to us that climate science is not necessarily going to be given the weight that some would wish it to have. I think the Committee would be very interested to hear your comments on the role of each of those - energy efficiency, sustainable development duty and climate science - in respect of what is on the face of the Climate Change Bill in respect of the schedule in respect of the Committee on Climate Change.
Professor Sir David King: My belief is that this committee is going to play an increasingly important role, so its chair, its competency and its expertise in this area is going to be crucially important, particularly in that early phase when its stature is going to be determined. I think the selection of that small number of individuals covering this broad range of expertise that is required is going to be quite a tough one. All of those areas that you have mentioned need to be covered. It would be difficult to imagine how this committee could operate without understanding the enormous benefits from energy efficiency gains, without understanding what the climate science is saying as a function of time. I think we need all of those in addition to the various areas of expertise that were laid out in the paper. I suppose the question would be then what would be the appropriate number of people who could cover this vast range of expertise. Certainly I am one of those who feel you do not have to have a committee of 23 so that you cover each of those patches. I do think responsibility on individuals to cover certain areas can be given and those individuals, if they are smart enough, need to keep closely in touch with the experts in the areas that they are meant to cover.
Q102 Joan Walley: How important do you think it is that not just the individuals who are appointed on account of their expertise but, if you like, the aspects of what they are prepared to do, how much of that starts out as a job specification? For example, should climate science be the main driver of what is taken into account by that appointed committee?
Professor Sir David King: The only reason we are sitting here is because the climate scientists have analysed the nature of the problem and made predictions about the problems that lie ahead of us and have set out the kind of targets that we need to play to, so of course climate science is going to be critical, but this committee has to operate within the social and political system and it has to get the economics right as well. While it has to be driven by an understanding of the climate science, there are other areas of expertise and capability that must be there as well.
Q103 Joan Walley: Is this committee primarily a scientific committee or is it going to be moving over into that area where the interface is between science and political decision?
Professor Sir David King: I do not see this committee as primarily a science committee. It has to be a committee that recognises the importance of science and it would be necessary, therefore, to have on board a person who is very close to the science.
Q104 Joan Walley: So it will be making concrete policy recommendations that might really be helping government make what might be difficult decisions if by that stage we still have not got the public awareness and commitment to action at a level that we need to have it to deal with the threat of climate change facing us?
Professor Sir David King: Quite right.
Q105 Joan Walley: Can I turn very briefly to the structure of government because I think in answer to all of our previous questions you have skated over so many different departments of state, from Defra and we have looked at water, the investment in sewerage systems, we have looked at mitigation, adaptation, the Treasury and talked about maybe new research and development that is needed in relation to the transport sector. How is it all going to be channelled, if you like, so that we keep that direction on climate change? In respect of the Government's proposals now to establish the £600 Energy Technologies Institute and the new Environment Transformation Fund to support the deployment of green technologies, how is the Government going to co-ordinate and keep the leadership on all of these possibly disparate groups if we carry on down that route of Chinese walls, if we do not have that new approach, maybe, from Number 10 that could join all of all this up in a new way?
Professor Sir David King: I think the Office of Climate Change is absolutely vital in that process. What I feel I have seen since 2002/03 with that commitment to 60 per cent reduction by 2050 coming in the Energy White Paper in 2003 is the transformation to the present day has really been brought about through the introduction of the Office of Climate Change because the Office brings together uniquely the key players. Within the home front it has Defra, DTI, DfT and DCLG all there and even on the international front it has got DFID and the FCO. The Office of Climate Change is absolutely vital. Let me just answer your question in terms of one of the areas that you mentioned that I am very close to, the Energy Technologies Institute. The Energy Technologies Institute is a public-private funded institute, so the total funding over ten years will be £1 billion, and the Institute is going to be run by a board. The board will have an independent chairman. The ten companies that are putting up the funds for the board will each have a director and the Government will have two directors. At the moment the two directors from the Government are Sir Keith O'nions and myself. The majority on the board are the private sector companies that are putting their funds pound for pound against the money coming from the Treasury. I think that structure is proper because it is removed from Government, but with the two Government board members there to oversee the proper use of Government funding, and at the same time it is a market facing institution. The intention of the Energy Technologies Institute is to take research being conducted in universities worldwide, the blue skies research, through to demonstration in the marketplace. The intention is to be market facing, which is why these big companies, and some of the small companies as well, are involved in leading the process. Having seen that through from the beginning, I do not think that body is going to need micromanagement from the Government. I think it is going to work within an economic atmosphere determined by the Government but I do not think micromanagement is required. I very much hope that many of the bodies you have referred to will be in that position.
Q106 Joan Walley: Finally, on this subsection, can I just refer to the Civil Service. Certainly in a previous report that we did we had concerns about the expertise within the Civil Service to be able to deal with the environmental issues but also to deal with them in a cross-cutting way. What is your take on that? How are we going to get the Civil Service fit for purpose in terms of how we address all of this?
Professor Sir David King: Thank you, that sounds like quite a big question. I suppose that is really a question about my job: "As Chief Scientific Adviser, what are you doing", if I can rephrase your question, "to raise the standard of science-driven evidence-based policy advice within Government?" That is a big challenge because I would have to say that I do not think the machine of the Civil Service has been designed to deliver around that sort of evidence-based policy advice system. The head of the Civil Service is very focused on this delivery of evidence-based policy advice but, at the same time, I would have to say from all of my experience that it has not been a major focus of the Civil Service in the past. The way that I have perhaps operated most effectively is through the revamped Foresight programmes that I introduced. Those Foresight programmes are entirely run by a very good group of civil servants within the Office of Science and Innovation who have developed an area of expertise that was recently evaluated as best in the world at running Foresight. Those Foresight programmes, each of them running for about two years, always engage about 100 scientific experts drawn from outside Government. The lesson there is that actually the Civil Service can operate extremely effectively if they learn the procedures for interacting with the knowledge base that exists outside the Government.
Q107 Joan Walley: Finally on that, I did a constituency visit last Friday and visited a project, Creating Partnerships, which was very much set up within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Would you foresee that kind of innovative cross-sectoral ability to link all of these up and there would be some kind of example that you could recreate in respect of making all of this relevant to each and every government department?
Professor Sir David King: Yes. I think the cross-sectoral activities that you refer to are becoming more and more important. Many of the questions that we have been discussing are cross-sectoral. Of course, we should not ignore the fact that many problems are well focused into individual government departments or sectors and can be left to beaver away in that way, but where we can see enormous improvements are when we get proper interaction, even in quite surprising ways.
Q108 Colin Challen: The Energy White Paper was silent on the question of peak oil, the prospects of peak oil and, indeed, the timing. What is your take on the subject of peak oil? Do you think it might be a fortuitous ally in our battle against climate change?
Professor Sir David King: The planet is finite and the amount of oil on it is, therefore, a finite amount. We are probably approaching having used about half of it. The implication of that is that there must be a peak in oil production at some point. The economics means that the oil price will go up as demand exceeds supply and at that point we will turn to less likely sources of oil, such as the tar sands, but eventually we will reach a point where converting coal to the usual oil products, such as chemicals and gasoline, will be a more economically viable route. We are pretty close to that right now. What I am referring to is the process that was developed in South Africa, the so-called Sasol process, for taking coal and converting it into perfectly useable, very good petrol product. That product becomes economically viable at an oil price that is not far beyond where we have reached in the recent past. The problem is that we have got enough coal to burn for several hundred years, even with a growing world population with higher aspirations, and if we convert all of that coal, and therefore burn it, without capturing the carbon dioxide we would probably be able to raise the carbon dioxide level ultimately to around £1,500 parts per million. The classic warm period level is 270 parts per million, so we would be returning the planet to the state it was in 50 million years ago when there was no more ice left. It is not much of an ally, we still need to focus heavily on not burning all that carbon that had become naturally sequestered under the planet's surface.
Colin Challen: That is quite alarming really, is it not?
Joan Walley: Very.
Q109 Colin Challen: I have a feeling that business as usual will do its best to do something with another fossil fuel and then really embrace the renewables agenda. I guess this will come down to the economics of it. People have long-held a dream of using coal to convert it into transport fuels and that was partly before the last war a military objective. Do you feel alarmed at all that this is really the probability rather than simply a possibility?
Professor Sir David King: I think it is a probability to be avoided, of course.
Q110 Joan Walley: Down to our actions.
Professor Sir David King: A large proportion of my work over the last six and a half years has been aimed at trying to get an agreement amongst nations to avoid doing just that.
Q111 David Howarth: Can we just turn to nuclear. My own deep scepticism of the nuclear industry in the end I think comes down to the credibility of the industry. It has a very long record of exaggeration, over-optimism, secrecy, hidden subsidy and in some cases just straightforward deception. The fear I have is that is somehow inherent in the technology because of its connection with security questions. In the light of that, or perhaps your own different estimation of the credibility of the industry, I wonder how confident you are in the date that you mentioned earlier this morning, and in fact mentioned last week at the other committee, of 2017 as the date on which nuclear power would come on-stream if the planning and licensing regimes were changed in the way as presently suggested?
Professor Sir David King: We can always look back at the past at a technology that we want to criticise and we can find all sorts of exaggerations about it. Even today we might look at the hype around stem cell technology, for example, and ask is this hype and are they going to deliver. I think much more important than looking at what was said in 1945 about the potential for peacetime use of nuclear, which was the phrase that was developed around then, particularly by Eisenhower, is to look at the current state of play of each of the technologies that might be able to deliver the energy that we need. To compare nuclear fission technology with the technology that the British developed getting first to the plate - we were the first to develop peacetime use of nuclear power - is like comparing the latest car with the Model T Ford, they are that different. The latest technology quite simply is ten times more efficient at getting energy out of a kilogram of uranium than the technology that we introduced back in the 1950s. Recognising that, I think that you can go well beyond the hype and look at the reality of nuclear fission power stations available on the market today, look at the reality in France where the production of electricity on the grid at around 80 per cent of their electricity coming from nuclear I think many of us would have to admit has been a successful process. The experience of the Spaniards is they have even improved the efficiency over the French and, of course, the Finns are now building new nuclear. If we actually look at what is on offer and take a critical look at it, and I can assure you our HSE looks at these things very critically, we would have to say that these are now highly efficient energy producing machines and relatively low risk. Of course, the concern is with radioactive waste and what we do with that, the concern is with decommissioning and decommissioning costs, but I am absolutely sure that the right way forward with nuclear new build, if we are going down that route, is to create the right fiscal environment which would include carbon dioxide emissions in the costing of electricity and to leave the decisions to the companies with their finances for nuclear new build against decisions on other forms of power production. The issue of proliferation is one I have not mentioned. I do not think that it would make any difference to the issue of proliferation if Britain was to build a new series of fission power stations. We have already got a substantial amount of uranium and plutonium up in Cumbria, we could convert that to MOX, it would be an extremely useful fuel for a very long period of time providing carbon free energy on to the grid. As a matter of fact, if we were to lose the 19 per cent of carbon free energy we get from nuclear on the grid at the moment by not allowing new nuclear plant to be built by the private sector companies then we are going to find it extremely challenging to meet that 60 per cent carbon dioxide reduction challenge.
Q112 David Howarth: I was specifically asking about timing because ---
Professor Sir David King: My figure of 2017?
Q113 David Howarth: Your figure of 2017. You raised a lot of points that we could take up and take the whole meeting about. Incidentally, one of the problems with the French system is that it relies massively on imports and exports of power from other countries and, therefore, I do not think it is generalisable.
Professor Sir David King: I am not suggesting we should get 80 per cent.
Q114 David Howarth: That is good. Just sticking to this timing issue, you are right to point to the gradual closure of existing plants when coming to the end of their lives and their replacement by other forms of power generation, but is your understanding of the 2017 date that it is the best possible scenario or is it your understanding that it is the most likely scenario for the coming on-stream of a new nuclear power station?
Professor Sir David King: I think all in all I would have to say I think it is the most likely scenario. As I said, the decisions are going to be with the private sector companies. The way needs to be cleared by the Government to see that the choice of power stations and the siting of power stations meet all of the stringent HSE requirements and the timescale for that needs to be factored into that 2017. There are two ways in which you can arrive at 2017. One is the timescale for build, and I think the timescale is realistic, the other is when will the utilities be looking for new power generation sources to place electricity on the grid. Both of those factors would, in my view, pull towards 2017/18 as a very realistic target date.
Q115 David Howarth: The actual build time is about five or six years?
Professor Sir David King: Five or six years.
Q116 David Howarth: So that means the go date will be the end of 2012.
Professor Sir David King: 2011, 2012.
Q117 David Howarth: I still think this looks like the best possible rather than the most likely, I have to say, given the way that timetables tend to slip.
Professor Sir David King: You have got to factor into this the need from the private sector. I think that need is more apparent than most people seem to understand. The private sector is dealing with ageing power stations, not only ageing nuclear power stations but generally ageing facilities, and they are faced with the long-term projection of a commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Frankly, nuclear new build is a very useful way for them to proceed given those targets.
Q118 David Howarth: Is it not a very high risk way of doing it compared to just building gas stations, say, especially carbon capture ready gas stations, which would be a much simpler thing to do?
Professor Sir David King: I do not think it is high risk at all.
Q119 David Howarth: Financially high risk, not anything else.
Professor Sir David King: Let me just take you up on the high risk. The major cost of nuclear is in the capital cost. The running cost is relatively low, the fuel costs may be very low given what I have just said about the amount of uranium and plutonium we have. The capital costs need to be factored in and there are decommissioning costs. If you factor all of that in the analysis indicates that the cost per megawatt hour of nuclear energy on the grid is around £38; the cost of gas is £37. That is factoring it all in.
Q120 David Howarth: These are the figures I never believe. We are now getting to the credibility problem.
Professor Sir David King: You must tell me whether you do not believe it from a detailed analysis of the numbers or ---
Q121 David Howarth: Yes, from the MIT study.
Professor Sir David King: The MIT study indicated a similar figure.
Q122 David Howarth: What it showed was that there was always a premium because of the extra risk of building nuclear power stations of a mark-up of about three per cent above ordinary costs of financing energy projects. Often when the government has been putting figures it has not included that sort of premium. I think that kind of premium would exist in the market if it was purely a market decision. There is also a political risk because the build time is so long that policy might change.
Professor Sir David King: There is an interesting point I would like to make in relation to possible policy changes and that is even in those countries, such as Germany, where a decision has been made not to build new nuclear plant, no old plant has been closed down, so I think there is an assurance that most of our European utilities are taking on board that once a government decision is made on these issues, subsequent governments stay with that. It is an expensive marketing decision to get that wrong I can see, but at the same time I think history would back the investment.
Q123 Joan Walley: Sir David, I cannot help noticing that you have not included the political costs in the various costs that you have just referred to. I am thinking particularly of political costs if it is the case that there is not and would not be public support for a replacement programme.
Professor Sir David King: There is only one way in which the British public are going to support nuclear new build and that is in the context that we are now discussing it, which is meeting an objective of carbon dioxide emissions reduction. I think that many of the arguments I have heard against nuclear do not come down to a detailed analysis of energy production for the United Kingdom. If you sit behind that analysis, as I have had to, and then try and work it through without nuclear, I challenge anyone to show how it works. There is a lot said about combined heat and power, about using much smaller energy systems that are micro generating systems and are distributive, but at the same time we are where we are at the moment with our large-scale power stations. Although I am very keen to see much more micro generation, considerably more combined heat and power, if you now take from where we are to where we want to be, it is extremely difficult to get there and continue to reduce emissions over that period of time. There has been much made of the fact that carbon dioxide emissions have increased over the last three years. Much of that increase is because of the loss of power from nuclear power stations. If you factor out the nuclear then we have done rather well by bringing renewables on board, by increasing energy efficiency, we have certainly done very well on greenhouse gases from landfill, but the one area we have done badly on is that we were at 30 per cent of our electricity from nuclear, which by the way would be a very sensible percentage, you can leave that on all the time, and we are now at 19 per cent. Just factoring in big efforts to reduce emissions against what actually happens as soon as one nuclear power station goes out of commission, it is a difficult one to argue.
Q124 Dr Turner: You cited Finland as an example of a country using nuclear power to good effect, I have to say, but it is quite easy to see by looking at the Finnish situation and our own that it makes very good sense for the Finns in their terms to do this because they have an under-generation of capacity which means that they can run their nuclear stations flat out for the whole of the year, which is the way to get the best economics, and they also have a virtual lack of available renewable energy resources compared with us. We have massive renewable energy resources yet untapped around our coast in terms of our marine resources which the PIU estimate some years ago was that between them could account for twice as much electricity as we currently generate and consume in this country. Certainly my reading is that because of the enormous capital intensity involved in developing new nuclear stations it will starve potential renewables, and especially marine renewable deployment, so we will get the nuclear capacity partly at the expense of the renewables and we would not be getting the benefit of CO2 savings from nuclear and renewables; it could not be and/and, it could to a large extent be and/or. Can you think of any way of guaranteeing that displacement does not happen?
Professor Sir David King: Yes.
Q125 Dr Turner: How?
Professor Sir David King: The Renewables Obligation on the utilities is an obligation that was introduced to place non-nuclear carbon free energy sources on to the grid for each utility, and that obligation was aimed to be ratcheted up in time to a set target of 2010, 2020. Each of the utilities said they would be happy with this provided it had a long timescale in front of it. In other words, they wanted to make sure that their investment in what turns out to be largely wind farms was going to pay off over a long period of time, so the obligation has been carried through to 2023. What we have got running in parallel with the potential for carbon dioxide pricing is an obligation for renewables on the grid. In a way this comes back to your point, Chairman, about public acceptability. At the moment we have about two gigawatts of wind farm energy on the grid, of renewable energy under the Renewables Obligation. That is the maximum by the way; it is intermittent so generally it is producing rather less than that. There are another eight gigawatts, it might even be nine gigawatts, caught up in planning permission. This is where locally the public are saying, "no thanks". Of course, the Government is trying to see that a streamlining of that planning permission process takes place but, nevertheless, it is already an indication that public acceptability is not a simple issue. It is also a question of whether wind farms are going to be generally accepted at different places in the country, and I would suggest in Cumbria the local population might be a little happier about a new nuclear power station rather than wind farms over the mountains that we so love to climb. Public acceptability is an important issue. Just coming back to your point, the Renewables Obligation, if you like, takes renewables out of the normal competition, so when we talk about building new large-scale power stations this is the utilities looking, as David said, I think rightly, at a choice between a new CCGT or a new nuclear power station. It is the large-scale power facilities we are talking about. Frankly, I do not think the money is going to come out of what would have gone into renewables. I do not see the connectivity.
Q126 Dr Turner: I would suggest to you that there are two other things to consider. Firstly, what you say about wind, fine, wind has difficulties with the public but it is not wind which is our great potential, it is wave and tide. Tide does not have the intermittency problems that wind has at all, it is totally predictable.
Professor Sir David King: It has a different intermittency problem.
Q127 Dr Turner: It has a different intermittency problem but properly deployed it could provide baseline load to precisely the same degree as nuclear power currently does. On the other hand, the nuclear industry, and I have heard various representatives say it time and time again, yes they can build nuclear stations without subsidies, fine, but they want guaranteed long-term contracts.
Professor Sir David King: Like the Renewables Obligation.
Q128 Dr Turner: In other words, they want the monopoly of the baseline load because that gives them economic production but that then denies access to renewables which by definition, because they are at an earlier stage of development, have not achieved their maximum economies of scale and, therefore, may have higher generation costs. Unless they too benefit from the baseline load and use their full capacity they become uneconomic. It is not just a simple question of the capital involved but also it is a generating cost economic issue where nuclear could - just could - act as a cuckoo in the nest.
Professor Sir David King: If I may just respond. The various forms of energy that you are describing there are low density energy and they all have massive challenges. Wind is a low density energy and this means you have to spread your wind farm over a significant area of the countryside. If we take wave, again it is low density and you really have to spread those floats in order to capture relatively small sums of wattage. On the question of tidal, the two rivers that have been most carefully looked at are the Severn and the Mersey. I think you could probably generate around a gigawatt, which is the equivalent of a large-scale power station, from the Severn, you certainly would not get that much from the Mersey, but then again the question is going to be whether people find it acceptable to have the Severn used in that way. All I am saying is I feel each one of these technologies needs to be factored in and brought through to the maximum utility and we do need a proper system that will bring them through to the marketplace. The Renewables Obligation actually factors that in. The utility that first brings on board the Severn barrage, or whatever it is going to be, will play that into their utilities Renewable Obligation. I think the mechanisms are in place and I need persuading otherwise.
Joan Walley: I think finally David Howarth wishes to come in to pick up one point.
Q129 David Howarth: A different way of putting Des's point about crowding out. If you model to 2050, just ignoring what the policy issues are, just on the basis of carbon price, an effect comes out which is very clear given the massive capacity, which is that nuclear has to in the end displace renewables because of the way the grid works. The grid needs balancing, flexible power which it gets largely from gas plant and nuclear is very inefficient, economically inefficient, at full load. There is an amount of gas that nuclear can never displace because it cannot do the same job that gas does on the grid, therefore the only thing left for nuclear to displace is renewables, which shows Des's point by subtraction rather than by addition as he was trying to do it. Is that not a problem, that in the long-term nuclear will displace these energy renewables? There is a question of public acceptability of different technologies but that has to be its effect given that it cannot do the job that gas does on the grid.
Professor Sir David King: My reading of the economic drivers leads me to a different conclusion.
Q130 David Howarth: Very different.
Professor Sir David King: Let us suppose we were optimising the UK grid electricity sources, then I would suggest 40 per cent of maximum demand in a given year should be from nuclear and renewables. You are then leaving nuclear and renewables optimally producing electricity round the year. That means that right round the year your base load supply is all carbon free, so you can meet the needs of the target and then at that time of the year, the winter, when there is great demand for electricity and we see the demand rise then you need to switch into those power stations - this is meeting your point - that can be rapidly turned on and off, and those power stations are likely to be gas. What you would be left with is coal and gas with carbon capture and storage providing the above baseline supply. I do not see the economic argument that would drive nuclear plus renewables above that 40 per cent, maybe 50 per cent.
Q131 David Howarth: The minimum demand, which I suppose is the other way to operationalise this role, the largely fictitious notion of base load, is a fifth of the maximum demand. If you go for 40 per cent some of that 40 per cent needs to be flexible in some way, flexible downwards mainly because the grid has to balance in both directions, which I still think leads to a situation where nuclear is going to be very expensive.
Professor Sir David King: The pricing of nuclear does not assume that it is 100 per cent producing full load. The pricing, this £38, is a realistic price based on an estimate of off and on time. It is going to be on all the time but I am talking about actually sellable electricity going on to the grid. You are right, minimum base load may be down at that 20 per cent level but that is not very often.
David Howarth: It is in the summer.
Joan Walley: Sir David, I do feel this whole issue of renewables and nuclear is going to run and run. We have come to the end of our time now. Can I thank you for what has been an absolutely illuminating discussion on the Climate Change Bill, the Future of Energy White Paper and our further report into the whole structure of Government. Your contribution today will really inform future debate and action linked to that. From my own point of view as a constituency MP I intend to bring this to the attention of the science colleges in my constituency because it is something we all need to be aware of. Thank you very much indeed for your time this morning.