Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report


International organisations

272. The UK is well represented on international co-ordinating bodies and secretariats for marine science, including an impressive number of UN bodies[589] and the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES). Witnesses saw scope for better exploitation of the UK's membership of these organisations. For example, the IMO, the only UN agency based in the UK, works on matter relevant to major maritime issues such as invasive species and ship emissions. IMarEST argued that the UK marine science community should "play a stronger role in [the IMO's] work", by providing more effective support to the UK delegation from the DfT and NGOs.[590] Dr Rayner of IMarEST explained that more forceful representation would ensure that the UK marine science and policy community "would be more informed by what is going on in other countries and what is going on at a global level."[591]

273. The IACMST outlined the shortcomings and inconsistencies in existing arrangements for UK participation in international dialogue and collaboration:

    Adequate briefing mechanisms exist for most of the delegations but many are ad hoc, as indeed are arrangements for liaison between the delegations. Much of this stems from the very limited resources available (cross-membership of the different briefing groups helps but is time consuming and often has to be arranged at short notice because of the late availability of documents produced by the international bodies). FCO, assisted by IACMST, are developing plans to improve overarching aspects of coordination.[592]

274. The IACMST secretary singled out the IOC and POGO as mechanisms in which international marine science can be advanced and in which the UK can play a key role, adding that "in those arenas we do punch above our weight; it is not only to do with financial resources, it is to do with our ideas, our intellectual capabilities."[593] We conclude that the UK needs to strengthen the resources dedicated to participation in international bodies and make a firm commitment to their work. There is also room for improvement in the mechanism to feed reports of the work of such bodies back to the scientific and wider communities. We recommend that a co-ordinating committee, within the new agency, be established to bring together UK representatives on all relevant international bodies in order to establish agreed common policy goals and to make optimal use of UK expertise and technology.

International projects

275. The UK is prominently involved in several major international projects, including the IODP and IMAGES. These projects represent good value for money in that the UK profits from many times more science for its investment through these subscriptions than in direct, national projects. However, we recognise that UK involvement in such projects tends to be expensive. Professor Liss of the Challenger Society told us that "£10m or £20m [is] required for a UK reasonable contribution to one of those international programmes".[594] This raises the question of finding an appropriate mode of funding for such projects. The Challenger Society explained that there are "currently no directed funds for national participation" in several key programmes which "means that to take part in international activities under these projects, scientists have to individually obtain responsive-mode funding from NERC, a system that makes it very difficult to coordinate UK participation."[595] The Biosciences Federation agreed that "The UK is most likely to benefit when it is a full partner in the initiation of international programmes, but at present, establishing such programmes is extremely time consuming and necessitates extensive lobbying; this in turn requires substantial career-time investment by key individuals. Greater consensus on prioritising global issues, and determining the best methods of addressing them, is required."[596]

276. There are cases where UK marine scientists claim that they have missed out on opportunities because NERC has not invested in international projects. SAMS cited the EUROCORES (ESF) programme on the deep ocean (EURODEEP) as "an example where the NERC-based decision ran counter to both international and national expectation".[597] The UK is not a participant in EURODEEP, unlike all the other major European countries. SAMS claimed that "Issues over the use of national facilities (vessels and ROVs) should have been sorted out with the scientific community".[598]

277. There is a further issue over funding to enable UK scientists to exploit the results of their investigations using international platforms such as IMAGES and the IODP. NERC provides a specific pot of money to support science arising from IODP but this is much smaller than that available in Germany or the US.[599] Professor Thorpe told us that the existing research programme focussed on enabling research to be done with the data from the IODP "has been incredibly productive and some of the outputs from the previous phase of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Programme have been among some of the highest cited journal products that NERC has funded".[600] However, the scientists involved believe a little more investment from NERC could reap far greater rewards.

278. A new type of funding is required for international programmes. The UK-IMAGES team called for support for the IMAGES programme as part of a strategic funding programme.[601] POL argued further that "There should be a clear line of responsibility for funding global programmes like CLIVAR, GOOS etc. and not leave it to the fate of individual science proposals like Oceans 2025."[602] We recommend that NERC examine alternative mechanisms for funding long-term international projects in marine science. It may be that there is also a role for the new marine body here in helping with co-ordination across funders. We also recommend that more funding be made available by NERC or other funders of programmes to enable scientists to exploit the results of international projects.


279. The UK hosts a number of International Project Offices (IPOs), based in each of the marine institutes. For example, PML hosts the International Project Office for GLOBEC, a major IGBP project concerned with marine bioresources, and was the host site for the early development of the IMBER International Project Office (now re-located to France). PML also hosts the national programme office for the Atlantic Meridional Transect programme (AMT) which has provided a platform for numerous international researchers. Together with its other PMSP partners in Plymouth, PML has recently supported the Secretariat of POGO, a subscription organisation comprising all the major research organisations worldwide which exists to promote collection and sharing of marine data and to develop capacity in developing nations. NOCS hosts the IPO for the CLIVAR programme; POL hosts GLOSS (The Global Sea Level Observing System), an IOC/UNESCO funded programme; and SAMS supports the European Census of Marine Life PO, and hosts the IPO on an Ecosystem Approach to Sustainable Aquaculture (ECASA).[603] NERC also funds the IPO for the Surface-Ocean Lower-Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) at UEA.

280. The advantages of hosting IPOs were emphasised by the Challenger Society, which saw the provision of such offices as giving "the UK a strong leadership role in what is planned and executed worldwide, with many benefits to both the UK community as well as to individual scientists who can participate in projects much larger than they or indeed the UK could mount alone."[604] The IACMST added that hosting an IPO "helps to raise the international profile of the hosting institutes" and enables the UK "to help set the scientific agenda of these international projects to maximise their value for the UK".[605]

281. Hosting such an office usually requires some subsidy by the host nation or institution. This makes the attitude of the Research Councils towards IPOs of critical importance. There was some disagreement over NERC's record in this area. NOCS stated that "NERC continues to be generally supportive of the hosting of IPOs".[606] Other centres felt that more support was needed from NERC to enable the host institute to fulfil this role and to communicate the results more effectively to a wider audience. For example, POL identified "a lack of scientific administrative support in the UK which prohibits our scientists in getting involved in the leadership of international programmes", and argued that "the leadership of large international programmes carries a significant administrative overhead that most UK laboratories cannot easily accommodate."[607] We conclude that NERC should continue to fund IPOs wherever possible and should provide direct support and assistance in the early stages of bidding for such offices, as well as during the period of operation.

EU marine research

282. Research and technology has been accorded a chapter of its own in the European maritime Green Paper and this part of the document has generally attracted support from the UK. Dr Williamson of UEA told us that "the input that the NERC laboratories or the funded centres have given on that Green Paper have been favourable, saying that it is going in the right direction and that these are just the sorts of thing that we ought to be doing, that the key issues that have been identified on a European scale give a very good congruence matched to our national priorities and interests and that we think we could play a major part in taking that forward."[608] The official UK Government response supported the goal of developing a more co-ordinated approach to marine research in the EU but called for any measures taken forward to be "balanced and proportional".[609]

283. UK scientists were instrumental in organising the Aberdeen declaration, which emerged from the conference of the European marine and maritime science and technology community held in Aberdeen on 22 June 2007. The declaration welcomed and supported the Commission's proposal for an all embracing European Maritime Policy but called for urgent action by the European Commission and Member States to:

  • initiate in 2008 a comprehensive and integrated European Marine and Maritime Science, Research, Technology and Innovation Strategy (to improve foresight activities and to promote multi-disciplinary research and co-operation between research and industry) in support of the EU Maritime Policy;
  • establish an adequately resourced and sustained process to oversee the implementation and delivery of this Strategy to support the European Maritime Policy; and
  • initiate and support funding mechanisms, specialised infrastructures, data collection and information management, and capacity building essential to manage the oceans and seas.

Professor Thorpe of NERC welcomed the declaration as "a welcome addition to getting better co-ordination and recognising the fact that we can do better."[610]

284. We believe that the UK should participate fully in the development of marine science and technology under the European maritime Green Paper process and show leadership to maximise the influence of UK scientists. We are concerned that this may not be easy with the Department for Transport in charge of Government policy in this area and we urge full consultation between that Department and those with greater knowledge of marine science and technology. We return to the role of the Department for Transport in the next chapter.


285. Cefas told us that "collaboration on marine science has been greatly facilitated by EU research contracts aimed at joining up the European marine science community".[611] It gave examples of programmes such as EFARO which brings together senior scientists and directors of EU fisheries institutes to share resources, advise the EU Commission on future science needs and set up collaborative research programmes; and of the Networks of Excellence, including EUR-OCEANS which has the overall objective of achieving lasting integration of European research organisations on global change and pelagic marine ecosystems and the relevant scientific disciplines. Cefas is presently involved in more than 30 European programmes.[612] NERC is also involved in EU Networks of Excellence and projects, including MarinERA, a project funded by the EU Framework Programme 6 that brings together the leading marine research, technology and development funding organisations in 13 European Member States to improve the coordination of national and regional RTD activities.[613] Collaboration at the EU level is clearly very much in the interests of the UK and we are pleased to see organisations and individuals take advantage of the opportunities offered.


286. The Seventh Research Framework Programme (FP7) brings together all research-related EU initiatives. Marine science is a cross-cutting issue in FP7, with marine resources covered in Theme 2 (Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnology) of the Co-operation Specific Programme and pressures on the marine system and the management of marine environments covered in Theme 6 (Environment, including climate change).[614] NERC has recently had a meeting with senior Commission officials and concluded that "we felt on both sides that there was increasingly a very good convergence of the scientific agenda".[615] On the part of industry, Mr Burt of AMSI welcomed the change in FP7 to encourage the involvement of SMEs.[616] However, we note concern that little prominence has been given to marine science per se in FP7 and that the ending of the MAST programme has left the EU with no dedicated marine science funding stream.

287. One difficulty with European research funding as far as the universities are concerned was identified by Professor Henderson as "the sheer size of the typical consortia that are required at European level".[617] He commented that "That is a good format to do really targeted research in a few areas and I think the EU is very successful at doing that, but it funds very specific areas of ocean marine science".[618] Portuguese officials stressed the importance of the careful selection and establishment of consortia to exploit the opportunities under FP7.

288. Portugal's Ministries of Science and Technology, Economics and Defence have set out national priorities for marine science with supporting structures designed specifically for FP7. We are pleased that there already seems a good fit between UK science and what is proposed under FP7. Traditionally, the UK has done well out of Framework Programmes. For example, in the EC MAST Programme run under the Fourth Framework Programme, the UK gained more than any other country, gaining nearly twice the UK's juste retour, with UK scientists co-ordinating 22 (26%) of MAST projects, and involved in 66 projects (77% of the total).[619] We recommend that the UK continue to work closely with EU to exploit FP7 to the full in the area of marine science.

589   Examples include the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO; the International Maritime Organisation (IMO); and a number of UN bodies whose work includes marine science, such as the IAEA, UNEP, WHO, UNIDO, FAO and UNDP. Back

590   Ev 232 Back

591   Q 353 Back

592   Ev 130 Back

593   Q 67 Back

594   Q 223 Back

595   Ev 122 Back

596   Ev 143 Back

597   Ev 165 Back

598   Ibid Back

599   Ev 127 Back

600   Q 628 Back

601   Ev 116 Back

602   Ev 103 Back

603   Ev 165 Back

604   Ev 122 Back

605   Ev 120 Back

606   Ev 170 Back

607   Ev 103 Back

608   Q 623 Back

609   Government Response to the EU Maritime Green Paper: Contribution from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the European Commission Green Paper: Towards a future Maritime Policy for the Union: A European vision for the oceans and seas (COM(2006)275 Final), p 7 Back

610   Q 624 Back

611   Ev 181 Back

612   Ev 100 Back

613   Ev 181 Back

614   Ev 261 Back

615   Q 624 Back

616   Q 359 Back

617   Q 96 Back

618   Ibid Back

619   POST report, Marine Science and Technology, July 1999 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 18 October 2007