House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE AND SKILLS COMMITTEE
PROFESSOR BRIAN LAUNDER, DR DAN LUNT and DR DAVID SANTILLO
PROFESSOR KLAUS LACKNER and DR VICKY POPE
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Gordon Marsden
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Brian Launder,
afternoon. It is very nice to see
you. Could I welcome our first panel of
witnesses to this, the geo-engineering case study within the Innovation,
Universities, Science and Skills Select Committee's investigation into
geo-engineering, and to thank very much indeed, Dr Dan Lunt of the
Professor Launder: Geo-engineering is the beneficial intervention in order on a global scale to change the climate in directions that we wish in the context of severe global heating with which we are threatened. It amounts to looking at schemes that will either provide a shade against incoming solar radiation or ways of withdrawing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Q2 Chairman: It is not sensible, is it, Dr Lunt? It is not a serious suggestion, is it?
Dr Lunt: It has certainly been suggested seriously within the scientific literature and also it is out there in the public conscience. There have been some articles in the popular press and the scientific press as well. It is certainly out there and is certainly being considered seriously within the scientific community.
Q3 Chairman: In terms of the scientific community, and we on this Committee take the science community very seriously most of the time, where is the consensus within the scientific community on geo-engineering?
Professor Launder: I would say that of those who have looked at the issue 90 per cent believe that we are in dire straits and the only way of escaping is to give time to move towards a genuinely almost carbon-free lifestyle globally, we must have a period two or three decades at least, but perhaps indefinitely, where we rely on the types of intervention that I have hinted at in order to give time.
Q4 Chairman: Are you actually saying that this is a technology, or a group of technologies, which will seriously buy us sufficient time in order for us to have the long-term solutions to the amount of carbon we are putting into our planet?
Professor Launder: They have the potential. Sceptics could say, "Well, this hasn't been tested" or "That hasn't been tested". What is very urgently needed now is to properly evaluate, to spend enough time developing schemes from the drawing board to at least an operational scale where their effectiveness can be evaluated so that one may discern barely workable schemes from those that really do work.
Q5 Chairman: Dr Lunt, do you buy into this, that this is a holding technology with the potential to be a long-term solution?
Dr Lunt: I guess this has to be a personal viewpoint really. For me, I would be very worried about seeing this as a long-term indefinite solution. Any sort of geo-engineering that is carried out should also be carried out at the same time as a concerted effort to reduce emissions, a move to more energy efficient lifestyles, new technologies, so that we do not have to rely on it indefinitely because there are certainly worries about some technology that you have to rely on indefinitely because of the problems of it failing or becoming too expensive. If we do aim for it, we should certainly aim for something that is temporary.
Q6 Dr Gibson: This is not scientists just making up the terminology to be unique and set up their own little enclave of conferences and so on? There have been examples of this in the past. Is it a serious concept that came out of conferences at the beginning or is it just a dream in somebody's head?
Dr Lunt: I do not know of any conferences that have been solely about geo-engineering, but certainly within the very major conferences in the geo-sciences, for example the AGU, which is the big American geo-science conference, and the EGU, which is the European one, for the last few years there have been dedicated sessions to geo-engineering and there has been a relatively large number of submissions. It is not just a thing that people discuss on internet news groups, it is actually out there in conferences, yes.
Professor Launder: The first scientific papers
on what we have started to call geo-engineering emerged in the 1970s. By the beginning of this century there was a
very well-developed feeling amongst a group of scientists that we would need to
move towards that. In 2004 the Isaac
Newton Institute in
Q7 Dr Gibson: Some of the effects of geo-engineering ideas may be irreversible, is that so? Professor Launder: In the short-term if, for example, we simply cut down the incident sunlight by two or three per cent in order to cool the planet but do nothing about the level of CO2 in the atmosphere that will increase the acidification of the oceans and those effects will be irreversible, yes.
Q8 Dr Gibson: Who are your big competitors in this field in terms of the way forward? Are you in the Coca-Cola Championship or are you in the Premier Division as against the other technologies? Give us a picture of it because we do not know where you sit as against other mitigating technologies.
Professor Launder: Personally, I would be delighted, and I think this probably goes for the majority of the experts you will be talking to, if somehow someone had a magic bullet that would discover how to make fusion work and we could use that for all of our power. I just do not see it happening fast enough.
Q9 Dr Gibson: The man on the Tube will speak for himself when he arrives, but how do you see the criticisms that Greenpeace have levelled at the issue in terms of morality, ethics and so on? You must have had this levelled at you many times, I am sure.
Professor Launder: I do not think I can answer that simply because I have not acquainted myself sufficiently. I just keep my head down like any eager-beaver scientist.
Q10 Dr Gibson: Does that mean that you do not care about the morality?
Professor Launder: Not at all.
Q11 Dr Gibson: You are opening up that point.
Professor Launder: Let me say more than anything else what alerts me is when I look across the Sunday lunch table and see my two granddaughters who are five years-old and think what will they inherit in 25/30 years' time.
Q12 Dr Gibson: Dan, what do you think about this area of morality and ethics?
Dr Lunt: I am not completely aware about the Greenpeace arguments, but my understanding from what I think David would say if he was here is if we go down this route of geo-engineering then there is the danger that in the public mind if there is a solution out there then they do not need to be energy efficient, reduce their energy use or whatever. Personally, I do have some sympathy with that, it is a fair argument, but it is very difficult to test whether that would be the case or not. These geo-engineering ideas are out there already and certainly a proportion of the public are aware of them. My impression from talking to friends is it is not affecting their decisions about energy use at the moment. In terms of the ethics and morality, it is a case of is it the lesser of two evils? The idea of geo-engineering per se to me is pretty grotesque really in some ways, but if it is the lesser of two evils then maybe that is the route we have to go down.
Q13 Dr Gibson: Where do you chaps get your funding from?
Dr Lunt: I have not been in the field
of geo-engineering very long at all so I would not call myself a complete
expert. The one study that we have done
and carried out at
Q14 Dr Gibson: What did you work on before?
Dr Lunt: The geo-engineering stuff was and still is completely in my own time, if you like. My actual speciality is I am a paleoclimate modeller, a past climate modeller and future climate modeller.
Q15 Dr Gibson: You must get funded, Professor Launder?
Professor Launder: My field of research, I hasten to say, is not in geo-engineering. I will not bore you with how I got involved.
Q16 Dr Gibson: How did you get your chair?
Professor Launder: I am a mechanical engineer. Gosh, I have forgotten what I was going to say.
Q17 Dr Gibson: So what got you into this geo-engineering stuff? What was the light that suddenly shone? You said your granddaughters, but it does not happen just like that.
Professor Launder: Besides that, there was a
geo-engineering conference held in
Dr Gibson: Has Prince Charles found out about this yet? He has not pronounced on this yet, but I bet he will.
Q18 Chairman: Before we get on to Prince Charles, you mentioned earlier about the issue of scaling up, Professor Launder, and so far there have been a number of laboratory experiments, and we have obviously got evidence about some of those, which seem to be incredibly interesting.
Professor Launder: Laboratory and field trials.
Q19 Chairman: If I can be frank with you, a few years ago this Committee did a piece of work on carbon sequestration long before that became a popular move, and we were looking forward to one large scale demonstrator plant at Peterhead, which never came off. That was a proven technology which we knew could be scaled up. Scaling up geo-engineering on a global scale seems to be the most incredulous challenge and yet you feel it is possible.
Professor Launder: Yes, I do, but on the point you raised there is still a huge gap between the PhD type of research that Dr Gibson was mentioning and actually putting it into practice. There is an awful lot of development and detailed design activity.
Q20 Chairman: But we have not time, have we, if what you are saying and, indeed, what I think Greenpeace would accept, is the current scientific consensus?
Professor Launder: We have not time not to, Chairman.
Q21 Chairman: That is a very good point. You think there is time to do this developmental work to get large-scale demonstrators up and running so that this is a serious technology which could be deployed?
Professor Launder: Indeed. I mentioned in my submission the Carbon Trust as a source of support for that. The Carbon Trust currently seems to be focused on carbon-free power generation. I think a proportion of its budget should be earmarked for the type of geo-engineering activities that we are discussing.
Chairman: We will come on to funding in a minute because I think that was behind Dr Gibson's comment, that you are not getting any funding, this is your own interest at the moment.
Q22 Ian Stewart: Good afternoon, both of you. Brian, the Chairman pressed you a little bit about scaling up and buying time. Will there come a point where buying time is no longer possible?
Professor Launder: This is a personal view. My feeling is that one can only rely on this to buy time if we are looking at decadal timescales of a few decades. If we continue to accumulate carbon dioxide in our atmosphere faster than we can take it out or it diffuses out into the sea or vegetation then we have the most gloomy prospects for the planet. I think some of the people you will be speaking to have a somewhat different view, but personally I would see geo-engineering as something that we might do for three decades, at most five, and we must ultimately get a way of living, perhaps a much reduced population on the globe, powered by nuclear fusion and direct solar power. We will have to look at routes like that.
Q23 Ian Stewart: Do you agree with that, Dan? Also, how do we guard against some of this stuff becoming almost like a global climate insurance policy?
Dr Lunt: First of all, I do agree that it is of the order of decades probably that we are looking at if we do want to use geo-engineering, it is probably along those timescales. In some ways what is necessarily wrong with having an insurance policy, a back-up, in case? At the moment geo-engineering is in a situation where it could not be used tomorrow, we could not turn it on tomorrow, there needs to be some sort of spin-up in terms of research and development before it could be used, but if that research and development does happen it does not necessarily mean that it has to be used at the end of that if it is deemed not necessary at the time. To have it as an insurance policy is maybe not a bad thing.
Q24 Ian Stewart: Do you agree with that as well, Brian?
Professor Launder: Indeed, yes.
Q25 Ian Stewart: The public money that is going to be spent on known mitigation technologies, would we not be better spending the money on the existing known technologies rather than risk it being put into supporting geo-engineering? In any case, has anybody got any idea of how much the geo-engineering stuff might cost?
Professor Launder: I am sure some of the speakers you will be coming to a bit later on for the particular technologies they are advocating will be able to give pretty precise sums for costs. When I say "pretty precise", within an order of magnitude.
Q26 Ian Stewart: A guestimate.
Professor Launder: I do not think I should trespass on areas where they are ---
Q27 Ian Stewart: Is it a good use of money then?
Professor Launder: Is it a good use of money? Undoubtedly, I believe it is.
Q28 Ian Stewart: Why?
Professor Launder: Because if the climate gets out of control all of the other ways of spending the money are worthless.
Q29 Ian Stewart: You believe it is that big, do you?
Professor Launder: I believe it is that big, yes.
Q30 Dr Harris: In some other technologies, controversial ones, they are often defended on the basis that there will be spin-out effects that will be beneficial even if the ultimate aim does not come to fruition and, secondly, the research and development, even short of implementation, will create jobs. Is this a job intensive field in the development even if it is never implemented? Can you argue that you are going to invent something and produce products useful out of it even if you do not get the ultimate end product?
Professor Launder: I am sure there will be
beneficial spin-offs. I think we are too
near the beginning in our attempt to get towards a point where we implement it
to be able to see many of them. One as
an example: for deploying cloud brightening techniques, Stephen Salter has
developed a lot of interest in Flettner vessels, vessels that are powered by
spinning cylinders. I am sure his work
on that will stimulate a lot of interest in reverting - I say reverting because
at the end of the 1920s such a vessel crossed the
Q31 Dr Harris: Professor Lunt, do you know of ay collateral benefits?
Dr Lunt: Apart from the one that Brian has mentioned I cannot really think of any. I guess the only thing that would come into my head is if maybe there was a natural climate disaster, something that meant temperatures raised, maybe some of these technologies could be used in that instance.
Q32 Dr Harris: So it is different from fusion because fusion is creating a lot of useful stuff anyway, albeit we are still some way away from practical use, but it is different, it is more of a binary decision. You are going to work on this in order to implement it really.
Dr Lunt: I think that would be the primary driver, yes.
Q33 Chairman: Can I just welcome Dr David Santillo. We are sorry you have had trouble getting here.
Dr Santillo: My apologies.
Chairman: Not at all. You have come in at an interesting time. I am going to ask Dr Gibson to return to one of his earlier questions on the moral maze in just a minute, but we will go back to Ian Stewart and follow his line of argument.
Q34 Ian Stewart: Hello, David. Basically, the drift of the questions I have asked is, is geo-engineering necessary? If it is necessary, is it only going to buy us time for a set period? Even if it buys us time for a set period, is it a good use of public money, and has anybody got any idea how much it is going to cost? Take your pick!
Dr Santillo: Or all four perhaps! The fact we are having this discussion as to whether it is necessary or not is a measure of the fact that we have done too little so far to address the problems at source. I would really caution against seeing this as being an option that has yet to be developed because we are at the stage where we have very little concept as to whether a lot of these geo-engineering techniques will actually contribute to mitigating climate change. There are circumstances in which they could actually exacerbate problems. It is vital that however research is carried forward in any of these fields, it is not a barrier to, a distraction from, dealing with the real problem. I have not had the benefit of being at the first part of this discussion and those points may well have been taken up and discussed. Those sorts of fundamentals are important before you even begin to consider what some of these things may cost. If we have very little evidence that they are actually going to do anything beneficial in the first place, that is the first point to try to address.
Q35 Ian Stewart: Let me ask you a final point. One of the definitions that we have had about this issue, what is geo-engineering, runs like this: global action intended to mitigate climate change. Do you agree with that?
Dr Santillo: That seems a very general definition.
Q36 Ian Stewart: The question that arises from it is if an action is not global, is it not worth doing?
Dr Santillo: No, not at all. A lot of the actions that we can and should be taking to address climate change are not in themselves global actions, they may be very local or regional actions to address the problem. In fact, they have to be if we are going to tackle emissions at source. To have a general definition of geo-engineering simply as being global action to address climate change, from my understanding geo-engineering is more those types of activities which attempt to manipulate planetary systems and to exert their global influence in that way. There is perhaps a need for a more specific definition of what is meant by geo-engineering.
Q37 Dr Gibson: Nice to see you. I do not know what Tube it was, do tell us.
Dr Santillo: It was Great Western Trains that held us up, I am afraid.
Q38 Dr Harris: We call that a predictable phenomenon.
Dr Santillo: Indeed.
Q39 Dr Gibson: David, you have brought the phrase "moral hazard" into this on the grounds that all the speculation may lead eventually to worsening the whole thing. Can you explain that in a little more detail? What is the moral hazard?
Dr Santillo: The concern that we have is that while a lot of the discussions that are taking place are now précised by the acknowledgement that geo-engineering should not be a distraction from tackling emissions and energy efficiency, the fear we have is that inevitably it will be a distraction. At the moment there seems to be a proliferation of different discussions, projects, bodies discussing this particular issue, and we are concerned that the promise of something in the future, however speculative it may be, however unproven it may even be in terms of its effectiveness, may seem to give some kind of hope that, in fact, we can tackle climate change without tackling the real problems of emissions and greenhouse gases at source. In the public's mind there is a danger perhaps that people will favour what they see to be a solution which does not involve them changing their way of life, does not involve them having to make difficult choices, if they can simply contribute to a scheme which somehow very distant from them will engineer the climate back to its normal state.
Q40 Dr Gibson: Is this the technological fix argument?
Dr Santillo: That is right. That is the danger, that however much we wish that it will not be a distraction inevitably it will be.
Q41 Dr Gibson: How do you make the decision which technologies are worth proceeding with? I know you do not believe in GM particularly, but stem cells you might. How do you make these decisions about the morality and involvement which should allow it to go ahead or not? Is there a cut-off point?
Dr Santillo: The approach that I have suggested in my evidence to this Committee is perhaps something that could be pursued for geo-engineering in general. Just a couple of weeks ago the London Convention, which is the convention which prevents pollution from the dumping of materials in the oceans and, therefore, has an interest in ocean fertilisation schemes, came to a resolution that there had to be a way of permitting what it called "legitimate scientific research" to continue while at this point closing off any more practical applications of geo-engineering. In that case, that was specific to attempts to fertilise the oceans but it could equally well apply to attempts to manipulate atmospheric conditions or other technologies that are included under geo-engineering. The elegance of it is that it does not say no to new scientific studies, it simply says that there should be a consistent and precautionary set of rules that need to be applied by all countries in order to determine what is legitimate scientific research into these techniques and what is not. A very key part of that has to be a consideration of the commercial involvement because if there is an element of commercial interest in those experiments having a particular outcome, I think that would counter that legitimacy in terms of research.
Q42 Dr Gibson: I suppose you have thought for a long time about these problems, always worried that in the developing countries they are going to get the brunt of it and yet they need to expand their economies and so on. How do you relate your moral dilemma to that?
Dr Santillo: I think there is a danger also that for the more time that we in the richer nations look to geo-engineering solutions, the less time we are putting to exporting the good technologies and the more sustainable technologies.
Q43 Dr Gibson: Such as?
Dr Santillo: Such as renewable energy, integrated transport solutions, measures to improve efficiency of energy units. All of these things the developing world is crying out for and if we take our eye off the ball and look to future speculative solutions there is a danger that we will take our eye off the ball from that as well.
Q44 Dr Iddon: Mathematical modelling is getting exceptionally better but it is still subject to the innumerable variables that you have to put in to get into predictive mode. Where climate change is concerned we know so little about certain of the variables that you need to plug in. For example, very little is known about the behaviour of the sea, which is a huge player in climate change, we all accept that. How sophisticated would modelling have to be to predict the effects of geo-engineering? Have we got to that stage at the moment?
Dr Lunt: We are at that stage. A number studies have been carried out in a mathematical modelling framework that have looked at this problem. In terms of are the models suitable?, the models that can be used to predict the outcome of some of these geo-engineering schemes are exactly the same models that are used to predict unmitigated climate change. The predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are carried out by the same models. I would argue that these models are at a stage where they can be used in predictive mode. These models do a very good job of predicting, for example, the climate change that we have seen over the last hundred years. If you compare these model estimate of climate change from 1900-2000, they are actually very good and agree very well with the observations. I would argue that they are in a good state for being used for this purpose to look at the geo-engineering problem.
Q45 Dr Iddon: What I am saying is that I do not believe that the modelling that places like the Hadley Centre are doing at the moment are sophisticated enough to predict even climate change, although they are getting there but there are still lots of variables that I think they do not understand that need plugging into their systems. How on earth can you use something at that stage to predict something beyond predicting climate change?
Dr Lunt: To make a prediction about a geo-engineered world you do not have to change your model very much at all. Your mathematical model will be exactly the same as the one that is used to predict just normal future climate change.
Q46 Chairman: I think the point Colin is making is that that is imperfect.
Dr Lunt: Yes, it is certainly imperfect. The question is how good is good? How good do you need your model to be before
you start interpreting the results? All
I can say is that it does a good job compared to the observational record that
we have had so far. There cannot really
be any other test. We can go further
back in time and look at how well these models predict, for example, the last
ice-age and again they do a good job, but how good is good? How good do you want your model to be? The general consensus among the climate
community is that the models are obviously getting better and they are including
more and more parts of the earth's system.
At the moment there is a lot of work going into putting a representation
Q47 Dr Iddon: One of the ideas is to put mirrors into space to reflect the sunlight. Do we know how many mirrors we would have to put up there and the extent of the coverage of those mirrors in terms of reflection to lower the earth's temperature by just one degree?
Dr Lunt: There is one study of which I am aware that looked into the engineering aspects of mirrors in space and the idea was a number of discs, each about 60cm in diameter, and there would be several trillions of these up in space placed in orbit between the earth and the sun about five times further out than where the moon is.
Q48 Dr Iddon: That is a huge cost. Can I put it to you that if I was making mirrors I would put them in the Sahara Desert and I would generate steam in the way that can already be done. There has been a development project that, so why bother to go to all the cost of putting the mirrors up there when we can generate our power down here without using fossil fuels.
Dr Lunt: I agree with you. Of all the geo-engineering solutions that
have been proposed, I am sure it is not the most cost efficient. The person who did the study estimated the
cost - it was quite a broad number he came up with - to be several trillion
dollars which, according to some estimates, is not much more than the
Iddon: We have to develop
Dr Lunt: If you were definitely going to go down the line of geo-engineering, if that had already been decided - a real costs benefit analysis has not been carried out yet so that is one thing that I think would have to be done first and I do not actually know what the answer is - some of the solutions that Stephen Salter has been suggesting about sea spray and cloud condensation might be more economically feasible. If that costs benefit analysis was carried out it should also be carried out in the framework of looking at other solutions to climate change and mitigation and adaptation, because to do geo-engineering on its own does not make any sense; it needs to be compared to other solutions.
Q50 Dr Iddon: You are interested in sunshades. Could you guide us through as to how you believe that sunshades would work?
Dr Lunt: We did one study on sunshades. I would not say that means that I necessarily
advocate them, but in terms of how they would work, they would reduce the
incoming radiation from the sun. We
found that you could reduce the amount of solar radiation to offset a four
times increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. You would probably try and match the global
average temperature to be what it was maybe in pre-industrial times. One of the things that we found, and Ken
Caldeira found before us, was that you do not retrieve exactly this
pre-industrial climate that you are searching for. You might get the global average correct, but
what you find is that there were residuals in that the
Q51 Dr Iddon: What are these sunshades physically?
Dr Lunt: In this proposal they were thin discs 60cm in diameter made of some sort of silicon-based product, I expect. I am not sure about the engineering details.
Q52 Dr Iddon: If things went wrong could we retrieve them?
Dr Lunt: I do not know the answer to that question.
Marsden: Professor Launder, your
colleague, Dr Lunt, has just referred to the
Professor Launder: There are many basic principles that are known and there are many unknowns in the whole science. The previous questions related to how good is the theory. You may have looked at predictions of the way global temperatures will increase and from the present they fan out. There are many different models giving somewhat different results but they all go in one direction. The urgency is not entirely established. 
Marsden: It has been reported in a
small scale that countries like
Launder: In the free world research sponsorship is done
by agencies which are not closely tied to governments and certainly there are
such projects in the
Marsden: What about those countries
which are not subject to the same sort of vigour and democratic scrutiny, like
Launder: Indeed, yes.
I know that
Q56 Mr Marsden: Dr Lunt, our own government, both DIUS and Defra, have indicated in their submissions to us that geo-engineering technologies may play a role in future efforts. Are you aware of that being anything more than just a pious hope, or is anything going on in government that might give you and your colleagues some comfort?
Dr Lunt: I am not aware of any major projects that are
planned in terms of geo-engineering. I
noticed in one of the written submissions from the Research Council of the
Q57 Mr Marsden: I ask that question because the history science is, so far as I can see, never just a question of top down, and it is certainly never just a question of bottom up; it is a question of the interrelationship between those two things. Is it not the case that if you expect to get your ideas seriously on the public agenda that those people who are in support of geo-engineering research have got to put their head above the parapet a little more and have got to get things out more into the public arena and get a major debate going? Professor Launder, is there any evidence that you have got the critical mass to do that?
Professor Launder: I would say that the critical mass has been reached. The fact that this Committee is inquiring into it is some signal. The Royal Society took upon itself to publish a special issue of the philosophical transactions devoted to this subject. The Royal Society is currently developing independently of that a position on geo-engineering. I believe that it will be producing a paper next year on this.
Q58 Mr Marsden: How are people in this area communicating all of this with policy-makers? We had Professor John Beddington before us recently. What are you doing to get the ear of people like him in government?
Professor Launder: I have to say that I do not know.
Q59 Mr Marsden: You are coming along here today saying that this is in its infancy but we have some interesting ideas to be taken forward. Unless you are able to create that critical mass of involvement and to grab the policy-makers, then you are not going to get very far, are you?
Professor Launder: The policy influences on government tend to be made through scientific groups. The Royal Academy of Engineering is pressing in that direction through its president; the Royal Society is pressing for progress in that direction; I know the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to which I belong, is very active in that.
Q60 Mr Marsden: You think that, relatively soon, we are going to have a critical mass of evidence of argument that government departments, like Defra and DIUS, will have to take notice of?
Professor Launder: Partly I would say we do not have all the evidence but we cannot afford to wait. We must get involved in field trials and experiments that will enable us to discriminate between the techniques that do not really work as effectively as others.
Q61 Mr Marsden: Dr Santillo, does not what Professor Launder has just said sound to you like a reasonable basis upon which to proceed? I have read the evidence submission you have made and I have heard what you have said today. Some might say that, 20 or 30 years ago, your ideas might have been regarded as fairly off the wall, so why today are you being so down on geo-engineers? Is it not perhaps because you are the new orthodoxy?
Dr Santillo: I think if any of our ideas were considered to be off the wall 20 or 30 years ago, they are certainly not now.
Q62 Mr Marsden: That is exactly the point that I am making.
Dr Santillo: Perhaps we shall need to see where some of this research goes. The critical mass that we have at the moment is simply a reflection of the fact that more people are talking about geo-engineering techniques. It is not in itself an indication that we have greater evidence that these techniques are actually going to do anything productive and I think that is a very important distinction to make to come back to your earlier question on known unknowns and unknown unknowns. We are dealing clearly with a spread here but I think there are rather a lot more unknown unknowns than there are known. When we talk about something as complex as planetary systems - my expertise is mainly in the area of ocean systems - I think the fact that we have better models of the way in which these things will happen is sometimes misinterpreted as being filling in all of the gaps, that a model somehow fills in the gaps in our knowledge that we have. Of course, models will always be limited. We are dealing with systems where we are not simply going to answer all of the questions with further and further research. At some point it needs to be a policy decision as to whether this is an appropriate way to go or not.
Q63 Mr Marsden: You do not even think they should get started, do you?
Dr Santillo: What I have said is that if there are proposals that people wish to bring forward for research into geo-engineering techniques, what we need is a globally harmonised system for evaluating those to make sure that they are actually legitimate proposals and that they will not in themselves have a negative impact on the very planetary systems that they are studying.
Q64 Dr Harris: You have set that out in your evidence, which we have read. Do you think the British Government agrees with you or does it agree with the enthusiasts, or do you think its view is somewhere in the middle from what you know of government opinion from innovation or Defra or the new climate change department?
Dr Santillo: I think it is difficult to say. I suspect the view is somewhere in the middle. My feeling is that from policy-makers they can see a huge scepticism and understand that scepticism around geo-engineering techniques. I do not think there is a lot of appetite for them at the moment, but there is a danger that the more the commercial community, and to some extent the research community, talks up geo-engineering as a solution, some of those assumptions will begin to be set in policy that it is only a matter of time before these things will work.
Q65 Dr Harris: If one of these solutions looks viable, the logic of your position is that you will be even more opposed to it because it will look even more tempting for policy-makers to shelve the action that is needed to, for example, reduce emissions because one of these is looking viable. You have an interest in this not working.
Dr Santillo: Not at all. The position that we put forward is that at this point, given the huge uncertainties and unknowns regarding even the effectiveness of some of these proposals, that at this point none of them are a viable option and we should focus our efforts where we need to put them.
Q66 Dr Harris: You do not think people will start wrecking field trials of this technology like some people did for GM? I know with your formal backing you would never back illegal vandalism, but some people identified with your cause there. You are not envisaging that sort of reaction to this technology, are you?
Dr Santillo: I have no idea how people other than myself will respond to these issues, but I do not think we are in that same sort of debate. In this situation we are talking about something that could possibly happen 20 or 30 years from now that people are talking about researching at this stage. All I am saying in our evidence is that we need to not provide a barrier to that research but it has to be done in a legitimate, transparent way and in a way which follows a set of very clear and precautionary rules.
Chairman: I think Dr Harris would agree with that. Can I thank Professor Brian Launder, Dr Dan Lunt and Dr David Santillo for being our first set of witnesses on this particular inquiry; thank you all very much indeed.
Professor Stephen Salter,
Chairman: We have a video-link from the
Q67 Mr Marsden: If I may start by getting a quick summary from all three of our professors this afternoon on how you have actually funded your programme on geo-engineering research to date and what has been the biggest challenge in taking them forward.
Professor Caldeira: I have the good fortune of working for the Carnegie Institution which is funded by an endowment left by Andrew Carnegie in 1902. My funding is covered by that and I also get some philanthropic funding to support post-doctoral researchers in this area but I have no federal or public funding at all.
Q68 Mr Marsden: What has been the biggest challenge in taking your research forward?
Professor Caldeira: I am a big advocate of research. I do not really consider myself an advocate of geo-engineering. I think these schemes have the potential to diminish environmental risk. We do not really know whether they will or not. I think the politics around this makes it difficult to discuss these issues in a neutral and balanced way. What I would like to see is more research that focuses on this topic in a balanced way on empirically answerable questions.
Lackner: Thank you for inviting me to be part of
this. I am the director of the Lenfest
Centre for Sustainable Energy here at
Professor Salter: I have had no money at all. I have had a promise from Ken Caldeira that he will pay my travel for going to some conferences but that is all I have had.
Q69 Mr Marsden: What has been your biggest challenge? Clearly money is a challenge, but are there others?
Professor Salter: The biggest challenge is there are only seven days in the week.
Professor Caldeira: I have had advertisements posted for post-doctoral researchers in this area and I have been unable to find good qualified people who have the technical skills to work in this area.
Marsden: What is interesting from the
range of responses that the three of you have given are a couple of references
to public funding in small amounts, but the majority of what we are talking
about has been private entrepreneurial activity. Professor Salter, looking at it from the
Professor Salter: It would be sensible to have the normal grant-giving process allowed to cover geo-engineering. I have applied to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and they turned it down.
Q71 Mr Marsden: Do you know why?
Professor Salter: Yes. One of the referees said that we had not put enough effort into how we disseminate the results. You only need one tiny negative comment for it to be thrown out and it does not even get to the panel. I am trying again at the moment from the Environment Research Council and I have to put a proposal into them for early December.
Marsden: From the
Professor Caldeira: Because climate engineering has the potential to reduce climate risk cost-effectively, I think it is important to research it as a possible kind of emergency response approach and it will need public funding and it should be public funding because there should be no real commercial market for these technologies. It will be the public sector that should deploy it and policy-makers need unbiased and accurate information and I think public funding is the best way of achieving that.
Marsden: Professor Lackner, the new
President Elect of the
Professor Lackner: I would expect so and hope so, but let me make a distinction between climate change engineering, which is what first comes to mind when people talk about geo-engineering, and contrast it with what I would call carbon cycle engineering. I think climate change engineering is a last resort and should be treated like that. It is like if I had a fire and the house burns down you will accept the water damage and in many ways if carbon dioxide were smelly we would not solve the problem by giving out nose plugs; we would stop putting carbon dioxide out because it is actually the approach. I would emphasise that end capture, for example, has been considered. A geo-engineering method is quite different because it goes to the root of the problem so I do believe we need to have public researched support for all of these issues, but they have to be put in perspective for what the goals are. I do believe it is necessary to effectively reach a carbon neutral energy infrastructure.
Professor Caldeira: To support what Klaus said, these various climate engineering approaches might reduce risk in some ways and introduce new elements of risk, whereas I do not see the kind of thing that Klaus Lackner is working on removing CO2 from the atmosphere as introducing new elements of risk in the same way that climate engineering does. Personally I do not even consider what Klaus does to be in the realm of climate engineering. Basically removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere should be uncontroversial, whereas I think well-informed, intelligent people can differ on the wisdom of focusing on direct climate manipulation.
Q74 Dr Iddon: Professor Lackner, is there a national geo-engineering research programme established in the States?
Professor Lackner: No, there has not been. Are you asking me whether it should be?
Q75 Dr Iddon: Yes.
Professor Lackner: I would again treat it with caution. I would view this as the backstop. We need to consider what happens if climate change runs away much faster than we thought, but I think it is very important also in public discourse to make clear that, by itself, it does not solve the problem and only allows you to tie over until you have really solved the problem in a direct manner, namely dealing with the carbon dioxide.
Q76 Dr Iddon: I ask the same question of the people in the room here. Do you think a national geo-engineering programme should be established and how should it be structured, if you agree?
Professor Salter: Yes, you should certainly have it. I think you could probably build it onto the existing research councils with perhaps some ring-fenced money that the government decides on the amount.
Q77 Dr Iddon: Is that agreed by our other two guests or do you have different views?
Professor Caldeira: I am basically in agreement. Dan Lunt is an example of a scientist who is working primarily on other sorts of climate change problems but focuses some of his energy on climate engineering. I think that is a good model. We do not need to create a cadre of climate engineers. I think we need climate scientists and good engineers who can then apply their skills to this problem too. I do not think we are looking to develop people with a vested interest in specific outcomes.
Q78 Dr Iddon: Dr Pope, do you agree with those views or do you have a different view?
Dr Pope: Yes, I would agree with those views. The focus has to be on science to improve mitigation and obviously adaptation to unavoidable climate change. Many of the techniques that are available for looking at the impacts of mitigation can also be used to look at geo-engineering as well.
Gibson: Is this kind of research
better done in a university environment or should you have a kind of hub
mentality where it is all concentrated in one place and little bits spew out now
and again? It may be different in both
countries because the university environment in
Professor Caldeira: I admit a vested interest since I am located at Stanford and have a new position at Stanford as well, but I am a big advocate of university competitive funding. I also think that the big research centres like NCAR and the Hadley Centre have made incredibly valuable contributions. On the climate science side I think there are existing institutions and it is a matter of increasing the scope of the research and the funding. On the engineering side it is very different because there is nobody trying to build deployment systems today and this might need to be treated in a different way.
Q80 Dr Gibson: You would support from your experience Tyndall Centres and Hadley Centres doing this kind of work?
Professor Caldeira: Yes.
Q81 Dr Gibson: In a competitive way?
Professor Caldeira: I am a big fan of the competitive peer review process. I think all of this research should be in open literature. There should be nothing classified or closed. I would like to see it as an open and competitive process as much as possible.
Professor Salter: I have had a great deal of help from the
National Centre for Atmospheric Research in
Q82 Dr Gibson: There is a challenge for you. I am sure you agree with that.
Dr Pope: Maybe I should just introduce the Hadley Centre and my role. I am Head of Climate Change Advice at the Met Office Hadley Centre. I am sure you all know that the Met Office provides the weather forecasts everyday but it also hosts the institution that provides climate science to underpin government policy. We are commissioned in the Met Office Hadley Centre by DECC now, formerly Defra, and the MoD to provide independent climate research to underpin policy. A very large part of that work is to develop one of the world's leading climate models and these climate models, as was mentioned earlier, are now getting into the earth system realm so they can represent both biological and chemical processes as well as the main climate processes in the atmosphere, the ocean and the land surface. We do have the tools available to look at many of these sorts of issues. My role is to provide the interface between the science and the policy-makers. I am the person that tells the scientists what to do but, believe me, they are scientists and they do what they want as well. They will challenge the steer from policy makers and say these are the important issues as well and come back to the government departments and say should we not be looking at this. It is very much a two-way process and I am very much in the middle of that. If we believe that something is important for climate change we will look at it. I wanted to give a couple of examples of two recent studies that have not been published yet. One has been accepted for publication and another one has just been submitted that look at some of the issues involved. One study showed that if you take short term intervention - the direct climate engineering that people were talking about that act in the short term - it could actually mask climate change and when those interventions stop you will actually end up with higher levels of climate change than you had before. Really you need to look very carefully at these things. Another example is if you make changes to the climate on a regional scale they can have adverse effects in other regions of the globe. The climate system is very interlinked, so changes in one place affect other places, and it is only by running climate models that we can assess those impacts. Even if you switch the engineering off, the impact could be irreversible, so you could have a long term detrimental effect that you perhaps had not anticipated.
Q83 Dr Iddon: Dr Pope, we believe that one of the things that your organisation has been looking at is the consequences of cloud albedo enhancement. Could you tell us what that is and how you have been going about it? Is it modelling, or real experiments, and what are the main lessons of that research?
Dr Pope: We took the proposal that Professor Salter
came up with to alter the properties of the clouds and essentially we did not
look at any of the engineering issues; we just assumed that it would work and
make a large impact on the stratocumulus clouds. These are clouds off the coast of Africa and
Q84 Dr Iddon: Is this virtual work or actual work?
Dr Pope: It has to be virtual. What we are looking at is not a prediction of the future; it is a projection of what might happen, so it is about looking at the danger inherent in the change that you are making. When we look at projections of climate change and we look at the worst case outcomes of an unmitigated world, we are looking at the dangers of that happening. We are not looking at something that will definitely happen. In this case we are saying if we made this intervention on climate what is the danger from that?
Professor Lackner: I would argue that we are not ready to do serious climate engineering in this day. I do hear people who say we should not even study it for that reason. I am opposed to that and the answer is, as you have just heard, there are all sorts of side-effects and I think it is therefore very important that we do basic research and most of this will, by its nature, be virtual. It is important to do that because if there is a crisis we will not have time to do it and we might go down a road which might be potentially far more dangerous because we refused to look at it earlier. It is better to know what the consequences would be so that when there is a crisis we know how to act because in a crisis we will take the easy way out of whatever it may be, even if it turns out to be a bad idea.
Professor Caldeira: If we take the risk of dangerous climate change seriously and the risk of a climate emergency seriously, if a climate emergency did occur there could be great pressure on politicians to do something right away. Transforming our energy system and reducing greenhouse gas emissions takes a long time, whereas it is thought that we could put dust in the stratosphere within a few years and start changing climate right away. If it turns out that these proposals do not really reduce climate risk, but merely create new forms of risk, there could be political pressure to do something right away and then we do something that is a big mistake and so it is important to do the research now, even if it is just to show that these proposals do not really make sense. I would point out that while these simulations have shown that climate engineering is unlikely to reproduce the status quo ante, nearly every simulation has shown that there is the potential to reduce overall amounts of climate change.
Q85 Dr Gibson: There are still arguments, are there not, about the models to use for albedo enhancement and so on. You are not agreed on one model but on several and scientists are arguing about particular models. Is that the state of affairs?
Dr Pope: There are obviously uncertainties in the science and I think this was discussed earlier. All of the models show that climate is warming. They all share very many characteristics. What they differ in is the degree of the change and the details of the regional change. By using a number of different models that make different assumptions about the science, you can actually look at the range of possible outcomes and we are now able to start looking at the probabilities of different outcomes so that we can assess risk. It is really about risk assessment. No prediction of the future can give you an absolute prediction of any sort. What we are really doing is assessing risk.
Q86 Dr Gibson: So you need that variability.
Dr Pope: We do, yes.
Q87 Dr Gibson: What is your interaction with academic centres and commercial organisations?
Dr Pope: Our interaction with academic centres is very strong.
Q88 Dr Gibson: Which ones?
Dr Pope: Let me explain how a climate model works. No one centre anywhere in the world has all
of the expertise that is required to develop an earth system model. We have to work very closely with people in
the academic community. We work very
closely with people in the
Q89 Dr Gibson: Am I right that the Tyndall Centres are ripe within university structures?
Dr Pope: The Tyndall Centre is a distributed centre of
researchers across the university sector with its hub in the
Q90 Dr Gibson: I never know the difference between you and the UEA. It is either you or the UEA in The Guardian first. You seem to be saying very similar things.
Dr Pope: We say very similar things because of the broad consensus. If you look at the IPCC report there is a consensus of all scientists but the structure of the work that we do is very different. It is very complementary.
Q91 Dr Gibson: What about commercial interests?
Dr Pope: The Met Office does a small amount of work for commercial organisations but certainly not in this area.
Q92 Dr Gibson: Is it insurance companies?
Dr Pope: That kind of thing.
Gibson: Or really that kind of
thing? The scope of the Environmental
UEA was to work with Norwich Union in the beginning. I remember it well because they wondered what
the weather was going to be like in
Dr Pope: We have some interaction with the insurance industry and a lot of interaction with the energy industry, for example.
Q94 Dr Gibson: Do you feel that your work is independent from what they want?
Dr Pope: All of our scientific research is published and is independent.
Q95 Dr Gibson: Is it funded by them?
Dr Pope: Not work in climate change, no, or in this sort of area.
Q96 Dr Gibson: But in other areas?
Dr Pope: In other areas, yes.
Q97 Dr Gibson: How much?
Dr Pope: I am not sure of the exact figures but we can get that for you.
Professor Salter: I wanted to say something about the particular
study that Dr Pope mentioned. What they
did was to pick the three most sensitive areas in the world for doing the cloud
albedo change and put a very large stimulus into those. This produced some interesting effects in
other places as well as what you would expect to get locally. They were not quite the same as the
predictions from another model that was done in
Q98 Chairman: I am getting quite depressed now.
I am sorry, Professor Lackner, it is a feature of my personality, but I
expected this afternoon there to be a great deal more enthusiasm for
geo-engineering coming over. Professor
Lackner, there has been a number of companies in the United States who actually
have seen that they can make a profit out of putting iron filings into the
sea. For instance, Climos, a company
that is still trading in the
Professor Lackner: If your goal is to put sulphate in the atmosphere I do not see how you are going to do that.
Q99 Chairman: Let's put iron into the oceans. Is that going to bring me a return on my investment?
Professor Lackner: In this
particular case I doubt it because the environmental consequences are hard to
understand but, if you start getting into carbon capture and storage more
broadly, I think it is very likely that people can make money provided there is
the political will to put a price on carbon.
I do believe you have already started that in
Q100 Chairman: If we leave carbon sequestration to one side as a technology, because I think most of us would accept that that is a very sensible technology to use, are there any other geo-engineering solutions that you feel have a commercial potential, Professor Caldeira, which ultimately might drive this science?
Professor Caldeira: I think there are potential areas of research where there could be co-benefits. One example, and this might also sound as far out as climate engineering, but a number of people are looking at the potential for extracting wind energy from high altitude winds where the wind is much stronger and blows more steadily. One of the big challenges of that is maintaining a tethered platform at altitude. This could not only affect high altitude wind power, but if you are going to disperse particles up high you would like a platform there; also to recharge electrically powered surveillance planes you might want a platform up there also. There might be research into maintaining high altitude platforms that could have co-benefits where climate engineering would be one of the benefits. I would like to take the opportunity to comment on your point about the lack of enthusiasm here. I think that thoughtful people are not enthusiastic about climate engineering. Thoughtful people would like us to see deep reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and see those reductions soon. It is really a certain sense of despair that we are not seeing those cuts quickly that is pushing us to consider these things. I really look at Klaus' proposals as a form of carbon capture and storage and personally I would not classify what Klaus Lackner is researching as geo-engineering.
Q101 Ian Stewart: There are bodies like the Tyndall Centre who argue that attention needs to be paid to the phasing in of schemes in relation to geo-engineering running alongside other abatement measures. As I understand it, Professor Salter, amongst others, has argued that it may even be too late to deploy geo-engineering technologies in line with this. Bearing that in mind, can you say whether we still should go ahead with the development of geo-engineering schemes? If so, do we have the skills in the undergraduates and graduates that would allow us to do that?
Lackner: If your question is with respect to
manipulating the climate, I do not think we have the skills to do this today. We should learn about it and we should have
it ready in case we need it, but I would very much view that as an effort of
last resort. We cannot solve the
problem. We cannot stop the CO2
from accumulating by changing the climate and I would argue that this is such a
complex system that you really do not want to do that unless you really have no
choice left. If the glaciers in
Professor Salter: The most urgent thing is to try to save the
Arctic icecap because, if we lose that, we have now got another very large
input of warming coming in from the sun.
I think that is particularly urgent.
The ice is vanishing much more quickly than the first studies of climate
change predicted; it really is going frighteningly fast. It is also possible that if we get very large
amounts of methane released from the seabed in the
Professor Caldeira: To address the moral hazard issue from before, it is not clear what an ethical course of action would be. If we did find that the sea ice is melting and threatening polar bears and arctic ecosystems with extinction and Greenland is sliding into the sea, is it better to say let's have that ecosystem go extinct, let's lose Greenland and that will be a good motivator for people to reduce emissions, or do you say no, we actually care about these ecosystems, we care about Greenland and maybe we should put some dust in the stratosphere to prevent this from happening while we are working on reducing emissions. I do not think the ethical and moral high ground is necessarily to say let's allow environmental destruction to proceed unimpeded while we are trying to reduce emissions.
Q102 Ian Stewart: Professor Caldeira, let's take this example that Professor Salter has given and you have carried on with. If we were to address that issue, how long would it take us to develop the geo-engineering and how much would it cost? Does anybody have any idea?
Professor Caldeira: Nobody really knows but the estimates in terms of cost are in the order of, within a factor of ten, a billion dollars a year. It is the low cost - I am thinking now of dust in the stratosphere scheme - of this that makes it somewhat frightening because it might be so cheap that people might want to do it because it is cheap and easy. I think within a few years we could start getting the stuff up there using aeroplanes or artillery shells or something while lower cost strategies are developed. It is something that could be deployed at relatively low cost and relatively quickly. The question is are there unanticipated damage or even anticipated damage that doing that would create? It is important to do the research up front so that if you do find that there are environmental consequences of global warming that you would like to prevent using these approaches then you are not just creating bigger problems and that is why we need the research.
Q103 Ian Stewart: Is there a technology that seems to hold the most promise in relation to these matters?
Dr Pope: I wanted to come back to the point that Professor Caldeira made that what we need to be concentrating on is removing the greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Whether that is by reducing emissions or removing them artificially, those are the key to solving the problem. On the point about climate engineering - trying to alter the climate to compensate and of course there is the question of unintended consequences - many of the changes that we are talking about are temporary. If we put aerosol into the troposphere, for example, to seed clouds it only stays in the atmosphere for a couple of weeks, so you have to keep putting more aerosol in. If you put aerosol into the stratosphere it stays much longer, perhaps for a couple of years, but you still have to keep putting the aerosol in. When you put carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it stays around for hundreds of years. If you are going to use geo-engineering as a solution you have got to keep doing it for hundreds of years because as soon as you stop doing it the warming goes up again, so either you have to decrease the emissions much more quickly or you have to put up with even higher warming. You have to bear that in mind in looking at the consequences.
Q104 Chairman: We are asking you to stargaze now in terms of which of the geo-engineering techniques that have been mooted so far if you were a government minister would you be urging resources to be put into? You have a new President, Ken. What would you ask him to do?
Professor Caldeira: First of all, if I was the new President I would be putting a small fraction of my total effort into climate engineering, but within that effort putting small dust particles into the stratosphere seems to be the most promising and cost-effective approach and I would also put some resources into looking at the sorts of things that Steve Salter has been talking about. I would also be hesitant to pick winners at an early stage. It is important to fund a broad diversity, a wide portfolio, of research options and not think that we have already thought of the best approach or even thought of the most important negative consequences that could occur.
Professor Salter: I would agree completely with that. I think we might need to have all of them. In particular, we might want to have the widespread effect that you can get from stratospheric aerosols where they are doing a very big area which you might, in hi-fi terms, describe as a woofer. You might also want to have a tweeter, which is the local effect we can get from treating clouds locally. We might have the Arctic ice to recover; we might have a particular coral reef, perhaps the Great Australian Barrier Reef where we focus particular amounts of cooling in one particular sea area so that the water that flows from there keeps the coral. At the moment, however, I would be very hesitant to attack any scheme that I did not know a great deal more about than I do now.
Professor Caldeira: May I amend my statement that I would also fund the kind of work that Klaus Lackner is doing but I would fund it out of a carbon capture and storage programme because I would not consider it climate engineering.
Q105 Chairman: The last word to you, Professor Lackner.
Professor Lackner: I would emphasise the carbon capture and storage and I would advise against large scale experiments until we really understand how it works. We are embarking on something mankind might do over the next 200 years but I doubt that we really understand what we are doing here.
Dr Pope: Of all the solutions that people might want to look at, it is very important to look at all of the consequences of any solution that people might come up with, so I would not advocate anything in particular. It is important to try and work out what those unintended consequences might be so that we are in the best position to make decisions.
Chairman: On that note of unanimity, could we thank you very much indeed Professor Klaus Lackner from Columbia University, it has been a pleasure to have you on the video-link; to thank Professor Ken Caldeira from the Carnegie Institution, thank you for coming to see us this afternoon; to Professor Stephen Salter, the University of Edinburgh, thank you very much indeed, and last but by no means least, Dr Vicky Pope from the Met Office. We are in your debt for joining us today.
 Note from the witness: "You may have looked at predictions of the way global temperatures increase with time: the temperatures predicted from the present into the future by different computer models fan out. There are many different models giving somewhat different results, but they all go in one direction: upwards. Because of the differences in the rate of increase of temperature given by different models, however, the degree of urgency is not entirely established."
 Note from the witness: "The policy influences on government tend to be made through scientific or engineering institutions. The Royal Academy of Engineering is pressing in that direction through its president; the Royal Society will also be producing a policy statement; the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, to which I belong, is also active."
 Note from the witness: "It
should be noted that a climate emergency could occur far sooner than generally
recognized. Arctic sea ice has been declining more rapidly than had been
foreseen. Some scientists believe that we may already be committed to losing
much of the