House of COMMONS









Monday 17 November 2008






Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 74



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.



The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.


Oral Evidence

Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

(Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee on Geo-engineering)

on Monday 17 November 2008

Members present

Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair

Dr Ian Gibson

Dr Brian Iddon

Mr Gordon Marsden


Witnesses: Dr Phil Williamson, Research Councils UK; Professor Nick Jenkins, Royal Academy of Engineering, Dr Tim Fox, Institution of Mechanical Engineers; and Professor Steve Rayner, University of Oxford, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Could I welcome our first panel of witnesses to the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee looking at geo-engineering, two oral sessions looking at an emerging discipline of geo-engineering. Welcome, Dr Tim Fox, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, welcome Tim, Professor Steve Rayner from the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, welcome to you again, Dr Phil Williamson from NERC, on behalf of RCUK, welcome to you, Phil, and last but by no means least an old friend of the Committee and a past adviser, Professor Nick Jenkins from Cardiff University, who is here on behalf of the Royal Academy of Engineering, but hopefully on his own account as well. This is a very interesting short inquiry, gentlemen, which the Sub-Committee is looking at in terms of geo-engineering. I wonder if I could start with you, Professor Rayner, to ask you if you could in a nutshell define geo-engineering for us and see if your colleagues agree?

Professor Rayner: I am not sure, actually, that I am the best qualified to define the field since I am actually a social scientist rather than an engineer, but I take it basically to encompass a very wide range of technological options which could be brought in to being to counter either the processes or the effects of climate change, largely either by changing the radiative balance of the atmosphere or alternatively by extracting carbon from the atmosphere. That is a fairly conventional distinction, I think. I would like to lay across that a different distinction, which is between what I would describe as interventions which are designed to tune or tinker with eco-systems and interventions which are actually hard engineering interventions. If you actually lay that distinction across the former distinction, you actually end up with four quite distinctive types of geo-engineering options with very different characteristics, I think, and certainly very different implications for management and governance and public acceptability.

Q2 Chairman: Professor Jenkins, you are an engineer so perhaps you would either agree or disagree with that?

Professor Jenkins: I am happy to agree with that definition, which as I understand it accords with the terms of reference of the Royal Society's inquiry.

Dr Williamson: Agreement there.

Dr Fox: Yes, I agree with that.

Q3 Chairman: All right. So we have now got a definition. Professor Jenkins, last week when we had two experts from the States giving evidence before us they made a very clear distinction between indirect carbon sequestration, which they did not regard as geo-engineering, and those aspects of other things which you are actually doing to manipulate, if you like, the earth's eco-system, or in fact been able to put in safeguarding elements. Do you agree with that sort of rough definition?

Professor Jenkins: No, I come back to Professor Rayner's view, if I interpret that correctly, these are elements of a two dimensional matrix with both reducing solar radiation and indirect carbon sequestration but through these two routes, one of engineering and the other manipulating the eco-systems. I would have thought that where one is in the subject at the moment, to maintain that breadth would be helpful.

Q4 Chairman: Any disagreement with that on the panel?

Professor Rayner: Not in the least, and actually I would caution against narrowing it because I think we are quite accustomed to climate change being a field in which political battles get fought out through scientific surrogates, and I am afraid that there are very strong partisan views within various parts of the scientific and engineering community as to which of these kinds of options they favour and which they hold in disfavour. So I think it is actually very important to keep a broad view of the range.

Dr Fox: At the holistic overview level, I think I would certainly agree with that for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Carbon sequestration, in the sense of removing from power stations the source of emissions and finding a storage for those, could in some definitions be regarded as a mitigation approach and a mitigation strategy, but if you step back and look at the overall definition of geo-engineering then carbon sequestration from power stations could be regarded as a geo-engineering approach.

Professor Rayner: Although I think we are talking here about actual carbon removal and sequestration by air capture, are we not?

Q5 Chairman: Yes, indirectly in that sense. Dr Williamson?

Dr Williamson: The other area of potential sort of overlap or confusion is in re-forestation and change in agricultural policy[1], and whether or not that is global in its implications. I think the "geo" of geo-engineering has to be a global approach and to a certain extent it relates back to the governments and who takes the action, whether or not one is removing a pollution at source or trying to come afterwards and then trying to put things right afterwards. On the whole, the geo-engineering is something afterwards, saying, "Here is a problem. What are we going to do with it?" rather than stopping the problem in the first place.

Chairman: Okay, that is a fairly broad definition there. I will come on to Ian Gibson.

Q6 Dr Gibson: What about public finance? Is there much public finance going into this area, geo-engineering?

Dr Williamson: Very little directly from the research councils but, as from the RCUK submission, there is a lot of relevant research which is funded by EPSRC and NERC in terms of the fundamental knowledge which is necessary, and very, very roughly a figure of 50 million per annum is in the category of geo-engineering relevant, but in terms of absolutely directly saying, "This is money to support geo-engineering research," up until now I do not think we have actually funded any research grants or studentships, but the EPSRC has put aside 3 million for next year's spend on a "geo-engineering ideas factory", which is an exercise to encourage proposals in the area initially of an inter-disciplinary nature and so although it is EPSRC funded, other environmental and social science work would be considered, and that is for next year.

Q7 Dr Gibson: When is that meeting taking place?

Dr Williamson: I do not think the dates have been decided, but provisionally autumn 2009.

Q8 Dr Gibson: Do you think that is a long time in the future?

Dr Williamson: Not that long in the sense that then it could take the benefit of the Royal Society study, which will be reporting next summer, and also for these meetings they have a sift through expressions of interest beforehand and at that meeting they then make the decisions of what is to be funded, so there is not another year before the results.

Q9 Dr Gibson: You are an old hand. Do you think the money is going to be around then, in 2009? Do you think you should be pressurising them now to get the money now? Research councils have got a kind of reputation for moving things about a bit.

Dr Williamson: I think this is pretty firm. It may be that there might be the possibility of more funding coming in from other sources to supplement that.

Q10 Dr Iddon: We have had some pretty whacky ideas like trillions of mirrors in the sky, sun shades to protect the polar caps, you name it, artificial trees - CO2 in, oxygen out - spraying salt into the atmosphere, and today more realistic things like carbon capture and storage. What are the top priorities for the researchers in this area? What are we concentrating on? If funding is going in, where will it go in?

Dr Fox: From an engineering perspective, we really do need to try to filter out these potential approaches and to look at those which have a real practical potential to be applied. What really needs to be done is to create a listing, a ranking if you like, of the risks associated with the projects and the possibilities of the project's benefits and for engineering teams to look at these and to assess the feasibility of these, the practicality of these, the costs and risks associated with implementation and deployment to enable us to make those initial assessments and recommendations as to which solutions might offer potential should geo-engineering be regarded as a route which we need to go down. There has been little, if none, engineering assessment of these solutions.

Q11 Chairman: When will that be done, Tim, do you think?

Dr Fox: We really need the scientific community initially to sort out an order of merit, if you like, for these solutions so that the engineering community and the engineering profession can pick those up and look at them. So a first step from the scientific community is to really come forward with the solutions which are really viable from a scientific potential point of view and with regard to an understanding of any unforeseen consequences or risks associated with those. We, within the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, are already beginning to try to make some initial assessments of the feasibility of some of these systems through our young membership by organising a competition and engaging our young membership in looking at these, but we really need some guidance from the scientific community as to which ones offer the most scientific potential for us to do a really detailed professional feasibility assessment.

Professor Rayner: Could I suggest that the assessment of feasibility needs to be extended to consider the socioeconomic, legal and institution implications as well. For example, ecosystem tinkering or tuning approaches, such as iron fertilization and stratospheric sulphate aerosols, are probably quite inexpensive. In fact, it has been suggested that these are possibly within the price range of some well-intended individuals of great wealth. As somebody has described, the possibility of a Greenfinger rather than Goldfinger being behind such intervention.

Q12 Dr Gibson: You are not talking about Sir Richard Branson, are you?

Professor Rayner: On the other hand, they are ones which from the public's point of view would be likely to raise significant issues of concern about the unwanted environmental side-effects, and there is a point of view which says that tinkering with the ecosystem is the problem and further tinkering is not the solution. I am not saying that I agree with that, I am just trying to put forward what some of the considerations are. On the other hand, the space mirrors technologies that we have talked about will probably be very expensive and could probably only be implemented by nation states with access to the necessary heavy lift and launch technology. Mechanical air capture - there seems to be disagreement about the relative costs of that. We can also think about financing. To push Ian's question a bit further beyond the research stage, both iron fertilization of oceans and mechanical air capture - in other words going down the carbon removal dimension - are things which could conceivably be funded within a carbon pricing framework, whether you favour a carbon tax or cap and trade to drive the price. It is very difficult to see how that mechanism could be used to fund measures to alter the radiative balance. There are all kinds of institutional, economic and potential legal implications. There are concerns that iron fertilization might violate treaties like the London Dumping Convention or the Convention on Biodiversity. So there is a lot of socioeconomic, legal, and institutional factors which need to be considered right up front alongside the technical dimensions of feasibility.

Q13 Chairman: That is precisely the basis of my next question, Professor Rayner. These are global problems and I admit they require global solutions, but do we have the global legislation in place to prevent somebody causing a major economic disaster of the kind you have alluded to? Should the legislation come first, before we start tinkering with these?

Professor Rayner: It is very difficult to have the legislation come first because we still have so much indeterminacy about what the actual shape of the technologies will be. It is quite foreseeable that we could design legislation with one set of technologies in mind and find that we accidentally preclude ourselves from developing other alternatives which we might want to pursue.

Q14 Chairman: We are not putting any resources into this area. We have heard from Research Councils UK that they are going to have an ideas factory in 2009, which might in fact bring something forward. All our witnesses last week said it was only private finance that was actually funding their research. If we are not putting anything in and people like the UK Government are not putting anything in, we are not going to have anything on which to base decisions, are we?

Professor Rayner: I think certainly there needs to be a significant investment in the R&D necessary to characterise the technologies, both from their technical dimensions and also the social -

Q15 Chairman: Do you all support that view?

Dr Fox: Yes.

Professor Rayner: But I think we need to go forward with that characterisation in a way which does not put too many constraints on the R&D process. For example, it has been suggested in Europe already that there be a moratorium on field tests with iron fertilization outside of coastal waters. Unfortunately, as I understand it, iron fertilisation is not supposed to work in coastal waters and there is not a good legal definition of what constitutes coastal waters anyway. As David Victor, an American political scientist, has pointed out, a moratorium in this area is likely to penalise those nations, companies and individuals who proceed in a socially responsible manner whilst allowing those who are less inclined to be socially responsible to go ahead unrestricted. So a moratorium would not be the answer.

Chairman: Okay, I think you have rightly raised that incredibly important issue, which goes alongside the R&D. I will bring Ian back in specifically on the R&D.

Q16 Dr Gibson: Is this all joined up between different councils and different individuals? I know you as a man who is very concerned about the socioeconomics and they kind of bring you in too late I often think. Are you involved in it right at the beginning? Would it not be better to have a sort of general research grouping to handle all questions at once, including R&D?

Professor Rayner: I would certainly like to see a lot more engagement through the Economic and Social Research Council in funding for social science work in this area. It would be carried out in close collaboration with engineering -

Q17 Dr Gibson: Let us be clear, is there any or is there a lot?

Professor Rayner: At the moment, to my knowledge there is certainly no dedicated funding for geo-engineering from the social science standpoint.

Q18 Dr Gibson: So what is your biggest fear of what might happen? Nanotechnology, GM, it all comes in, the new technology, and there has been very little development of the socioeconomic ideals, the social settings, the moralities, the ethics, whatever these words all are. What have we learnt from those episodes?

Professor Rayner: Unfortunately, I think we are still in the mode of reinventing the wheel each time a novel technological field comes into view.

Q19 Dr Gibson: Why is that? I am going to probe you a bit. You are a bright guy. Why does that happen? Why do they ignore us?

Professor Rayner: I think there is a lot of reasons. One is that the actual technical fields shift and so there is not much social learning between, say, GM technology and nanotechnology, although from the social science standpoint you would say a lot of the issues are actually very similar in both cases. So we tend to define things by their technology rather than by the kinds of management and governance challenges which they present. So we need a different cut into the projects.

Q20 Dr Gibson: Why is that? Why does that happen? Is that because scientists are arrogant swine and they do not care about the social implications?

Professor Rayner: No, not in the least, and I would say engineers least of all. Although they would probably not necessarily be complimented by my saying so, I regard the best of engineers as being good social scientists, because they have to be, because they have to think of the whole system rather than a narrow technical framing. I think it is largely to do with institutional issues as to how we organise the funding of research, how we organise the scientific research enterprise, how we organise our professional and scientific organisations and professional associations. I think these ways of organising, which we have evolved for perfectly good reasons historically, do not necessarily serve us as well as they might do in confronting these new technologies.

Dr Fox: This is an interesting direction we are heading in with this. Engineering is very much involved today with sustainable approaches and looking at sustainability issues, which do have to bring in the ethics and the social sciences. I wonder, looking at the institutional model here, whether there is potentially a model there for bringing together the multi-disciplinary nature of the geo-engineering project through such an organisation similar to the Tyndall Centre, which has a number of strands of activity going on which are both social science orientated and hard science, if you like, using that term in its colloquial form, and technical and engineering issues. These are all brought together within the framework of the Tyndall Centre and from the Institution's point of view we wonder whether there is an opportunity to add geo-engineering onto the work which the Tyndall Centre is already doing on mitigation and adaptation, to ensure that we do not lose that learning which has already taken place with regard to the social science aspects of mitigation and adaptation.

Q21 Dr Gibson: Have you ever suggested this before to anybody?

Dr Fox: No, this is the first opportunity I have had to bring that forward as a possibility.

Q22 Chairman: Could we get some comments from you, Phil, on that?

Dr Williamson: As far as I am aware, the research councils are not exactly overwhelmed with proposals for geo-engineering, so to a certain extent they react and develop and test ideas which come forward and unless there is a very strong policy driver - and clearly the engineering principle has got to be sound, but the problem with the spread of ideas is that they go in all sorts of different directions and they have not satisfactorily yet passed the first hurdle of even the theoretical analysis: is this viable from an engineering point of view? is it viable from an environmental point of view? and then is it acceptable for governance issues? Although one has got to consider those as a package you have got to have ticks in all those boxes.

Q23 Chairman: I thought you were involved with blue skies research at the Research Council. Should you not be promoting some of these things and actually saying, "These are the great challenges"?

Dr Williamson: The blue skies research is finding out how the system works. For example how clouds form, how the ocean works, how the system interacts and that then gives, from the NERC side of things, the response to an engineering manipulation. The blue skies part of engineering is a little bit different because then it is sort of saying, "What could we do?" But the proposals have got to come into the funding system in the first place.

Q24 Dr Gibson: Suppose the Tyndall Centre idea caught fire. Who would implement it? Who would make it happen?

Dr Fox: I think government policy through the Research Council would have to drive the initial seed development of that. One thing I would like to bring to the table from the engineering industry's point of view is that if industry, the commercial sector of the engineering industry, sees that government policy is moving research spend and research initiatives into the geo-engineering area and looking at the feasibility of some of these geo-engineering systems, then commercial companies in their own research and development departments will start to invest sums of money in doing their own initial assessments and blue skies research activities to try and second-guess the market opportunities which might arise out of the policy which is being pursued. If I might offer an example of this, the aerospace industry has for many years been continuing studies on second generation supersonic aircraft on the basis that that might become a transport policy of government at some stage in the future. So companies do not want to fall behind in the development of their tools and capabilities and it really needs a small investment essentially on the part of government to engender some momentum into bringing geo-engineering into the policy framework as a potential direction, and that momentum will carry forward into industrial engineering activities at the commercial level to prepare for that potential market.

Q25 Dr Gibson: We are meeting two ministers and Bob Watson next after you guys. What would your question be to make this happen, because they are government in that sense? What would you say to them, "Pull your finger out"?

Dr Fox: Yes, speaking colloquially. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers supports investment in research and development at the feasibility level of geo-engineering approaches. There are two reasons for that, if I might bring those forward. The first reason is that we need to prepare our technical community to potentially deploy these systems, but secondly, as a country, as a nation we need to be technically informed to participate in any international discussions or bilateral national discussions, or indeed discussions with individual private entrepreneurs who want to bring geo-engineering solutions forward to shape the very legislative framework which Professor Rayner has been describing.

Q26 Dr Gibson: Have the venture capitalists talked to you yet?

Dr Fox: No, they have not, but of course there is great potential for some organisation such as Richard Branson's Virgin carbon challenge to potentially take a geo-engineering approach on board. The difficulty is that as a nation we potentially would be uninformed in the discussion and the debate around that solution or approach if we have not done some initial feasibility and research work at the engineering technical level.

Q27 Dr Gibson: Could you do this without venture capitalists? I say that because I have just had a meeting with them, and by God they know what they are doing - so they say!

Dr Fox: There are two different technical dimensions of geo-engineering, one which is indirect carbon sequestration and the other which is essentially tinkering with natural systems. The carbon-based approach has the potential to be of interest to venture capitalists because there is potentially a carbon market in which they can operate. The other approach, which is a little bit more globally esoteric in a sense, has less opportunity, I think, for a commercial venture capitalist intervention.

Professor Rayner: I just want to say that there are at least two firms which have been looking at iron fertilization, one of which has already gone bust, Planktos. The problem is that venture capitalists usually look for a return on around about a three-year timeframe of investment. We are looking here at technologies that are not really going to be available to produce those kinds of returns, so there certainly is a very important role for government, public support, to look into the feasibility of the technologies.

Q28 Dr Iddon: Richard Branson, as we have just heard, has thrown down the gauntlet with the Virgin Earth Challenge, a prize of US$25 million there for the grabbing from some keen entrepreneur. What difference has throwing that gauntlet down made? That challenge was made in February 2007 and we are well over a year on, nearly two years on now.

Professor Rayner: The problem is, that does not fund research. That is the prize at the end, so you have got to have sufficient capital to invest up front before you are even in the running for the prize.

Q29 Dr Iddon: I understand that, but has just throwing the gauntlet down produced a set of ripples?

Professor Jenkins: It seems to me that the position we are in is still very opaque. We have a very wide range of technical options, which then have very far-reaching economic and social consequences and I think the challenge of, for example, the EPSRC sandpit which is coming up is with their limited funding to get an appropriate spread so that we can actually move towards - I will not use the word "ranking" but at least some form of assessment of these options. I personally am rather nervous of ranking technologies at this early stage. I think some are clearly in the potentially interesting area and some are in the longer term area, but to expect a ranking to come out I think is too optimistic.

Q30 Dr Iddon: But that is not an answer to the question. The question was, has Richard Branson made any difference to this field?

Professor Jenkins: No, I do not believe it has made any difference at the moment because of this uncertainty in the technological and other areas.

Q31 Dr Iddon: Can we generally agree that?

Dr Williamson: I think he has made a difference in that he has brought the topic of geo-engineering into the public arena more and it has been reported in the press and there is generally more awareness of it. It is embedded in the consciousness a little bit more.

Dr Fox: I think the difficulty with the Branson challenge is that there is a need in there to show that the implementation will not have any unforeseen side-effects or consequences and that is a rather difficult challenge to meet with regard to the climate science involved in getting to that answer without that specialist knowledge.

Q32 Dr Iddon: Okay. This is one for you, Professor Jenkins. I am going to give you a quote from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. They, in their submission to us, said: "geo-engineering is an area of activity that has to date received little serious attention from the engineering profession". That was a quote in the submission made by Dr Fox's organisation. You seem to be a bit more open than that in your attitude to geo-engineering in that the Royal Academy of Engineering seems to think there should be funding in this area now?

Professor Jenkins: Yes, I think in terms of research funding and to try to get a better understanding of the area and its consequences there is little doubt that that would be very desirable. I do not think that conflicts particularly with the idea that commercial, industrial and engineering organisations have not been active in this area because it is such an early stage for them.

Q33 Dr Iddon: Yet, Dr Fox, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers chose this topic, geo-engineering, to try and excite young engineers in a competition. Will the young engineers who take part in that competition, if they have not already done so - and if they have, did they do this - consider the social and ethical issues surrounding these technologies as well as the "Can we do it?" attitude?

Dr Fox: Yes. Within the framework of the competition, which is indeed underway as we speak, we have a clause in the rules of the competition for the participants that they must consider some of the ethical and moral issues as part of their wider look at the sustainability issues associated with the particular technology they are bringing forward. The competition is very much geared around the engineering feasibility, that is the prime role of the competition, and it is looking to engage and excite young graduates in thinking about this potential field of mechanical engineering application which they may get involved in at some time in their professional careers, so to begin to take on board the thought processes associated with getting involved in delivering those solutions.

Q34 Dr Iddon: I am going to ask our other guests this afternoon whether young people in general are aware of geo-engineering. I am a scientist, but I must confess that when we began this inquiry I was not aware of all these potential new technologies. I was aware of carbon capture storage, of course, at the hard end of the thing but not the H.G. Wells stuff. I was not aware of that. Do you think your young engineers are aware in general of what is going on in this field?

Professor Jenkins: I think the short answer is, no.

Q35 Dr Iddon: How are you making them aware, Professor Jenkins? Is this one of your aims, to make them aware?

Professor Jenkins: Yes. If I understand the area well, the first initiative was the seminar in Cambridge in 2004. There have been two or three more seminars. This area in the general academic community has not received a high profile so far. I am absolutely open to the idea that it ought to. I think meshing, if you like, the hard engineering questions with these wider societal questions certainly for post-graduate students is entirely desirable and appropriate, so I would absolutely support that. I would absolutely support further seminars, further summer schools, as a way of disseminating these ideas.

Dr Fox: The competition has indeed engendered a lot of enthusiasm and excitement amongst our young members and they are engaging very actively with it. It is in line with our other activities in the educational outreach programmes, which use climate change and sustainability as a vehicle for engaging young people in thinking about engineering as a possible career and a possible professional option. Indeed, we have found that engaging schoolchildren as young as 12 or 13 in thinking about climate change related issues and how engineering can be used to solve those is very, very enthusiastically received by the young people. This year we have some 3,000 children involved in thinking about climate change adaptation in a competition we are running with secondary schools.

Q36 Chairman: Tim, it was interesting that you could not name a single university which actually has a geo-engineering curriculum. There is not one which actually put these things together.

Dr Fox: Yes, I can answer that. Geo-engineering, from an engineering perspective, will rely largely on the existing theories, existing concepts and existing skills which we teach within our mechanical engineering and civil and other engineering disciplines, chemical engineering disciplines. The geo-engineering is an application of the engineering knowledge in the same way that renewable energy systems are an application of mechanical engineering science and other engineering sciences. You do not have to study renewable energy per se to be an engineer in that sector. It is the same with geo-engineering. There will be some specialist areas that we will need to do work on, for example materials potentially that can cope with the chemistry involved, maybe some special development of mooring systems. There will be niche technologies in very much the same way as when the UK went into the North Sea, but fundamentally the underpinning engineering is something that all our undergraduates in all our engineering courses will learn as part of their existing curriculum.

Professor Rayner: Tim, I think with respect, though, your answer sheds some light on Ian Gibson's question earlier as to why we do not seem to get social learning going from these cases of the introduction of one new technology field to another.

Q37 Chairman: This is the point I was going to make to you, Phil, that one of the issues which has come through this inquiry and the main engineering inquiry time after time is that the engineering seems to be still stuck in silos and its ability to be able to connect those silos up and to move forward seems to be holding back engineering. Is that a fair comment?

Dr Williamson: There are courses in environmental engineering, and carbon capture and storage in its sort of technological sense has brought those fields together, and with environmental science courses then there are the applications being considered. It has not come fully together because the ideas are not that well developed.

Q38 Chairman: Going back to Dr Iddon's comment about whacky ideas, I do not know how we expose young engineers to these whacky ideas and let them engage with them, because that surely is something which would excite more people to come into engineering.

Dr Williamson: If they read Scientific American, New Scientist and Nature the ideas are there. They have just got to find out a little bit about them, but it is in the papers and it is pretty general public knowledge. For the last 20 years people have been talking about adding iron to the ocean.

Dr Fox: Two very quick answers. The ethics and the wider social context are very much embedded in a lot of university engineering courses now under the sustainability agenda, which is very much involved in the geo-engineering application agenda. In relation to exciting young people, I think it is very much the responsibility of the professional bodies, such as our learned society the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and indeed the Royal Academy of Engineering and the other institutions, to pursue outreach programmes such as the ones we have done on our Cooling the Planet competition into universities and we find that the undergraduates and postgraduates are very excited about getting involved.

Q39 Dr Gibson: Steve Rayner, what are the potential moral dilemmas in this area, just briefly?

Professor Rayner: I think first of all I would caution against reducing all of the institutional dimensions in relation to these technologies to moral dilemmas. Some of them are about economics, some are about politics, international relations, governance and management, and I am afraid there is a tendency towards what we in the social sciences call "ELSIfication". What we do is we take a scientific area, whether it is biotechnology or engineering, and we have the ethical, legal and social implications box and we stick everything in there and it tends to have a very strong ethical component and is not really looking so much at the practical governance issues and certain broader issues of public acceptability, which may not be ethically related but may relate to a whole range of other dimensions. I think, though, with respect to these particular sets of technologies there are at least three positions which one can discern. There is one which I call the utilitarian position, which sees the inexpensive options of iron fertilization or stratospheric sulphate aerosols, as being something which could be readily pursued in a practical way. If the world cannot get its act together to do coordinated mitigation through conventional means then countries could act alone. That is seen as an advantage from that position. But then there is another position, which actually is scared witless about the prospect of countries acting alone because of the concerns about the unanticipated side-effects and also this issue I mentioned earlier, that some people view technology as the source of the problem and they are therefore very suspicious of the idea that technology should also be providing the solution. As I say, I do not happen to agree with that point of view, but it is well-known. Then I think there is a third position, which is the one I guess I am broadly sympathetic to, which is that the development of these kinds of technologies are an option which we cannot afford not to develop, although we may not want to necessarily move to implementation. There is a tendency to accept them as a last resort. I do wonder, though, why we say "accept as a last resort" because, after all, if mechanical trees do turn out to be good at sucking carbon out of the atmosphere and can do so as cheaply as biological trees, why would we restrict ourselves to implementing them as a last resort unless we have some kind of ethical notion that somehow nature knows better than we do? So there are at least three different, what you might call ethical positions within which this debate is going to play out.

Q40 Dr Gibson: Suppose Paul Baker of the Daily Mail and Prince Charles get together and start talking about this arena of endeavour and just reflect it the way they want to because it is a new, dangerous technology, how will you persuade the public that it is a bona fide pursuit, an investment?

Professor Rayner: I think that is why one has to be developing the institutional apparatus for managing and governing these technologies alongside developing the technologies themselves, and I think it has to be done - and at this point I can only offer generalisations - in a way which engenders public trust, which demonstrates that there are appropriate mechanisms for dealing with liability, in other words for putting things right if they go wrong, and finally for ensuring that there is actually some notion of consent on the part of populations for the implementations of technologies, what I call the TLC factors.

Q41 Dr Gibson: Yes. So how are you going to stop these mad scientists just going ahead and throwing things up in space and ionization, et cetera? You are interested in public dialogue. You want to get the message over to people. You have not published this, have you?

Professor Rayner: With respect, I think that is, to a significant degree, your job. It is a question of what kind of a legislative framework, what kinds of rules under which you want to fund the research and development necessary to bring these technologies to a level of maturity where they can at least be sensibly characterised.

Q42 Dr Gibson: Yes, but we are waiting for you to give us the arguments. You, the bright chaps, have got time, you know.

Professor Rayner: The arguments are fairly simple, I think, which is that if we take the warning of scientists seriously and we are looking to stabilise the atmosphere, say at around 550 parts per million, by the middle of the century given current progress with conventional mitigation we are in grave danger of falling very far short of that goal. Therefore, we may at some point in the future find it necessary to avail ourselves of the option of geo-engineering solutions. There is also the danger, of course, that we might even meet the goals - we might even meet a more ambitious goal of 450 parts per million - and then discover that the climate sensitivity is much greater than we have anticipated. Once again, if at that stage we start from scratch and say we are going to develop these technological options from point zero, we are going to miss the boat. So I think there is a very strong argument here which can be made across all three of the positions I outlined, that there is at least an option value in developing and characterising technologies.

Dr Gibson: That is the same argument as nuclear power stations in the eighties.

Q43 Dr Iddon: What do you say to Greenpeace, who say, "We are trying to get people to alter their societal behaviour and to stop producing carbon dioxide," and you guys are telling the general public out there that there is an escape route? Will that not stop people from altering their behaviour?

Professor Rayner: This is the concern that there is a moral hazard involved in developing alternatives, but I would say that we have heard that argument for the best part of two decades with respect to adaptation to climate change, that if we actually start to take adaptation seriously and look at it and analyse it seriously, then we are encouraging people to believe that it is okay to carry on emitting greenhouse gases - I used to live in the southern United States and it is a bit like talking to Southern Baptists about sex education in schools, you know, you do not want to do it because you will encourage the kids to behave badly. So it is the same moral argument. I would argue that we have now reached the stage where the taboo on discussing adaptation has been lifted, but we have lost 10 to 15 years' worth of progress, which is going to condemn tens of thousands at least, if not millions, of poor people in vulnerable situations in developing countries to a very uncomfortable time, to put it modestly. I think we have seen that that moral hazard argument really just is not one which we can afford to give in to with respect to adaptation and we should not give in to it in respect of developing geo-engineering options.

Chairman: I think on that sobering note we will finish this first session. Can I thank very much indeed Dr Tim Fox, Professor Steve Rayner, Dr Phil Williamson and Professor Nick Jenkins. We would have liked to have extended this considerably, but thank you all very, very much indeed.


Witnesses: Rt Hon Lord Drayson, a Member of the House of Lords, Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills; Joan Ruddock, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change; and Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave evidence.


Chairman: Welcome to our second panel for the afternoon in the IUSS Sub-Committee's work on geo-engineering. Welcome very much indeed, Joan Ruddock MP, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the new Department of DECC, Professor Bob Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra, and Lord Drayson, the Minister of State for Science and Innovation. Welcome to all of you and thank you very much indeed for joining us today. I am going to immediately start by asking Ian Gibson to begin the session.

Q44 Dr Gibson: The Tyndall Centre, which I am sure you have heard often, has suggested that the Government has been in a state of, in their words, "blissful ignorance" when it comes to geo-engineering. Do you agree with that?

Professor Watson: No!

Q45 Dr Gibson: Why not?

Professor Watson: The issues of geo-engineering have been around for a long while. As the previous panel said, iron fertilization has been discussed on and off for at least 20 years. The volcanoes give us a natural experiment in putting aerosols into the stratosphere, so we know effectively what the implications of stratospheric aerosols can be. So I think on the issue of geo-engineering, certainly when I chaired IPCC for the 2001 report we were talking about it from 1997 through to 2001, so I am not at all convinced we are in a state of blissful ignorance.

Q46 Dr Gibson: Right, but what are you doing to fathom the geo-engineering research which comes along? How are you keeping in touch with it in your busy life?

Professor Watson: I think it is a question of whether that is the highest priority at the moment, given scarce resources versus actually putting investment into current technologies and pre-commercial technologies such as carbon capture and storage, IGCC, future generation biofuels. So I would argue at the moment that one of the key issues, which we are doing, is looking to see what the implications through theoretical modelling would be of adding tropospherical aerosols, stratospherical aerosols, particles in outer space, et cetera. So at the moment Defra is clearly not putting any funding into any of the engineering aspects but we have clearly been, as the paper we submitted to you shows, looking to see what the current thinking is of the academic community, what the potential implications are, positive and negative, of different approaches.

Q47 Dr Gibson: Have we got a hope in hell with geo-engineering, do you think, giving us something interesting? Do you believe that at this stage?

Professor Watson: I think it is still worth doing some exploratory theoretical thinking. I think the issue of the artificial trees has positive elements. I do not see that that has negative implications, although you still have to store the carbon dioxide afterwards, so there are some issues of storage. If we go to some of the other areas, on paper there are potential offsets, whether it is tropospheric or stratospheric aerosols, but I would argue the number one priority at the moment is to actually implement a low carbon economy in both the production and use of energy and that would be the number one priority. For example, carbon capture and storage is a crucial technology on which at the moment the rhetoric is way ahead in the world at large of actual implementation. While there is no single bullet technology to move to a low carbon economy, without carbon capture and storage we will never achieve a low carbon economy if the US, India and China continue to use their fossil fuels, given they are so cheap, to produce electricity.

Q48 Chairman: So why are we procrastinating? Why did we fail to deliver on the Peterhead project? This is probably to Lord Drayson rather than yourself, but you must have a view?

Professor Watson: The European Union is talking seriously about trying to do a dozen or so carbon capture and storage pilot studies, which I believe is what we need. I would argue we need somewhere between 10 and 20 pilot studies, both pre and post-combustion, in different types of storage facilities. So I think now is the time to move aggressively forward. It needs international cooperation. I would argue it goes even beyond the EU, it should bring in the US and Japan, but clearly this is something which I think has to be moved quickly. I would call it an Apollo-type programme where you do not do one, learn from it, do a second, learn from it and do a third. We need to go in parallel and try multiple approaches simultaneously.

Lord Drayson: I think that is a very fair comparison and I think it nicely puts into context the real difference in the risk and benefit balance of something such as carbon captured storage against projects which we would consider under geo-engineering. I would say in the case of carbon capture and storage you have got an absolutely pressing need you have got a certain amount of time for that technology to be delivered. In concert with the changes which need to take place in terms of the switch at coal-fired power stations you have also got really quite a significant commercial opportunity. If the UK could convert successful research into this area into a commercially successful sector, it would have global export potential, particularly within China because of the number of coal and oil-fired power stations. If you compare that with geo-engineering, where some of the projects which are being postulated provide real questions of the downside risk, for example upsetting the radiation balance of the planet, incredible estimates of costs, for example, in terms of the reflective shields, as the Professor says, therefore the right thing to be doing is to be spending small to moderate amounts of money in the geo-engineering field, concentrating on the use of computer models, looking in a focused way at projects which have a sort of greater sense of feasibility, for example the artificial trees project, but at the same time really looking harder at how we can accelerate projects which have a real need now in addressing the challenge of climate change, and I think the example of carbon capture and storage is absolutely fair.

Q49 Dr Gibson: What is the role of DIUS in this then?

Lord Drayson: DIUS's role is to make sure that there is a clear link-up between the decisions which are taken under the Haldane Principle by the research councils identifying which projects are supported within research within a strategic focus set by the Government in terms of addressing key challenges which our society faces, an example of that being climate change, clearly, and to make sure that the link-up between the strategic objective at the top and the research input which is being taken at the very early stage gets pulled through into the creation, where we can, through the use of government procurement, through the use of the support for innovative new hi-tech industry, such that as we do the research to find solutions to these problems it does lead, we would hope, to the development of a strong sector around that. I think we really need to be, as we are, putting a lot of effort through the Technology Strategy Board to make sure there is think linkage between government policy, research input and the creation of next generation industry.

Joan Ruddock: Chairman, could I just add something to what has been said? First of all, in relation to Dr Gibson's first question about whether we were completely unaware - which is not his own criticism, I know, he was reporting a criticism, but of course there was an internal paper produced by what was then Defra, which was the result of a lot of discussions which had taken place between the chief scientist and UK experts on the very issue of geo-engineering and it was looking at options for mitigating climate change, so very obviously we have, as a department (Defra and now DECC), taken an interest in this subject and indeed Professor Watson has been a leading light in that. There is a difference between taking an interest in a subject and then concluding that this interest leads you into direct action within the Department. The interest is there, the understanding is there and we are not in any sense unaware, but we have concluded things which do not lead us to a great deal of direct activity, and you may want to come on to that.

Q50 Chairman: We just wanted to ask you that very specific question because we are a little confused now as to where your responsibilities and the new Department for Energy and Climate Change start and where Lord Drayson's responsibilities in DIUS finish, because he has quite rightly claimed in terms of climate change that there is a major responsibility for DIUS. What is it within this particular field of geo-engineering that you are going to deliver? Where do you see your responsibilities?

Joan Ruddock: The question is, are we going to deliver anything? We would have to be convinced that geo-engineering offered us a major lever to tackle and to mitigate greenhouse gases.

Q51 Chairman: Can I just start with the question which Professor Watson left us with, this vision of carbon sequestration? He made a very, very powerful case, I think, about European cooperation. He included Japan and the United States in that and I think we, as a Committee, particularly those of us who did an inquiry into this for a number of years, would totally agree with him. Do you regard carbon sequestration as geo-engineering, in which case why are you not fully supporting that?

Joan Ruddock: Let us make it absolutely clear that we believe carbon capture and storage is going to be a major way forward in terms of mitigating CO2 emissions, so that is very, very clear. That has been the position of Defra and BERR, DECC now, for a very considerable period of time.

Q52 Chairman: Is that geo-engineering?

Professor Watson: I would argue no.

Q53 Chairman: I want to know what the Minister feels within her Department. You are not the Chief Scientific Adviser for DECC yet, are you? Or are you?

Joan Ruddock: But he will do!

Q54 Chairman: He will do? I see. This is moonlighting!

Joan Ruddock: I think whether somebody such as Professor Watson would advise us to consider it geo-engineering or not is not a central issue. I think we are already committed to this concept. We believe that it is the way forward. We understand that China and India in particular, but many other countries as well, will continue burning fossil fuels for decades to come and if they are to do that we have to find some way of capturing those emissions and sequestrating those emissions. So that is absolutely clear, that we believe this is a way forward and we have cooperated in a project with China, we are cooperating with one of the leading lights within the EU and keeping it as part of the 2020 package, and we also of course have our own competition which we are still pursuing.

Q55 Chairman: Can we just put to one side carbon capture and storage? The rest of it you are actually disregarding? You say that that is not of any significance to your Department?

Joan Ruddock: No, I am not saying it is of no significance to the Department. I said it was not leading to immediate action.

Q56 Chairman: And you are not going to do anything about it?

Joan Ruddock: We will have, at the very least, a watching brief. Also, there is work which is going on with the Hadley Centre. There is work which is worth doing, we believe, which is at the level of desk studies, at the level of modelling, and we are more than happy to contribute to that and indeed if there were other partners who seek to go forward then we will be more than prepared to consider whether we should partner with them, but as for the Department, let us make it absolutely clear there are no plans for us to fund research in this field.

Chairman: That is absolutely clear.

Q57 Dr Gibson: Bob Watson, can I ask you, how would you get your advice, what is crap and what is good in this field and what is going somewhere and what is not? How does that come to you?

Professor Watson: Basically the same way as when I chaired the IPCC, and that is bringing together a broad range of experts to assess both theoretically what is possible and the experiments which have already been performed - and there has been a significant number of experiments on iron fertilization. As I have already said, nature itself almost does the experiment, in some respects, partially for us on stratospheric aerosols, so I would bring experts together, some of whom are very positive on some of these approaches, some who are sceptical, and actually access the evidence, just like we did at IPCC. What we did on our short desk study paper was that a couple of consultants put it together, but then we sent it probably to about 40 or 50 people to peer review it. As we know, the Royal Society is looking at this particular issue and it would not be surprising to me if the National Academy of Sciences in the US also looked at it, but what would be, in my opinion, quite worthwhile would indeed be a more in depth analysis by the IPCC or a combination of all the major academies of the world, the US with, I would say, the UK, also with China, India and Brazil. So it would indeed be an assessment which had a process which had buy-in from the international science community and the international policy community.

Q58 Dr Gibson: I would like to ask all of you a question about the initiatives which are going on in this field. Have you seen new initiatives that are necessary to drive it faster or get new ideas in there by combining people together, international cooperation, things like that, new ideas coming through, or are you just going to let it tick over?

Lord Drayson: I think the worldwide recognition of the accelerating effects of climate change are leading to a really quite significant development in the whole area of interest of development of the science in this field. I think it is important for us, therefore, in the role of DIUS, with responsibility for the prioritisation of research, to make sure that we continue to invest, although in a modest way, in blue skies research even for the most challenging areas of climate change. Some of the projects which are being postulated under geo-engineering do strike one as in the realms of science fiction with enormous budgets associated with them, the idea of massive shields to reflect the sun's light. However, with the development of computer models, modelling such projects, looking at the possible effects of aerosols, these are things which it is right for us to fund small amounts of money because groups, as you say, Dr Gibson, are developing an interest in this area and it may be that something comes out of this which may be of use. Also, scientists are postulating that there may be some really quite significantly nasty effects which come out of the effects of climate change which can create positive feedback, accelerating the rate of climate change, for example the release of methane from the melting ice, which would suggest that the value of an emergency-type solution in extremis and our views about the relative risk/benefit of such a technology may change in the future. Therefore, I think the balance we are striking at the moment is the right balance. We need to be moderate, keeping a careful eye on this area. It is an area which is developing and something may come out of this, but we must not allow the priority which needs to be taken on the urgent implementation of energy saving or action against climate change, apart from geo-engineering, to be detracted from.

Q59 Dr Gibson: International development. Bob Watson has mentioned the United States academies, and so on. Are there joint papers in this field from different countries? Is the work jointly funded, or is this very much a British effort?

Lord Drayson: This, in common with most areas of science, is an area of international collaboration.

Q60 Dr Gibson: Does that happen for the DECC too, your department, Joan? Does it interact with other departments across the world?

Joan Ruddock: Absolutely. We, as DECC, obviously are involved in major discussions with the IPCC on a sort of constant basis with the UNFCCC as well, because all our work on climate change is clearly currently aimed in the international sphere at getting an agreement at Copenhagen. So there are constant discussions and one of the concerns we have about geo-engineering is that those countries which are not so keen on getting a global agreement in which every country has to make its own efforts in relation to climate change, people who do not want to enter into agreements which mean they have to reduce their emissions, might see this as a means of doing nothing and being able to say, "Science will provide. There will be a way out. If we were just to look in this direction, then ultimately something will come up." Our concern is that although we do not want to dismiss this work, we do not want to be unaware of it, it could be used politically in that way, which would be extremely unfortunate because what we know about engineering is that engineering can provide us with well-tried and trusted solutions to reduce CO2 emissions from a huge range of activities and it is those existing engineering solutions that we seek to promote in the international arena and where we seek, of course, to get technology transfer to those countries which at the moment do not have that opportunity for themselves. So it could be a means of deflecting engineers from the very best work which can be done to help the world community to get such a deal.

Q61 Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. Could I just briefly ask you, Joan, before I bring in Gordon Marsden, whether in fact in your short time within the new ministry there has been or are plans to have meetings of your Department with DIUS and with Defra, because you all seem to play a key role within this space? Is that work going on?

Lord Drayson: Absolutely, Chairman.

Joan Ruddock: Yes.

Lord Drayson: In fact it is, in part, the purpose and role of the new Committee for Science Innovation, which I will be chairing, to make sure that departmental coordination for tackling these major challenges such as climate change are better coordinated.

Q62 Chairman: Is this issue of geo-engineering likely to be on your agenda?

Lord Drayson: Certainly the issue of climate change and energy is on the agenda. I would think within that carbon capture and storage is a very important theme, and within that I would say the one geo-engineering area which looks to have more relevance and does not cause the international treaty problems which we have mentioned is this area of artificial trees.

Q63 Mr Marsden: I would like to ask one or two questions about the implication of this particular branch of geo-engineering for potential future skills provision in universities and elsewhere. I wonder if I could start by asking you, Lord Drayson, because I know that in September DIUS contacted the Engineering Subject Centre to get a summary of the current and proposed provision of university courses relevant to geo-engineering and that was to look at issues such as delivering modules, research interests, demand for subject development. We understand that DIUS originally asked for that information to be provided by the beginning of October and I would be interested to know what the initial finding from that has been.

Lord Drayson: Our position is that we do not see that there is a need for us to specifically support the skills for geo-engineering because the feedback we have had and the conclusions we have come to are that the skills required for geo-engineering are common to many of the other areas of science related to climate change, for which those skills within all of the branches of engineering are going to be required. So our focus is really to concentrate on developing the skills base within engineering per se to make sure that the provision of courses for those branches of engineering relevant to the aspects of research and provision of solutions and infrastructure for addressing climate change are properly addressed. That is part of the wider government agenda in terms of encouraging an increase in the development of, firstly, pupils studying those subjects at school and the proportion of students going on to study those subjects at university. In all of those areas we are seeing an uptake, so our policies are working. We just need to see them working more quickly and with greater effect.

Q64 Mr Marsden: I understand the point you are making about the link between specific branches of engineering and general awareness and general provision, and of course that was an issue which we discussed previously in the inquiry in relation to nuclear engineering. Given this is a cutting edge area, and obviously you cannot be prescriptive and would not want to be, but do you have any concerns about the current status of what students in universities or schools may or may not be being taught about geo-engineering?

Lord Drayson: I would say that my concern is more that within this country we do not have enough scientists, we do not have enough engineers, period, and therefore what we need to be doing is addressing those issues with real vigour, which is what we are doing. Our analysis of this sub-field of climate change engineering and the particular focus which you are asking me about around geo-engineering is that we have not found that there are any particularly specialist skills for engineers and scientists which are not common to other areas more generally, for which we need to make specific provision. We clearly need to monitor that, but we have not concluded that as yet.

Q65 Mr Marsden: Professor Watson, if I can just turn to you, in your position as Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra you are, presumably, continually on the look out for areas of interesting promising research which may then have the sorts of broader implications we are talking about. What analysis or what reports have you given to Defra so far as to the potential implications of geo-engineering for university and school provision?

Professor Watson: I would actually agree with Lord Drayson. I do not see there are any special skills needed for the types of geo-engineering we are talking about, whether it is iron fertilization, adding tropospheric aerosols, stratospheric aerosols, et cetera. So as we noted earlier, Defra did indeed commission a paper which we then had peer reviewed on the various types of geo-engineering. We did not in that paper look at the skill set needed. We purely looked to see what were the approaches which could be taken, what were the potential benefits, what were the potential negative effects, basically, environmental, and social. We did not do a good cost estimate either. So we raised the issue and six months ago we actually sent our paper to the Royal Society suggesting they might want a more in-depth study, which they are now actually doing. We did not look at the skill set, but as Lord Drayson said, I actually do not see that there will be special skills needed at this moment for these types of projects.

Q66 Mr Marsden: Just a final question, if I may. I understand the way in which you have laid that out, but are you aware of how that approach which you have outlined and Lord Drayson has touched upon compares with the approaches in governments elsewhere - and I am thinking of particularly the evidence session we ad the other week from a couple of distinguished scientists from the United States - for a comparison between the way in which the US, Germany or France may be dealing with these issues?

Professor Watson: To be honest, I am not up to date with what the US is or is not doing on this. I know what they are doing in general on climate research. I used to be in the White House and I oversaw their programme of basically a couple of billion dollars a year. I have not stayed in touch with what the US is currently doing on geo-engineering though.

Chairman: Thank you very much.

Q67 Dr Iddon: Lord Drayson I think I should address the first question to. The Tyndall Centre believes that we should be seriously looking at geo-engineering projects, admittedly as an emergency policy option, in other words plan B, and they come under criticism then from the green organisations, particularly Greenpeace, who believe that would be an admission by Government that they supported geo-engineering of this kind, that mitigation of and adaptation to climate change had actually failed, and Joan Ruddock referred to the political sensitivities. Is it these political sensitivities, under pressure from the green organisations, which are preventing us from investing in any, in this country, geo-engineering research?

Lord Drayson: No, I really do not believe so. I think it is right for people to raise concerns as to where the priorities lie and I think they are right to say that the priority needs to be in addressing those aspects of science which can most have the impact in terms of the risk/benefit equation and make the most sense, but I do not subscribe to the view that you should on purpose put all your eggs in one basket to make sure that you look after that one basket really carefully. I think that is not how sensible science policy should be implemented. I think it is right for us to have a watching brief, as we have described, on these areas of geo-engineering. I think they could rightly be described as an emergency plan B. That does not mean that we should not absolutely put full effort into focusing our investments on plan A. But one never knows. That is the value of pure research and that is why it is right for us to be putting a moderate amount of money into this area, to be focusing on aspects such as modelling where we can learn an awful lot without having to invest too much.

Joan Ruddock: I think there is another aspect to plan B and it is this: if we want the whole of the world community to come together, as we do, to both mitigate climate change and adapt to the climate change which is inevitable then we have to engage and get a huge political consensus behind this, and that is what all our efforts are going towards. We also have to in certain ways produce vast sums of money, which I will not even begin to go into. If plan A has failed, if all that has failed, then there is very little reason to imagine plan B could succeed because most of the sorts of geo-engineering solutions which are being proposed would require international agreement. They could not be done in one country without consequent effects in other countries. Perhaps the simple chemical trees might be in that category, but most of the others we require international agreement. The sums of money which would be required are colossal. So if we have entirely failed to bring the world community together to do the rather simpler things which we already understand very well and we could not get political consensus around them, then it seems to me rather unlikely that plan B offers you the "Get out of jail" card. I think that is a narrow dimension which has not been well explored, perhaps, on geo-engineering solutions, just what an international effort would be required to make the majority of these potential plans come into being.

Q68 Chairman: They are global issues and I suppose that leads me to my next question, which is, is geo-engineering high up on the agenda for world discussions or do we never discuss it at international conferences between politicians?

Joan Ruddock: I am not aware that I am so new in this job that my testimony should not be taken, perhaps, too seriously. I am not aware of politicians discussing these matters at length, although I do know that there have been many meetings at which there have been scientific discussions, working groups, groups of officials, and I, in my limited experience, have heard that such discussions have dealt with ocean seeding for example, for fertilization, which I know has certainly been on the international agenda, but the extent to which politicians have been involved I suspect is limited. I also think that given the absolute necessity to come to some global agreement on climate change, that is probably correct, that scientists should probably not be looking to what I regard as being somewhere down the list of priorities and potentially the plan B, because we need all our energies directed at the plan A, but perhaps Professor Watson will have more knowledge than I do and can tell you rather more.

Professor Watson: I have not taken part in the recent negotiations but when I was the chair of the IPCC, so until six years ago, most of the negotiators looked to the IPCC not only to say what was the state of knowledge with respect to climate change, what the impacts could be, but they would also look to the IPCC to talk about mitigation approaches and the economic cost. The IPCC, in the fourth assessment report, basically said that the geo-engineering options put forward to date remain largely speculative with little known about their effectiveness and cost, with the risk of unknown side-effects. They looked at ocean fertilization, they looked at reflectors in outer space between the earth and the sun, they looked at reflecting aerosols in the atmosphere, and changing the albedo of clouds, et cetera. They did not, by the look of it, look at artificial trees, but they looked at most of it and clearly with that relatively negative report and at the same time, their statement that we do have cost-effective technologies in both production and use of energy to try to get on a pathway to 450, 500 parts per million and the need, which they analysed in great length, of what technologies could you bring to the marketplace within, say, the next decade (i.e. carbon capture and storage, future generation biofuels), so with that sort of statement by the IPCC it is not likely it would have been a major discussion point by the politicians of the world. They will have put their effort, in my opinion where they should, on how to transform to a low carbon economy.

Joan Ruddock: I have been passed a note, so if you like I can tell you that apparently there have been no discussions in the UNFCCC on geo-engineering, for the record.

Q69 Chairman: That is very helpful. Thank you very much. There is little commercial activity in this area at the moment, but four companies the Committee is aware of Planktos, a Californian company, has actually gone under, but Climos is still in existence in California, Atmocean in Sante Fe, also in the United States, and a company in Australia called Ocean Nourishment Corporation appears to be active in this area, all operating in a marine sense. If there were companies like that about to spin out in Britain, I guess the question is, would we (i.e. the Government) support them because I know that Linda Gilroy, who is the Member of Parliament for Plymouth and is aware of the marine scientists efforts to use algae to accelerate the carbon cycle in the sea and they would very much, I think, like to break out as a spin-off company in the not too distant future. Would the Government support any companies which want to spin out in that way?

Lord Drayson: Yes, particularly because Plymouth in that region has shown a really excellent track record both in the area of marine research but also the way in which a cluster of marine research-related spin outs and commercial enterprises have been developed. We also recognise that there is overlap between different types of marine research with this area. So although we would not see at the moment that the commercial opportunity for geo-engineering projects is well-established, we do see that there would be a sound commercial business plan based around a general research area, which would include geo-engineering as part of a number of different areas within marine science. Providing that was done in an area where you had the benefits of the cluster effect, good intellectual property and a sound infrastructure to support it, then we would be supportive of such a development.

Q70 Chairman: Thank you very much. Could I stay with you, Lord Drayson? In terms of the research community, we did have a very interesting session last week. I think my colleague, Brian Iddon, made the point earlier this afternoon that I think for all of us this was an area we had not really engaged with before. I think we say that quite openly and honestly, but we were quite excited last week on hearing particularly from the United States but also from our own scientists here in the UK, very, very committed scientists who were looking at geo-engineering not as a bridging technology but also as a genuine technology aimed to deal with this whole issue of climate change. I wonder what relationship you have as the Science Minister with this emerging scientific community, who do feel a little beleaguered and not listened to. What is your pathway to be able to discuss with them some of these ideas so that they do not feel they are just banging their heads against a brick wall or an artificial tree?

Lord Drayson: I would encourage them to make full use of the Government's existing programmes in the area of climate change.

Q71 Chairman: But how do they do that?

Lord Drayson: They can firstly make themselves known to the Technology Strategy Board, which is a key mechanism the Government has implemented to allow an independent assessment to be made of the technology investment priorities. Within that, climate change is a key challenge which the Government has identified. I would encourage them to not see their area defined as geo-engineering but to define themselves more broadly within that space and I would recommend that the Technology Strategy Board will be the first port of call for them.

Q72 Chairman: Okay. In its submission DIUS report that sulphate aerosols have a residence in the atmosphere for around about five years and yet Defra had a similar report based on Nobel Laureate Professor Crutzen's work, which says that they stay in the atmosphere for one to two years. Why do we get such differences of opinion?

Professor Watson: It simply depends at what altitude and at what latitude you actually inject the aerosols. When Mount Pinatubo exploded it put the sulphate aerosols into the lower stratosphere and it had what we call a half residence time of about one and a half to two years. If you could inject them much higher, they would indeed stay in the atmosphere longer. So it really depends where you inject them, both in altitude and in latitude because there is only a few parts of the world where you get an exchange of air across what we call a tropopause.

Q73 Chairman: If I can come back again then particularly to you, Lord Drayson, and also to you, Joan, how do your departments intend to really spread this message about geo-engineering, albeit that it is on the periphery of your main policy areas? How do we get particularly young people, young scientists, to engage with research groups? We heard last week that there is not a single grant which is coming directly from the research councils for a particular project in terms of geo-engineering. How do we get tomorrow's scientists, tomorrow's young engineers to actually engage with this if in fact there is no research funding coming through at all either from the Department or indeed from the research councils?

Lord Drayson: Chairman, I think this speaks really directly to the point I made just a moment ago about the importance of the way in which scientists in this field and people looking to commercial the science define the field they are in, because within the area of climate change we are currently spending within the NERC 66 million on fundamental research, so it would very much depend upon the specifics of the type of research, so that is research into the effects of climate change. In terms of total research investment by the research councils in the area of energy it is approximately 300 million. So there is investment at the moment going into the areas of which you could possibly argue that some of these geo-engineering projects would fall. I think that decision relating to the balance of investment within the particular areas of science is rightly not a decision which is made by politicians under the Haldane Principle. We see that these decisions about which projects are supported is left through the peer review process into the research councils and that is, of course, the way it should be.

Q74 Chairman: Do you share that view, Joan?

Joan Ruddock: Yes. I have nothing to add directly to that. I do not think it would be the job of my Department to be trying to enthuse young people about a particular branch of science or engineering. What I do think is the job of my Department is to engage our population at large in working with us, working with industry, working right across the piece to tackle climate change because we know that 40 per cent of the emissions that concern us come from the individual actions of human beings directly in their own lives. We can influence them and so we want young people to understand that that is the case and that there are things they can do. It is my belief - and I hope this will prove to be right - that the great challenge of climate change and the degree of interest young people have shown in climate change and the fact that it is their lives which will be constantly threatened by climate change will actually, I hope, lead to all of young people to want to be scientists, to want to be engineers and to see that they can not only change things in their own lives but they could actually do something which could make a very big difference. So I think it can be a source of inspiration for young people. We certainly have climate change champions who are drawn from young people in competition around the whole country and in the work they do and the work which is done in the eco schools, for example, people become very innovative, they become very interested in science as a result of joining this popular movement of people who want to address climate change. So I think tangentially we come at this, but of course we would not be promoting a particular branch of science to young people as a department.

Chairman: Okay. On that note could we thank you very much indeed, Joan Ruddock, Professor Bob Watson and Lord Drayson. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence this afternoon.

[1] Note from the witness: "For example, biofuels, carbon sequestration in soil and other land-use changes affecting albedo or the global carbon cycle".