House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
ENVIRONMENTAL AUDIT COMMITTEE
Wednesday 26 November 2008
PROFESSOR JAMES HANSEN and MR TIM HELWEG-LARSEN
USE OF 2THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee
on Wednesday 26 November 2008
Mr Tim Yeo, in the Chair
Mr Martin Caton
Mr David Chaytor
Memorandum submitted by Public Interest Research Centre
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor James Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Mr Tim Helweg-Larsen, Director, Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC), gave evidence.
Q1 Joan Walley: Good afternoon and a warm welcome to the Environmental Audit Committee. We are very appreciative of the fact that you have taken the trouble to come in and talk to us this afternoon. We are all under a fairly tight time deadline, so I will not spent a lot of time with introductions, simply to say that as far as this Committee is concerned we have focused particularly on climate change and climate change related issues since the last election, three and a half years ago. So there has been a lot of interest and I hope a reasonable amount of expertise amongst the Members of the Committee and obviously we have followed your work and comments with very great interest. I want to apologise in advance for the fact that as this was a special meeting, I have another commitment and I have to leave at about ten past three, but Joan Walley, who is the senior Labour Member of the Committee, will take over the chairmanship at that time. Perhaps I could ask a general question to begin with. Would tell us what you think the most significant developments in climate change science have been since the last IPCC report?
Professor Hansen: Yes. There has been a number of things which have made clear that the problem is actually more urgent than we thought just a few years ago. The evidence comes particularly from an improved understanding of paleoclimate, the history of the Earth and how the Earth's climate responded in the past to changes in the boundary conditions, including the atmosphere composition, but also observations of what is happening now in response to the changes which humans have made in the last century and the global observations we have of what is happening. The most disturbing conclusion is the fact that the dangerous level of atmospheric greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide in particular, is lower than we thought it was and carbon dioxide really has to be the focus because what has not always been well understood is that a large fraction of the CO2 which we put in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels will stay there a very long time. This is not 50 or 100 years, but more than 1,000 years. So it is the ultimate gas that we must be concerned about and what has become clear is that even the level we are currently at, 385 parts per million, is already getting us into the dangerous range. For example, from the paleoclimate we now have had the opportunity to look and gain some understanding of climate change on much longer timescales, not just the glacial to interglacial fluctuations which have been the focus of paleoclimate research in the last couple of decades but looking at the longer timescales, over millions of years, which goes back to times when carbon dioxide was as much as 1,000 parts per million. When that was true, there was no ice on the planet and the sea level was 75 metres higher. CO2 has slowly declined over the last 50 million years and the interesting thing is that when it reached a value of about 450 (plus or minus 100) parts per million that is when ice began to form on Antarctica, then it continued further and we got to this glacial to interglacial, but one thing it tells us is that we cannot burn all the fossil fuels and put the CO2 in the atmosphere. That would put us back to 800 parts per million or something well above the 450 level and we would be initiating the processes to send us back to an ice-free planet. So we simply cannot do that, and that has really direct practical implications because if you look at how much carbon we have in oil, gas and coal and if you realise that the oil has already been used probably about half. If we are near peak oil, which is what a lot of experts think, then we have already used about half of the readily mineable oil, and you cannot practically capture that because it is used in vehicles and there is no way to capture it. So if you look at how much carbon there is in oil, gas and coal and realise we cannot capture the oil, what it tells us is that we cannot burn all that coal, or if we do use it we have got to capture the CO2.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: Perhaps I could add something at this point? Your question is, what is some of the most concerning recent evidence, and obviously we have had the IPCC's fourth assessment report last year in 2007. What have we seen since then? The question, I think, might also be asked, what have we seen since the deadline for submissions into the IPCC process, which was a year or more in advance of that? I think one of the pieces of work which Professor Hansen has been exploring, which is of particular concern to us, is the situation in the Arctic, that really we are facing a very dramatic change in the sea ice, the ice which floats on the ocean at the top of the Arctic. It is melting away much faster than we thought and there are really three things coming out of this. We are seeing extra heating, extra greenhouse gas release and extra sea level rise. The reason this comes about - and the first element of it is quite intuitive - if you think of the very vast area of white reflective material at the top of our planet during the Arctic summer, when it is pointed more towards the sun, that is providing a huge parasol effect to the Earth. As that melts away - and it has been dramatically - we have seen that last year the extent of the Arctic was reduced by some 40 per cent, I believe, and the actual volume of the sea ice, which is perhaps a more crucial measure, had dropped to just 30 per cent, so it had dropped by a full 70 per cent since the year 1979. Now, with the Arctic melting away at that rate it causes a regional warming and that regional warming extends inland, into Siberia and Alaska, some 1500 km. That brings us to, if you like, the second melt because this is really the story of a triple melt. The melting Arctic sea ice leads to increased temperatures on land and we know that there are absolutely vast stocks of carbon locked up in the permafrost in Siberia and in the Arctic Circle. So these huge amounts of carbon are many times larger than our oil and gas reserves and they are more than twice the size of the carbon which sits in our atmosphere today, and it would only require a small amount of this to completely undermine all of our efforts of decarbonising energy, or transport, or emissions from industrial exercises. So that would be the second component of our triple melt and it leads to increased or extra greenhouse gas emissions over an above those we were expecting. But the third is that, again consequent of the melting Arctic sea ice, we will see that that 1500 km of warming going inland will extend over the Greenland ice sheet and we are already seeing a change in the dynamic processes of ice melt there, patterns which we have not yet fully understood but we can see that the ice is melting much faster than expected. So we have got extra warming, we have got extra greenhouse gas emission release and we have got extra sea level rise, all extra, over and above the models which are used in the IPCC's advice to policymakers.
Professor Hansen: Yes, and the thing is this "melt" that he talks about is one of the criteria which helps us estimate what is the dangerous level of atmospheric carbon dioxide. If we wanted to stop further melt of the Arctic ice, we would have to restore the planet's energy balance. Now there is more energy coming in than going out because of the trapping of heat by carbon dioxide. We would have to reduce the CO2 amount less than its present amount, to no more than 350 parts per million. But it is not only this melt problem which Tim mentions, there are other things, one of which is also melt, and that is the mountain glaciers all around the world which are receding at rapid rates and which provide fresh water during the summer and fall for hundreds of millions of people via the rivers which originate in the Himalayas, the Rockies, the Andes and other mountain ranges. We are going to lose all of those mountain glaciers within 50 years if we stay on business as usual. What we will need to do again is actually reduce the CO2 to less than the 385 and to less than 350 parts per million. There are other things which we see happening now which tells us that already we are getting into the dangerous zone, expansion of the sub-tropics, which is affecting the climate in regions such as the southern United States and the Mediterranean region, and Australia and parts of Africa, making those regions drier and harder and increasing forest fires in the western and southern United States and in the Mediterranean region. We already see that that expansion has occurred. There is also evidence of increased stress on coral reefs, which are very important for harbouring about one-third of the biological species in the ocean, and they are being stressed by both the acidification of the ocean - which again, is a direct effect of CO2, as more CO2 is taken up by the ocean it becomes more acid and that affects the life which depends upon it (it has carbonated shells or carbonated skeletons) - and also the increase in ocean temperature is stressing the coral reefs. So again it tells us we have actually gone somewhat too far at 385 parts per million. It is actually possible to draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere both as the ocean takes up more of the CO2 and also if we improve our agricultural and forestry practices we can draw down CO2 by 50 parts per million or so, restoring some of the forests, but we cannot take it down several hundred ppm. So if we turn all the fossil fuels, there is no practical way to get back to 350.
Q2 Joan Walley: What you have both said has raised a lot of other questions straightaway. Just for the sake of clarity, for the figures we will refer to CO2 concentrations rather than CO2 equivalents. Just in the light of what you have been saying, are you concerned about the tremendous focus on reducing annual emissions - we talk about cutting emissions by so much by 2020,2050 - and do you think we should be focusing more on the actual concentration in the atmosphere?
Professor Hansen: I think you should be focusing on the sources and not targets for a percentage reduction of the emissions, because the lifetime of the CO2 in the atmosphere, a large fraction, is more than a thousand years, so burning it a little bit slower does not make much difference. We actually have to look at how much carbon we have in the carbon reservoirs of oil, gas and coal, and that really tells us that we cannot burn all of the coal. That is the critical thing and that is the point I am trying to stress to people, that we cannot say we have some targets in 2050 or 2030, or at any time, and still build more coal-fired power plants, because if you do that there is no way that you are going to prevent getting far into the dangerous zone. You are going to have to stop the coal emissions. That, to me, is by far the dominant issue.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I think this is really at the heart of the question. There was some work done recently at MIT where they questioned 200 of their students on the difference between emissions and concentrations of carbon and there was huge confusion amongst a large proportion of the respondents, and this is from a technical university, so we need to be absolutely clear about this. I think in this evidence session I will be referring to CO2 equivalent levels, but we can give you after the session those numbers in CO2 only. If I just sort of park on the table that we have got obviously the flow of emissions that we are producing here in Britain, that we are producing globally, which fall into the atmospheric pot of carbon concentrations and the consequences, we know, of that increasing concentration is elevated temperatures on the planet. I think your question comes to these first two, which is how do we manage and navigate our way through it with these two issues? We obviously hear a lot of discussion about long-term targets for emissions cuts, the cuts in what we are flowing into the atmosphere, but it is of no consequence unless we are conscious of the total budget which that is going into. As Jim rightly says, if we cannot lower concentrations, reduce the level of the pot below what it is today, we have no confidence that we will have an Arctic left in the future to help maintain stability of our temperatures and of our planet. I imagine later on you will want to question about the forthcoming committee on climate changes numbers, but that obviously plays into these two elements, into all of these elements, of the emissions flow, the stock of emissions or the concentrations and the consequent temperatures.
Q3 Colin Challen: I apologise for having to leave at precisely three minutes to three to chair a meeting. From what we have heard already, it sounds to me like we are very close to a tipping point, except we are on the wrong side of that tipping point. Would you agree with that assessment, and what precisely does the phrase "tipping point" mean? Does it mean a point of no return?
Professor Hansen: I think there is more than one tipping point. We have probably reached the tipping point for Arctic sea ice because the planet is out of energy balance. We are probably going to lose the summer sea ice in the Arctic over the next few decades, but that is a reversible tipping point. If you restore the planet's energy balance and make it slightly negative, then the ice will grow back, but the tipping points we should be most concerned about, in my opinion, are those which are irreversible on any timescale that we can imagine, and that would include the disintegration of the large ice sheets, say in west Antarctica or Greenland. If we reach a point where they begin to disintegrate and the dynamics of the process takes over - that is really what you mean by "tipping point", where the dynamics of the process begins to take over and the positive amplified feedbacks just drive you to a large change - if the ice sheet begins to disintegrate and the process gets too far, then reducing CO2 is not going to stop it; it will just continue. Tipping points are inherently very hard to quantify, when you reach the point of no return, because it is a very non-linear problem. It is like the economic situation. You can have very bad economic policies and the economy carries on and not much happens, and then finally you get to a point where the thing collapses. It is very hard to predict the date when that is going to happen, but you can predict that if you continue with a negative budget you will actually get a problem. So on the ice sheets, I would argue we have not reached a tipping point on the ice sheets. They are losing mass at the rate of a couple of hundred cubic kilometres per year. That is still fairly small in terms of the total size of the ice sheet and it is only measured in millimetres of sea level per year, so I do not think we have reached that tipping point. The other one which is irreversible is the extermination of species. We are putting pressure on animal and plant species because of the rate of climate change which is very unusual. A given temperature line is now moving forward on average at a rate of about 60 kilometres per decade. For some period of time species will try to migrate to stay within a climate zone they are comfortable in, but once that total distance becomes too large - because some species do not migrate easily and species are interdependent, so you can eventually get ecosystem collapse. Now we are beginning to put pressure on some species like polar bears, for example. You do not want to get to the point where ecosystems begin to collapse, and that again it is hard to say but we are beginning to put stress on species and there are more extinctions now than is natural.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: If I could answer your question, what are the tipping points and are we passing them, I think we can see from the changes we are experiencing in our climate right now today it is incumbent upon us to reduce emissions as fast as possible. Yes, we need long term targets, but we need to be taking action today. I think in terms of passing the point of no return, whether or where it exists, it comes back to the Chairman's point about our understanding of the flow of emissions and the stock of emissions. Some work out just this month from Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows at the Tyndall Centre has explored this in fantastic detail, just taking some very simple steps to understanding what our situation is today. What they have done is they have taken the IPCC's own figure of stabilisation at 450 parts per million CO2e and looked at the carbon budget which would deliver that stabilisation level, so how much carbon is associated with that. They then explored what are the elements which are actually now beyond our control that we actually need to remove from this budget before we can see how much we have got left to play with. The first of those is that this is a budget for emissions over 100 years, starting in the year 2000, and because we are already in 2008 we have already spent the first seven years of that, so they discount that. They then remove an element, in fact 27 per cent of the budget, which is associated with carbon cycle feedbacks. This is a recommendation of the IPCC itself that the budget should be reduced by 27 per cent to take account of the carbon cycle feedbacks, so another loss. Then on top of that we have got emissions which we know are going to come from deforestation. They have both looked at some rather optimistic scenarios for reducing deforestation, but even with those scenarios there are still some emissions. Then the final element they remove are the non-greenhouse gas emissions. So they pull out for themselves, if you like, their disposal budget. Their disposal income will be the amount which is left to play with for energy and process emissions, so that would include transportation, heating, electricity and the manufacturing industry, and they look at how much carbon is there and, crucially, what is the rate of the decline of our race out of carbon. What they find through exploring a number of scenarios is that more than half of their scenarios show a decline rate, a descent out of carbon which they consider to be politically impossible. Now, whether that proves to be the case or not is yet to be seen, but they define that as an emissions reduction rate of eight per cent per year over an extended period or more. The context for this really is that Nicholas Stern has pointed to the fact that there are no situations where any country has moved out of carbon faster than one per cent a year for an extended period in a managed way. It has happened in unmanaged ways, and the key example there would be the collapse of the USSR, which saw five per cent a year reductions for a continuous period, and if we were trying to look for managed processes, managed examples, we would probably look to the 40 fold increase in nuclear power plants in France over a 25 year period, or perhaps the "dash for gas" in Britain in the nineties, both of which only delivered a one per cent per year cut in carbon emissions. What we are talking about is four, five, six, seven, eight per cent a year. What this crucially means is that we have to bring forward the start of this race out of carbon. Every year that we delay means that the descent out of carbon will finally be steeper, so it is absolutely incumbent upon us to start that exit now. So what we have been recommending in our Climate Safety report which we have just produced is that as well as having long-term targets, as well as cutting out the practices which we just know to be harmful straight off (such as deciding to have no new coal-fired power stations, deciding not to open up any new coal mines), as well as doing those long-term things and those mid-term things, we only have a chance of reaching future stabilisation levels at 450, 350 or below if we take action today and start moving on to the road of decarbonisation. We should probably be looking to augment these long-term policies with something like a ten per cent reduction by 2010, which can actually step us onto that path, stop our trajectory from rising and start declining.
Professor Hansen: If you would allow me, I would like to say one more word about this because I think your question about tipping points really gets to the heart of the matter, and also it addresses in perhaps a simple way that discussion. We see the beginnings of methane hydrates beginning to bubble up. It is another indication, another warning that we are already moving into the dangerous level and another argument for why we really need to go back to no more than 350. That is incredibly difficult. As Tim said, "That's almost impossibly difficult." However, it is not impossible if you look simply at these reservoirs of carbon and you decide that we are going to either use coal at power plants where we capture it or leave it in the ground. It becomes a doable problem. Then you do not have to argument in terms of the rates. It does imply very strong actions because you are going to have to phase out the coal emissions, and that tells you how strong your actions have got to be. You have got to find renewable energies or energy efficiency to satisfy what you otherwise would have used coal for. I think that is a doable thing. I think there is a potential in efficiency and renewables to do that. Maybe you will need fourth generation nuclear power, but it is possible to do it, and it is better to do it that way than to try to think in terms of percentages because if you just have goals for what will happen in 2050 and you continue to build coal-fired power plants then you will guarantee that you will not reach that target.
Q4 Joan Walley: I am not sure whether the global economic crisis is the result of management or mismanagement, but it may make a contribution in the very short-term to at least reversing the rapid growth in concentrations. What you are both saying is extremely interesting. Can I, however, ask for as concise answers as possible because there is quite a lot of questions which I and my colleagues wish to ask. We are just about to undertake an inquiry into forestry starting after Christmas. In the light of what you have just been saying about the contribution which forest restoration can make, what are the sorts of targets you think are necessary for that to make a contribution? The Government here has published a target for halving deforestation by 2020 and I think getting it neutral by 2030, but are those anything like ambitious enough to make the sort of contribution which is needed?
Professor Hansen: It would require restoring a large fraction of what has been put into the atmosphere, so it is an ambitious target. I do not claim to be an expert on the forestry aspect of this, but it would require the aggressive use of marginal lands which were forested at one time and now are not very useful for agricultural purposes. You would need to allow those to be reforested, and of course you have to avoid actions which encourage additional deforestation of lands which are presently forested.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I will only say a couple of words on this. In terms of sustaining our existing stock of forests, it is like Jim says with coal, there are certain things we just know are a bad idea. Burning coal is a bad idea, burning our forests is a bad idea, and the call for a moratorium on deforestation is clearly worth exploring and a close look at the land tenure arrangements within those areas is going to be crucial. If you have ownership or agency over the land you actually live on, with the right arrangements that is probably going to be the securest way of hanging onto our forests, the planet's forests. As to whether we can aggressively expand these, I suppose I would say that the climate challenge is looking so serious that we definitely need to research this and we need to be researching it urgently, but I suppose I would add a note of caution. Historically, our interventions in large-scale ecosystems have often been fraught with reverse consequences, so we need to be particularly careful when we go into this, especially given the scale which is implied. If we are addressing the billions of tonnes of carbon which need to be drawn out of the atmosphere and forest practices which would reforest areas, then we would be talking about very, very large scales and there are serious implications there for local peoples, just for the carbon and for the reflectivity of the planet, that we need to be really, really careful on before we draw ourselves into them.
Q5 Joan Walley: Coming back to the current discussions, do you think the aim of limiting the rise in temperatures to two degrees centigrade is a safe area or does that itself represent a tipping point?
Professor Hansen: I think that is another thing where our understanding has changed over the last several years and unfortunately there is too much of an impression that prior interglacial periods were a few degrees warmer. It turns out that at the top of the ice sheets where measurements were made, indirect measurements of the temperature at which the snow formed, the temperature was two or three degrees warmer during the warmest interglacials than it is during the current interglacial, but on the global average now that we have ocean cores from around most of the global oceans, which also give us a way of inferring what the ocean temperature was, the warmest interglacials were not more than about one degree warmer than the pre-industrial level. So a more appropriate target would have been one degree. Two degrees is very likely to mean that we would not have any sea ice in the Arctic, that we would not have any mountain glaciers, so again unfortunately that target, even though it is considered difficult, is too high. This is very bad news to be giving to the governments, but you cannot change the laws of physics and what is becoming clear is that we are pushing the system beyond a level that will allow us to maintain a planet which looks like the planet which has existed for the last ten to 12,000 years. The Earth's climate has gone through very large oscillations in the past and you might say, "Well, maybe a different climate would be all right," but unfortunately we have set up our civilisation and our infrastructure with sea level where it is and with climate zones where they are and the implications of moving out of this the recent climate range would be enormous. It has happened before and when it has happened it has driven more than half the species on the planet to extinction and over hundreds of thousands of years you have got no species. That is a timescale which we cannot imagine. For any generation that we can think of it would be a much more desolate planet.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: If I can try and answer your question as quickly but as simply as I can, again I think with the changes we are seeing today and the impacts we are seeing today just with our 0.8 degree rise in temperature above pre-industrial temperatures we can say that even this is definitely too high. In exploring two degrees or any other temperature, it is worth looking at the tool which is used by the IPCC and by climate scientists to make a conversion from the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere to the temperature. It is obviously a very complex set of arrangements and causal chain there, but it all gets summed up in a term called "climate sensitivity" which refers to the sensitivity of our planet's temperatures to atmospheric concentrations. This sensitivity is a technical term but at its heart it is not that complicated. I would like to say it is simple. At its heart really it looks at what would happen if you hypothetically instantaneously double atmospheric concentrations from one level to another, say from 280 to 560 parts per million and you look at the consequent temperature rise. So by doing that you get a sense of all of your climate modelling and your understanding of paleoclimate and your observations today if you can double atmospheric concentrations and see the temperature rise. That gives you a measure of how sensitive our climate is and if you understand that climate sensitivity then you can apply it to any particular concentration level. So the IPCC in exploring 450 parts per million CO2e (CO2 equivalent) as a stabilisation level also uses this mechanism. It has a range. The IPCC has drawn on a range of sensitivities and it says that it is most likely to be somewhere between two and 4.5 degrees of sensitivity. So if we doubled atmospheric concentrations we would get somewhere be two and four and a half degrees temperature rise. We are obviously not going to double atmospheric concentrations, or I certainly hope we do not, but if we talk about a particular level of concentration we can apply this metric to it. So looking at 450 parts per million, applying their middle of the range sensitivity of three and seeing what that implies for global temperature rise, it translates to a two degree temperature rise. However, in their own notes they recognise and encourage policy makers in as strong a language as they can, which is that they say policy makers may like to include the 4.5 measure of climate sensitivity in their likely range of explorations. So they are saying we should consider 4.5 as the sensitivity of our climate, and if we do use 4.5 rather than 3 (which is the middle figure) when translating our carbon concentrations to a temperature rise what we see is that 450 ppmb does not give us two degrees of temperature rise, it gives us 3.1. In fact we have very good reason to think that it might be this higher figure, it might be 4.5, for all the reasons we have just been discussing, the triple melt in the Arctic, the information coming in since the IPCC's fourth assessment report, and all the indications are that our climate is more sensitive than we previously thought. What this is leading us to understand is that our climate is warming faster than we had anticipated and what this means is that we need to be taking action more urgently than we previously thought.
Q6 Mark Lazarowicz: Given current policy trends, 450 is not going to be reached. What kind of temperature increase are you projecting using that kind of wider range of possibilities?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I do not know if it is in the briefing note. Do you have this picture? Essentially, it is to say that whatever stabilisation level we choose there are obviously temperatures associated with it and the sensitivity we explore is key there. As Professor Hansen is saying, we cannot allow the fact that we are finding it difficult to meet a 450 stabilisation to be used as a reason for ignoring it and going for something lower. We do need to go for something lower and what we find is that regardless of our future stabilisation level, whether it is 450 or even 550, or a much lower level of 350 or lower, the actions today in terms of our emissions cuts are really the same. Does that answer your question?
Q7 Mark Lazarowicz: I was wondering if you could give some indication of the final temperature increases you regard as most likely given current trends?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: Professor Hansen might want to talk about a six degree sensitivity and if we apply a six degree sensitivity to a 450 parts per million stabilisation we would end up with 4.1 degrees of temperature rise or somewhere thereabouts.
Professor Hansen: Let us be specific about the question. Could you repeat that?
Q8 Mark Lazarowicz: The question was, on your analysis of the current trends based upon current policies and the current situation what would you regard as the most likely figure for future temperature rise, taking into account the comments about climate sensitivity, which we should be working on as likely to occur if policies do not change?
Professor Hansen: If policies give us 450 ppm?
Q9 Mark Lazarowicz: If policies give us more than 450, which in the present trend seems to be likely, what kind of temperature increase are we talking about at whatever point in the future you think it is relevant to tell us about?
Professor Hansen: It depends upon what time in the future you are talking about. If we want to talk about, say, 2100 the temperature for the last 30 years has been increasing two tenths of a degree Celsius per decade. Business as usual would have that probably accelerate to three tenths of a degree per decade, so over the next 92 years I would expect something between two and three degrees with that type of scenario. It obviously puts us far into the dangerous range and I cannot imagine that humanity will be that foolish, but that is where we would end up. We would be heading towards an ice-free planet and our ice sheets would be beginning to disintegrate and we would leave our children and grandchildren a situation out of their control.
In the absence of the Chairman, Joan Walley took the Chair
Joan Walley: I think I should point out to the Committee, having just taken over in the Chair, that, as you were saying in your evidence to us, there is a very little amount of time in which to actually deal with the whole climate change issue, and so with our Select Committee this afternoon, so I am just going to ask all my colleagues to be kind enough to just speed up a little bit.
Q10 Mr Chaytor: I would like to ask Professor Hansen about carbon capture and storage because you are unequivocal about the need to stop opening new coal-fired power stations without CCS, but you seem to assume that fitting CCS is a routine matter which will solve the problem of coal emissions and that that can be done quickly, so could you say something about when you think CCS will be workable?
Professor Hansen: I think that we should have urgent research and development to have commercially available both carbon capture and sequestration and next generation nuclear power, but frankly I do not think that carbon capture and sequestration is likely to play a big role in the future. I think it will just make coal more expensive and it will become less competitive, but I would like very much to see that R&D because that carbon capture and sequestration can be used in combination with biofuels. If you have a power plant which is burning biofuels then while the plants are growing which you make the biofuels from they draw the CO2 out of the atmosphere. You burn the biofuels in the power plant, capture the CO2 and sequester it. That way you can draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and help us get back below 350. We are going to realise over the next decade or so that we have to do things like that, and that is a sort of natural geo-engineering.
Q11 Mr Chaytor: What is your best estimate of the earliest date on which CCS could be widely available?
Professor Hansen: It could be widely implemented. You could have the technology ready and available as an option for utilities within less than a decade. I frankly think that the West, Europe and the United States, should be cooperating with China and India to move both that technology and next generation nuclear power rapidly, because it is there, especially in China and India, where they have got to have some technologies available which do not put CO2 into the atmosphere.
Q12 Mr Chaytor: Secondly, could I ask about the various forms of geo-engineering which are currently being discussed. We read about a range of ideas and some of them are completely off the planet because they involve putting mirrors in the atmosphere, but you have been interested in biochar particularly. Can you tell us why you feel so strongly that this may be the most successful form of geo-engineering?
Professor Hansen: I think those geo-engineering suggestions which are basically natural are the things which would possibly make sense. We will need to reduce the amount of CO2 because it is not just the climate effect but things like acidification of the oceans, so CO2 has got to be a target and biochar and biofuels with the carbon CO2 captured and sequestered would draw down the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Biochar refers to the working into the soil of charcoal, which increases the productivity of the soil and it is a technique which has been used in ancient cultures in the Middle East and in South America. It is worth exploring that and understanding to what degree that would be applicable in the rest of the world because in many cases our agricultural practices have not been very good so the soils are releasing CO2, and we could actually get the soils to store more CO2. In fact, the soils contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere and improved agricultural practices, not only trying to work charcoal into the soil but just less invasive, more low-till or no-till agriculture as opposed to ploughing up the soil such that it releases CO2.
Q13 Joan Walley: Could I ask you, Mr Helweg-Larsen, about the Zero Carbon Britain written report, which I was very pleased to receive a copy of when I visited Machynlleth earlier this year? It sets out all your proposals for a zero carbon Britain but it has not really caught on, has it, in terms of the general public and I just wonder how much you think the recommendations in this report have been taken up by the general public and also how much you feel they are compatible with "the need for economic growth"?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: Thanks for asking the question. Doing the work for the Zero Carbon Britain report was very instructive in exploring all the means that we have for cutting our energy consumption and it was also useful for exploring all the myriad ways we have for generating renewable power here in Britain. Britain is in fact uniquely placed in Europe to power both ourselves and others. We sit at the brunt end of the Atlantic winds and consequently we have the largest wind resource and the largest marine energy resource of any nation in Europe. I will come on to that in just a second, but your specific question was about how it has caught on with the public in the UK. I think the public is going to be choosing low cost energy and at the moment our situation with the energy companies and the way it is structured at the moment does not favour that. There is no incentive for the energy companies today to encourage their customers to use less of the energy companies' products. The energy companies are playing into a saturated market. There is no opportunity for growth because we have 60 million people in the UK and not much more. We are not growing our industry in any big way. So they have two ways to maintain their profits. One is to maintain the size of the market (i.e. not encouraging their customers to use less of their product) and, secondly, to keep the prices high and prices in the energy market today are determined by the price of fossil fuels. They mark them up to sell them for fossil fuels into electricity, power for us, and there is no incentive for us to move out of that. That is a business model of yesteryear and we need to be looking now at a business model which makes best use of energy efficiency and clean energy technology and what we will find is that it is a much more dynamic business. If we look actually from the perspective of UK plc, or even, I suggest, UK Wind plc, we will see that our access to energy, our access to renewable energy and the scale to which we develop our wind resources does not need to be constrained by the amount of energy that we would feed into our own national grid. It does not need to be constrained by the balancing of supply and demand here in Britain. The Carbon Trust has shown that if we provided 30 per cent of the UK's electricity from renewable technology it would actually cost us less overall. The International Energy Agency has shown that if we move to an almost complete renewable technology scenario over the next 50 years it would cost us less money overall. The crucial thing here is that is a national perspective and an international perspective and not an isolated business perspective. What we need to see happen now is for the Government to call for a business plan to be written for a UK Wind plc, to be drawn up by the Treasury and to draw on the expertise of the Carbon Trust, of DECC, of BERR and the other relevant departments. We need to not be constrained by what we can just sell to our domestic market. We know that if we lay links to Europe there is a market of 500 million people out there looking for energy, hungry for energy which is secure (as fossil fuels are not), is clean (as fossil fuels are not) and ultimately it will become cheaper than fossil fuels are today.
Q14 Joan Walley: Given that since that report we have got the economic crisis, and as we speak indeed the debate is taking place on the Floor of the House of Commons, would you say that there are opportunities arising out of the changed circumstances between now and the Pre-Budget Report to link that kind of innovative linkage with environmental limits to growth and the Treasury and the need for more jobs, and how could, for example, the Centre for Alternative Technology be involved in that process?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: The key elements which can trigger this transition to a fossil fuel free future and to a zero carbon Britain would be the introduction of government energy bonds. It is a simple idea. It is one which we almost have already. We have Government Bonds. Government Bonds have been issued in wartime and in peacetime when we have needed to build massive amounts of infrastructure. What it would mean is that the Government can facilitate huge coordinated infrastructure transition, it can provide the mechanism for individuals and for business, and for the Treasury even, if it likes, to pay into a mechanism which will fund it. People need to have the opportunity to share in the profits of our wind and marine resource and at the moment it is an untapped potential. As you say, it does play perfectly into the current economic situation and it also provides the Treasury with an extra lever on inflation and it is obviously going to produce huge numbers of jobs. If we look at the cost of making the transition to a fossil fuel free nation, we see that yes, it is going to be costly, actually it is going to be enormously costly, but what is the single largest cost component? It is going to be highly paid, highly skilled jobs, and those are going to be in the UK. UK Wind plc will be an internal transaction. That will not affect our balance of payments and that will only bolster our economy.
Joan Walley: That is very helpful. Thank you.
Q15 Mr Caton: You have told us about the latest scientific findings, and very disturbing they are, but what are the biggest continuing gaps in the scientific knowledge and understanding of climate change that we face and how can we fill them?
Professor Hansen: The human influence on climate is not limited to CO2 and other greenhouse gases. We have known for a long time that there is another influence of humans which is a comparable order of magnitude and is not very well quantified, and that is the effect of small particles which we emit in to the atmosphere, sulphates and soot. Overall, these have tended to cause a cooling effect and that is one of the reasons why the Earth's temperature did not do much until we reached a point where the greenhouse gases are clearly dominant over the aerosol effect, but still it is an aspect which we need to quantify. Finally, next year we should begin to get satellite measurements which will allow us to quantify that aspect and that will be helpful, but the other thing where improved knowledge is necessary is the internal ocean temperature because that is our way of determining what the planet's energy balance is. We expect that as we add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere there will be more energy coming into the planet than going out because the effect of the greenhouse gases is to reduce emissions to space. Where does that energy imbalance show up? The ability of the atmosphere to hold energy is very limited. The heat capacity of the atmosphere is very small, but the ocean is where the heat imbalance has to show up, so we need to have good measurements of ocean temperature throughout the ocean, not just the upper 700 metres. So scientifically I think those are the two things where we need improved knowledge, but all that does is make more precise our knowledge of how the climate is changing and what we can expect in the next few decades. We already know enough to know that the planet is out of energy balance and we have a pretty good idea which the limits on atmospheric composition should be. Unfortunately, it is bad news that we have been giving you but, as I say, the laws of physics are not really negotiable.
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I think this is the key point. The climate science has done one job very effectively and that job is done, to tell us that we now need to take action. We do not need any more science to tell us that we have an urgent problem on our hands and we need to be doing everything we can to get out of it. The climate science's role now is in helping us to understand the decadal changes in climate and the regional changes in climate so that we can adapt, because we will need to, and build our resilience to the changes which we might expect. Yes, there is going to be the need for improved research and that must be as well funded as possible and it must be put to the absolute top of the agenda. We can be increasing the resolution of our climate models. We can be increasing the number and the detail with which we understand the mechanisms within that. We need to be integrating our climate model with our paleoclimate understanding with the measurements today on the ground. We need to be doing all of this, and more, and we need to be accelerating in any which way we can the process of peer review and the scientific cycle of feedback within itself to accelerate our trajectory of understanding. What we know today is that our climate is changing faster than expected and we know that the consequences are unmanageable if we let them go too far. So we know today that we need to be taking full action to decarbonise our economy because that is the one lever which we most clearly hold and that requires us to step off the upward trajectory of carbon emissions onto the downward trajectory, so I would really encourage a short-term goal which fits with our long-term ambitions, that we make a ten per cent reduction in the next couple of years, both to demonstrate that we mean what we talk about but also because we will not be able to meet any long-term objectives unless we have stepped onto that path.
Q16 Mr Caton: That really leads me on to my next question because, as you say, there is enough science and has been for a while now to know that we have got to do something. Why do you think it is that policy makers across the globe are failing to show the sort of urgency which you call for today?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I think this is a challenge for all of us. We certainly do not have all of the answers, but I think in part because we have not understood the full nature of the problem, in part because the problem is not one we are used to. We are used to being able to juggle our problems and put some of them to the back of the queue, but really with this it is drawing up targets for the future. It is too quick to become just writing to another to do it, and if we do need to prioritise the actions which we have to take and the things we have to do, we need to be prioritising them not just for importance, we need to be prioritising for urgency and the urgent and important thing to do now is to make carbon cuts today.
Professor Hansen: If I could add to that, I think the politics of the system seem to favour short-term over the long-term, and short-term it is difficult to make the changes which make sense in the long-term. The people who are affected in the long-term, the young, the unborn and nature, do not have much voice in our decisions. That is what we have to change and I think young people are beginning to recognise the situation and we are going to see more and more actions to try to force the political systems to respond for the good of young people and future generations, but so far the fossil fuel industry has had more influence on our policies than our young people have.
Q17 Joan Walley: It has just been brought to my attention that you need to be out of this room by 3.30 promptly and I am just thinking that in order to enable the Committee to get through the further questions in this first session we have you might just perhaps like to add any remaining comments which you felt had not been made, and then if it is okay with my colleagues we can continue the end of this first session with Mr Helweg-Larsen. I know you have to be out at 3.30.
Professor Hansen: Yes. I think I have mentioned the main points I wanted to make. I would just like to underline the fact that because of the long lifetime of CO2 and because CO2 is the dominant issue, we do have to look at where it is coming from and the conclusion you have to draw is that we have got to do something about coal. We have to also avoid unconventional fossil fuels like tar shale and tar sands, but that goes almost without being said. If I could say one more thing, I think that we are going to put a price on carbon emissions. I know that is politically a very difficult thing to do. Green taxes are resisted, even when they are not very large. It may not be a topic for this Committee, but I think we have to have a tax and 100 per cent dividend, in which the Government taxes carbon emissions but it gives all the money back to the public on a per capita basis. So everyone gets the same share back, but you pay according to what you put into the atmosphere. If it is recognised that that tax is going to grow with time, then we would transform society in ways which would allow us the transition to a no carbon future. If we do not have that economic incentive, I think it is going to be very hard to do it.
Q18 Joan Walley: Many thanks indeed for your valuable time and for exceptionally coming before our Committee this afternoon. We are very grateful.
Professor Hansen: Thank you very much for allowing me to speak.
Q19 Mr Chaytor: I am sorry Professor Hansen has had to leave because my question was really to him, because he said that the rules of physics are not negotiable. If that is the case, why are the IPPC reports so conservative in their assumptions and why are the arguments and the evidence which you both have been putting forward now not fully incorporated into the last IPCC report?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I can perhaps answer this in part. I think the nature of the challenge for the science community has changed over time. This perhaps started off, like many other scientific endeavours, to understand a particular area (in this case to understand our climate science) and, much like trying to understand forestry or the human system, it is a scientific endeavour and it takes time. Scientists' very reputations and careers are based around the validity of the work they publish and there is a huge built-in conservatism in that process. That does not go away when we pool together the work of the scientific community around the world on climate change to produce the IPCC reports. In fact, in many ways it adds an extra layer of conservatism because you are working not to build a consensus between all of these groups, because that is not what the IPCC is setting out to do, but a synthesis. So I think that is part of where it comes from. The IPCC has had that challenge, as has the whole scientific community. I think another element would be that the climate scientists have for a long time just been trying to be heard and understood. They have stumbled across a very big issue which affects all of us and people have not been listening to them for some time. Those who were listening were being dissuaded by the fossil fuel industry and interests which were against that scientific pursuit. So one of the things they have tried to do is to put across the most serious consequences of climate change to try and break through that sort of stupor which the public and all of us seem to have been in in not recognising the issue. But in doing that they are making the science as conservative as possible so that they can be absolutely sure about it. I think really the challenge is building the interface between that body of work (that body of understanding about climate change and the contributing authors to it, such as Professor Hansen) and policy makers. I do not think that interface is there in as robust a way as we need it to be. I think policy makers really need to be familiar with some of these mechanisms such as climate sensitivity. They need to be absolutely au fait with the distinction between flows of carbon emissions and the stock and they need to be familiar with how we manage uncertainty and risk. I think it is a lot for them to get to grips with and I think it is only going to become clearer as time goes by.
Q20 Mr Caton: To continue with what you are talking about, influencing policy makers, one thing you would have thought would have galvanised policy makers is exactly what you have been talking about today, which is where we are seeing observed change. It is not just projections, it is observed change in the Arctic and the mountain glaciers. Do you think that is going to change policy makers?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: I do not think it will change it on its own. I think we have had information for some time. Yes, it is being caveated and bubble wrapped, perhaps, but I think it is incumbent upon every aspect of our society to make a noise about this. We have, if you like, a cycle of reasonableness at the moment where we have got the media putting a climate change article on a facing page to an advert for a car. We have got business structured and regulated in such a way that you can make fantastic profits out of destroying the atmosphere, and we have got Government which is constrained by both of these and by the public, whose understanding is formed by business and the media. So all of these feed into each other and we could bemoan all this, but we have to look at the opportunities which exist to break out of that pattern. We have to look at how can the media break free of its constraints and how can the public seek to find information which is really going to give them the latest understanding so that they can vote with understanding on climate change.
Q21 Mr Caton: In your view, is the IPCC process fit for purpose and is it going to be able to respond to a greater demand for more focused and timely reports?
Mr Helweg-Larsen: Is it fit for purpose? I am going to say two things. The first is that the IPCC process is without a doubt the most impressive scientific endeavour that we have seen to date. That is a different question from, is it fit for purpose, and if it continues the way it is structured today, no, I do not think it is fit for the purpose of informing policy makers and to take the action needed to secure a climate which is safe. I think many of the elements and components within the IPCC process are going to be essential in informing policy makers and they are going to be essential in guiding us to that place of climate safety, and those will include the stringent peer review process and they will include the networks and distribution channels which the IPCC has. What we need to see is really the speeding up and acceleration of the IPCC process so that it can outpace the acceleration of climate change. That is going to involve all sorts of creative thinking and ways of perhaps bringing some of the journals into a more online, more live and real-time collaborative process than we see today. We need to make use of the valuable assets we have and we need to restructure them so that they can work fast enough.
Joan Walley: On that note, can I thank you very much indeed for coming before the Committee for this special hearing, and congratulations and good luck on your journey to climate safety. Thank you very much indeed.
Witnesses: Professor John Beddington, CMG FRS, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office of Science, and Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Defra, gave evidence.
Q22 Joan Walley: Good afternoon and many thanks indeed for taking the time to appear before us here this afternoon. I am not sure whether you heard any of the previous evidence we have just had, but we have just finished our previous session, really talking about the IPCC. I would like to kick off, if I can, by really referring to the IPCC reports which there have been and asking you whether or not you feel the UK is doing enough to make cuts in emissions fast enough or deep enough to avoid dangerous climate change. Do you accept that that is or is not the case?
Professor Beddington: Could I, first of all, thank you, Ms Walley. What we heard from the previous session was applause rather than anything detailed. I suppose my staff will judge me on whether I generate applause when I actually walk out, so they are all under a five-line whip on that! I think I would probably ask Bob Watson, who has had a lot of experience with IPCC to answer it initially and then I am more than happy to expand a little bit.
Professor Watson: What the IPCC has argued is that it is not up to the scientific community to define "dangerous anthropogenic perturbation" in so far as it is a socio-political process. What the IPCC has done in the past - and, as you probably know, I chaired the third assessment report - is we provided evidence of what would happen for different degrees of changes in climate and how it would affect agriculture, water resources, human health, natural ecosystems, et cetera, but we recognised it was not our job in IPCC to define "dangerous". What the last two IPCC reports have said is that as you go above two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial you get more and more adverse effects. So we did not define "dangerous" but we noted where the adverse effects of climate change would become more and more severe. Therefore, it is really a political decision to decide what is a definition of acceptable or dangerous and then to think through to how we could meet those various targets.
Q23 Joan Walley: But it is the case, is it not, that since your report there has been scientific development and I think irrespective of the interface with the policy makers of the IPCC there is this issue of whether or not the scientific evidence can actually keep abreast of everything we are now learning fast enough to be able to translate it into policy?
Professor Beddington: I can probably answer that in general terms and perhaps Bob can speak on it in a more particular way. I think the first thing to say is that the evidence as it is accumulating indicates there are real causes for concern. For example, the CO2 emissions and the general greenhouse gas emissions are at the upper end of the more pessimistic scenarios which the IPCC did, so the implications are obvious there, that this is something to take seriously. A couple of phenomena I can probably single out, the Northern Hemisphere primarily for the phenomena that we are noticing, the Greenland ice sheet and the free-up of Arctic ice covering on the sea is really concerning. I think this indicates again and conforms with the idea that we are looking at one of the more pessimistic scenarios, but I think within that your question is really can the IPCC process react quick enough? I think the answer to that is that obviously it is rather difficult because you are dealing with an overall process which involves most countries in the world.
Q24 Joan Walley: If the actual process is not fit for purpose and the development of new understanding and new knowledge comes through, what should we be doing to change that process in order that we can take account of the scientific evidence which is before us?
Professor Watson: There are two points I would make. First, the strength of the IPCC, and then I will say what the weakness is. The strength of it is that it brings together scientists from all over the world. It is heavily peer reviewed, therefore by the time it is published not only does the scientific community accept it as a definitive report but so does the policy community. As you know, the summaries for policy makers are approved word by word by governments around the world and it is that strength, that you have both the science community and the policy community. But that takes time. It takes two rounds of peer review and a plenary approval process. What I believe IPCC needs to do is to find a more flexible mechanism for bringing new scientific information to the policy process, but it will have to be done in a way where you cannot have the same level of integrity and credibility in the process. So it is a really critical issue. Take Jim Hansen's last paper. He would argue now that the climate sensitivity factor is six degrees Celsius. It is not clear that everyone would agree with that. Should that suddenly be part of a policy process before it has undergone a really critical review by a large part of the science community? I think one would have to question it, to be quite honest. So there are some real strengths of being very deliberative in actually bringing new science to a policy process. At the same time, I can tell you that in the UK certainly our ministers know about the Greenland ice sheet melting faster than we thought. They certainly know about the Arctic sea ice melting fast as well. This information in brought to our ministers on a routine basis. So we do not need the IPCC process, at least in the UK, to bring this sort of information to the policy process. It is also not needed in the United States, where I lived for 35 years. They have hearings such as this in the House and new information is brought to their attention all the time. So one is not reliant upon the IPCC as the only mechanism for bringing knowledge to the policy process.
Professor Beddington: Yes, I am happy to agree with that. The key issue in the UK is that we actually are investing appropriately in the science to try and find it out.
Q25 Joan Walley: Are we investing sufficiently in the science?
Professor Beddington: It is always a difficult question. As a scientist, it is never enough, but I think appropriately is probably it, and these are difficult times. "Why are you investing in this as opposed to investing in" -
Q26 Joan Walley: But surely in these difficult times we should be investing more?
Professor Beddington: I do not disagree at all with that, in fact that is the view I take in terms of R&D, but I take it in terms of R&D across a whole series of dimensions. Let me just take an example. Clearly climate change is one of the most enormous problems we face, but there are other very, very difficult and very, very important problems which the world is facing at the moment. I would cite three securities: the problem with food security, the problem with water security and the problem with energy security. All of those are intimately related with climate change. So we have got to work out a balance with our R&D spending in which we address not just climate change but the intimate relationships between other factors, and there are other health imperatives, and so on, as well. So I think it is very difficult to actually come out and say, "Are we spending enough on climate change or should we be spending more?" The answer is that these are difficult decisions about resource allocation. However, I feel that the quality of the science which we actually get out of the UK scientific community on the climate change area is extraordinarily high. We are fortunate in having excellent scientists who work in it, at the Natural Environment Research Council, at the Hadley Centre. We have seen a reorganisation of ministries, so there is now a department which is actually going to be dealing with energy and climate change specifically. That has problems of organisation, clearly, but Bob, for example, is continuing to provide scientific advice on the climate change aspect and Brian Collins from BERR is providing advice on the energy side. These are appropriate ways to ensure continuity.
Q27 Joan Walley: Just finally on this series of questions, if the new science, the advice of the IPCC, is readily available with government, why is that not having that obvious effect on government policy?
Professor Beddington: I would query the premise there, Ms Walley. I think the first thing to say is that what this Government has done is set up a Climate Change Committee and Adair Turner, before he left to do another fairly interesting job at the FSA, gave the advice that immediately there should be a reduction of 80 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, accepted immediately by the Government. That was based on new and important evidence which was brought to that committee's attention. That has now been accepted and it is planned to be part of legislation. I would say that that is a fairly quick and immediate response.
Q28 Martin Horwood: What you were saying about the state of Greenland and the Arctic is strongly reinforced by the previous witnesses, who have also added in feedback on Siberia and elsewhere. Given all of this latest data, what atmospheric concentration of CO2 do you think policy makers should now be aiming for as a stabilisation target?
Professor Beddington: Can I refer that to Bob, who has got a lot more experience? I have my own views, but I think Bob will give you a more complex answer.
Professor Watson: I think you first have to ask, what are we trying to protect and therefore what is an acceptable level of change which politically we can get agreement on around the world?
Q29 Martin Horwood: To be clear, I am asking you about the science, not the politics.
Professor Watson: But you have to back into it basically. As I have already said, defining "dangerous" is not the role of the scientific community, it is the role of a socio-political process, because what am I trying to protect, the most vulnerable individual in the world, the most vulnerable sector? If I wanted to protect the most vulnerable individual and the most vulnerable sector, you could actually argue we should allow no change in climate at all. You could argue that we should effectively stay where we are today and now allow any change, because clearly any change will affect them, either through sea level rise, a reduction in agricultural productivity, reductions in the availability of clean water in Africa. So all change will have some adverse effects in some parts of the world. It will be countered with some positive benefits in other parts of the world. So the question is, from my perspective I have to then ask myself, "Who am I protecting and why am I protecting, and at what cost am I trying to protect?" because it will clearly cost money to limit greenhouse gas emissions to very, very low levels. So, what do I think is acceptable? I think the European target, personally, of trying to limit to around 2 degrees Celsius, relative to pre-industrial - and we have already increased by about 0.75 degrees Celsius, so it means only another 1.25 degrees Celsius - is an appropriate target to aim for. Then the question is, what does that mean in terms of concentration of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, what does that mean in terms of emissions and what does that mean in terms of equitable allocation of emission rights across countries?
Q30 Martin Horwood: No, I am just asking about the concentration to start with.
Professor Watson: It depends on what you think the climate sensitivity factor is. I would say you have a 50:50 shot of stabilising at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial at somewhere between 400 and 450 parts per million. If you take Jim Hansen's new estimate of the climate sensitivity factor, it has to be even lower than that, but within the IPCC, within the Stern Report you have a 50:50 shot somewhere around 400 to 450.
Q31 Martin Horwood: I am well aware of the Stern Report. It is arguable that the text in the Stern Report implies 450, but the model accepts 550 by the end and that is what seems to have fed into Government policy. Professor Hansen has just suggested that actually 350 would be a more sensible target and given your kind of range of who we are trying to protect, if we focus on what is necessary to avoid an unacceptable risk of irreversible climate change what then would be your opinion of what the concentration of CO2 we should be aiming for should be?
Professor Beddington: Can I come in there, while Bob thinks of an answer? I think the issue is a difficult one because of the fact that UK emissions and UK policy alone is going to have very little effect in isolation. This is something where you have got to bring the world community with it, and we are well aware of that and I am telling you things that I am sure you already know, but on the issue of choosing a target for emissions and essentially by implication a target temperature above the pre-industrial average it seems to me we have to pose the question, how would policy change in a different way?
Q32 Martin Horwood: To be fair, my first question was simply, what concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere do you two think, as the Government's scientific advisers, will prevent an unacceptable level of unavoidable change? I am not asking about the policy framework, I am not even asking about the economics, I am asking you what concentration of CO2 you think - and you must have thought about this, you must have your view of what the correct sensitivity level is and you must have your opinion of what target we should really be aiming for?
Professor Beddington: I thought Bob had answered that by indicating that his view - and I would support that - is somewhere between 400 and 450. I thought that question was answered, so my apologies if I had not realised that you did not hear that.
Professor Watson: The CO2 equivalent, the combination of all of the greenhouse gases.
Q33 Martin Horwood: But that is lower than the Stern Report came out with?
Professor Beddington: That is the answer to your question, whether we agreed with Stern.
Q34 Martin Horwood: Okay, that is very clear. In that case, can I just ask then, if we accept two degrees - and previous witnesses even suggested that was too high and that perhaps one degree was now, in the light of the latest data, more acceptable - and the need to stabilise at 450 or lower, do you think that is really penetrating through in terms of ministers not just in your departments but across government? Do you think they understand the concept of carbon budgets and the urgent need to get onto a low carbon trajectory?
Professor Beddington: Bob can answer for Defra, but I can answer essentially across government. I am going to be slightly lengthy, so please bear with me. First of all is the way in which scientific advice actually operates within government. Most of the major departments which depend on science have chief scientific advisers and I have a network of those chief scientific advisers. We meet every six weeks and the key departments who are involved with the climate change issue meet in a sub-group of chief scientific advisers pretty much every five or six weeks, so we are actively discussing that. Those chief scientific advisers go in and advise their permanent secretaries and their ministers appropriately and all of those are fully appraised of these issues. So I think that advice is actually going out from the scientific adviser community. I am conscious that your question was, is it my view that all ministers are actually appraised of this issue and its important subject, and my impression is that that is correct, that they are. I comment again on the speed with which the Government accepted the recommendations from the Climate Change Committee and moved immediately to a reduction by 80 per cent, which seems to me to indicate that the machinery of Government is actually addressing that issue and it was commonplace, but Bob should answer for Defra.
Professor Watson: Certainly Hilary Benn was clearly appraised of this big issue, of whether or not there should be a 60 versus 80 per cent reduction by 2050, so he clearly understood that the Climate Change Committee under Adair Turner made that recommendation. As we saw, within days Ed Miliband confirmed that that should be the Government's position.
Q35 Martin Horwood: So why in that case did Defra supply to other departments a shadow price of carbon using a discount rate so much higher than that recommended by the Stern Report, which was then used by the Department for Transport in effect to give approval for a third runway at Heathrow?
Professor Watson: That I do not know and I did not know -
Q36 Martin Horwood: You supplied the shadow price of carbon to the Department for Transport, as far as I understand it. Defra supplied the calculation. That is what they told us.
Professor Watson: I would have to get back to you to see if that is true or not and ask the Chief Economist.
Q37 Joan Walley: It would be helpful for the Committee's information if we could just clarify whether or not that advice, which you mentioned just now, which is available at these ministerial meetings, is actually in the public domain. These are chief scientific advisers' meetings?
Professor Beddington: These are relatively informal meetings and they are published on a website, but I thought the question was in fact if scientific advice went through to departments, which I was explaining. In the context of Defra's advice on a discount rate, manifestly it is an economics thing and I cannot answer, but Bob will write to you about it.
Professor Watson: Yes, I will find out from the Chief Economist whether indeed they did supply the Department for Transport with the shadow price and I will ask them what discount rate they used.
Q38 Martin Horwood: You do not have a fixed view on that at the moment?
Professor Watson: The issue of discount rate is probably still one of the most controversial things in the economic community. I am not an economist. Personally, I like the approach which Nick Stern used of using a very low discount rate, that you do not discount future generations. It is highly debated still within the economic community on whether that is the right social price for carbon. I know the World Bank has actually taken up this debate and probably will also be for the issue of climate change - not for other issues - also recommending a fairly low discount rate, but I think that is the sort of issue where you need a series of economists in the world like Partha Dasgupta, Amartya Sen, et cetera, but I will try and understand whether Richard Price was the person to recommend a shadow price to Transport, and if so why and what number it was.
Q39 Martin Horwood: Can I just move us on to interim targets? The Climate Change Bill now has 80 per cent, which is a higher target than it had in its previous incarnations, but the interim target at 2020 still remains the same and the EU's target is to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. In your scientific opinion, do you think that is still consistent with avoiding a temperature increase of more than two degrees centigrade over the pre-industrial measure?
Professor Watson: It depends what the rest of the world does.
Professor Beddington: The point Bob made earlier on is that in a sense the UK is trying to lead by example and one is looking to international negotiation at Copenhagen and probably subsequent meetings after Copenhagen to try to reach some form of agreement. The interim is obviously important because all the science shows that it is not just what you finally achieve by 2050 or 2100, it is the actual path on which you move towards that, and the 26 degrees, which is the current Government target by 2020, I believe depends on how other governments respond. It depends. In my view, it is a reasonably practicable solution but one in which it will depend entirely, first of all, on how scientific evidence comes in. If that scientific evidence shows that there are bigger problems, then scientific advice will go in to say, "This needs to be looked at." The point here is that it will depend entirely on what the rest of the world community does. I do not have to spell out to this Committee, as I am sure you are all aware, what is actually happening in South Asia.
Professor Watson: Just building upon what John said, as you have rightly said, the EU position is a 20 per cent decrease by 2020, although they have also said if others do their share they would like to see it go up to 30 per cent. Well, there is no question that if it were to be 30 per cent rather than 20 per cent that gives us a greater probability of hitting the lower target by definition. I think the key issue is sending a signal by the EU to be serious about this issue and to get the US and China on board. So, exactly as John said, it is almost not irrelevant but minor what the EU does if we cannot get the US, which is now currently 15 to 20 per cent above 1990 levels, and China, of course, has had incredible growth in the last decade or so. So the challenge is actually having a meaningful international agreement which the US, China and India, of course, sign up for, and Russia, whose economy until the last few months was also growing at a tremendous rate.
Q40 Martin Horwood: It is a rather strange logic, though, from a scientific point of view that if other people do less, we should do less too. Surely if other people do less, we should be doing more, should we not?
Professor Beddington: We did not say that. You asked the question about whether 26 per cent was appropriate and I said that it was appropriate but if the scientific evidence comes in that actually one needs to do more, than one would look at it. But the whole point here is that emissions are actually not going to be determined by the UK, they are going to be determined by negotiations between the whole of the international community. The UK has actually taken decisions to go for a very tight regime, significantly tighter than is occurring elsewhere in the world, by way of example. If that example works, that would be great. I think if that example works, as Bob said, I think the EU as a whole is likely to actually try to address more rigid targets.
Q41 Martin Horwood: If I could just paint a slightly pessimistic scenario, if there is a certain inertia in the international energy situation and in international policy making and if, as you said in your opening remarks, we seem to be hitting a rather more pessimistic trajectory than we might have thought in terms of climate indicators like the Arctic, is it really sufficient to aim for 80 per cent still? It seems early to challenge something which has only just been put into legislation, but should we not be aiming for more stringent cuts than 80 per cent by 2050?
Professor Beddington: I think it is very hard to judge for the reasons I have said. This is taking us outside the realm of scientific advice. It is taking us into the realm of how negotiating positions are actually developed and how they work through a complex international procedure, and indeed that was taken into account by the Climate Change Committee. They were looking at potential averages, per capita averages across the world community, and so on, and how the UK could be seen to be playing rather more than its fair share, as one might characterise it. I feel that this is a reasonable target level, but it is revisable. It is revisable not in the context that it is going to make any difference whatsoever to the total greenhouse gas emissions of the world community unless the world community acts. The UK cannot act on its own, and I think that is so important, so to an extent you are asking about political judgments. Would it make an enormous difference to the international community if the UK had actually said, "We would like to reduce by 85 per cent and reduce by 26.5 or 28 per cent by 2020"? The short answer to that is, I really do not know, but that is a question of diplomacy and a judgment around international diplomacy and international negotiation. I cannot tell. It is outside my realm.
Q42 Martin Horwood: One short technical question on the Climate Change Bill. That now aims to include the UK's share of international aviation and shipping emissions, eventually formally within the budgets but for the moment the Government has to take account of those emissions when setting carbon budgets. What is your understanding of the phrase "take account"? What does it actually mean?
Professor Beddington: I suppose time will tell, but it seems sensible that aviation and maritime emissions have got to be a decision which is actually taken at an international level. It is very difficult to imagine how you would have something effective. As far as I am aware, there is no underlying method of calculation of how that will be taken into account, but I think that is work in progress.
Professor Watson: As I understand it, the domestic flights are already included explicitly. It is indeed how one would have an allocation of the international ones. At the moment there is clearly a recognition now that we have got to bring aviation into a post-Kyoto agreement and the debate now is how to do it. On this issue of whether 80 per cent is enough or not, I think the question one can ask oneself is, would we do anything different today if the target was 80 per cent in 2050, or 70 per cent, or 90 per cent? I would argue, probably not. Any of those numbers mean a massive decarbonisation of the energy sector and therefore you have to decide now how to put the policies and technologies in place to move towards both a low carbon production and a low carbon use of energy and I would argue that independent of what that number is, you would make the same decisions today on investing in carbon capture and storage, investing in future generation biofuels, you would make sure the policies would be such that new technologies could get into the market. As John said, that is obviously a number which can change as scientific information changes over time, so I think what we have got out there is a very stringent target for 2050. It already tells the private sector we need a low carbon economy and we need to move in that direction, and we have to make sure that we also look at our agricultural sector as well.
Joan Walley: I think we can perhaps move on to the role of the Government Office.
Q43 Jo Swinson: There has been quite a few reports recently from the IPCC, the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology, which all point to the need to fundamentally shift away from business as usual to system change. What is your role? How far do you go in encouraging the Government to act on that scientific evidence?
Professor Beddington: It would depend on the individual departments, but the issue I have been raising both within Government and externally is the massive problems we face on the timescale, which is rather short, of 2030. To 2030 we effectively need to have 50 per cent more food production, we need to have 30 per cent more availability of fresh water and we need to have in excess of 50 per cent more availability of energy, but that has got to be done within the goal of not harming the climate change agenda and recognising that these things are fundamentally interacting. I think that is a message which is taken up and one of the things I am arguing for within government is that we need to reassess the level of research and development. Earlier discussion with the Chairman indicated that now is not the time, even in financial stringency, to be cutting back on research and development because I think it is very hard to imagine how you are going to meet those major challenges out there. Take food and water. They are not making any more land. How are you actually going to address the food security issue? At the same time, you are going to assess the climate change issue. These things are intimately and complicatedly done. I believe that research and development and actually moving down the innovation chain to actually bring that on so that we actually had genuine solutions to some of these problems is the absolute way to go.
Professor Watson: Yes. I am somewhat biased. As you know, I used to chair the IPCC. I was the Director of the Agricultural Assessment and I was the chair of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, so clearly I believe in those results! But are we taking any of them up in the UK? The answer is, yes. After the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment came out, Defra actually issued a document on how to use the ecosystem approach. It was distributed widely to all government departments and to the private sector. We put out a paper of how to value ecosystems and the whole valuation approach. I am about to chair a UK national ecosystem assessment looking at the relationship between where we are today on our ecosystems, how the goods and services are changing, how they may change in the future and what the relationships are to human wellbeing. So we are clearly taking the Millennium Ecosystem seriously. A key message in there was to get rid of distortional subsidies in agriculture, energy and transportation, have payment for ecological services. That is clearly being taken up by CAP reform, which is moving away from production subsidies in Europe towards obviously recognition of public goods. In the agricultural sector we also said, "How do you move forward on global food security?" We need to have changes in trade and the UK is indeed pushing for trade changes, both within Europe and, of course, through the Doha Round negotiations. So I do believe these documents take time to penetrate, but they are slowly but surely being used within government circles and starting to be used, I would argue, by some in the private sector.
Q44 Jo Swinson: You mentioned that ministers are kept appraised of the new evidence. Given what we know in terms of the science, how blunt and honest are the scientific advisers with ministers and government departments about the scale of the challenge in decarbonising the economy and quite how much we have to do in order to get to the 80 per cent cut by 2050?
Professor Beddington: Within the bounds of politeness, I would say we are fairly blunt. The issues are up there. In talking to ministers they recognise these are serious issues. The way in which Government responds does seem to me to reflect that that seriousness has been taken into account. Bob can speak about his direct relationship with Hilary Benn and other ministers.
Professor Watson: Yes. I can be as blunt as I want and I can also put out what I think. As you might have seen a few months ago, I was quoted on the front page of the Guardian as saying that the biofuels policy had to be questioned, both in the UK and in Europe. It made the front page of the Guardian, strongly supported by Hilary because it was based on evidence, and then of course John took the lead in actually working with the Gallagher review to make sure it was based on evidence. I worked with John on the review of the Gallagher report. I also had a statement on the front page of the Guardian that said, "Yes, we should aim for two degrees Celsius, but we had better be prepared to adapt to four degrees Celsius if we do not have urgent action nationally and internationally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." So the fact that I am allowed to be that blunt in newspapers, strongly supported by Hilary, shows that one can have a very open conversation at that level with the ministers.
Q45 Jo Swinson: It is great to hear that Hilary Benn is having a listening ear to these blunt comments, but surely the behaviour of some of the other government departments shows that even if this very brutal advice is being given, it is not necessarily followed if you look at the Department for Transport, the increase in the motorways and the expansion of aviation, if you look at the decision of the King's Lynn power plant, if you look at the level of investment in renewables compared with what we need if we are really going to decarbonise energy, where some departments may be getting it, surely that is evidence that fir other departments the message may be being given but it is not getting through?
Professor Beddington: Clearly there are always going to be resource constraints but I think, taking the Department for Transport, the Chief Scientific Advisor, Brian Collins, you might want to ask him about the evidence base that he provides there, but he sits on a climate change group of Chief Scientific Advisers. We discussed this. It is well recognised. Changing investment patterns in transport is difficult, but there are initiatives, for example the Energy Technology Institute, which I sit on the board as a sort of nominated member, which is an initiative between Government and some of the major companies involved. The ones involved are E.ON, British Petroleum, Shell, Caterpillar, Rolls-Royce, and so on, that is actually spending over the next ten years something of the order of a billion pounds. It is developing a whole series of projects to move them through from, I suppose, the smart academic idea through the prototype and through the innovation chain to actually move to substantial projects which are demonstrable and will work, of which one is clean coal and carbon capture and storage. I think the competition for having a workable carbon capture and storage plant is out there. That is under discussion at the moment. Some of the projects coming out from the ETI are going to be looking at electric cars, they are looking at offshore wind and the potential for using the marine environment to generate energy, so it is both at the supply and demand of energy that that is actually being looked at. That is a substantial investment. It is, of course, arguable that maybe it should be ten times higher, but that takes it out of the science. I would say it is being treated seriously and I think the fact that some of the major organisations which deal with both the supply and demand of energy in the country are part of that. It is indicating that there is a buy-in both from Government and industry into that area.
Professor Watson: I obviously cannot say whether or not other ministers do or do not listen to advice, given that I do not interact with any of the other ministers, but one example, picking again on Brian Collins and biofuels and the Gallagher review, once the Gallagher review was published after being carefully peer reviewed by John, myself, Brian and two other Chief Scientific Advisers, it went to the then Transportation Secretary, Ruth Kelly, and it was clear that the Gallagher review was cautionary on biofuels as to were they truly socially and environmentally sustainable and what came out of that was indeed the slow down of the implementation of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which should have gone from 2.5 per cent of all fuels being biofuels in 2008 to five per cent in 2010. The question was, "Let's go much slower. Let's go half a per cent per year." So clearly when there was caution on the biofuels from the Gallagher review immediately, not just with Ruth Kelly but other ministers looked at that evidence and said, "Maybe we need to slow this down." Also, the statement is that the UK would not blindly support an increase in the international review going up to ten per cent biofuels by 2020 without a serious international review of the state of evidence in about three years' time. So I think there is an example where UK ministers looked at new evidence and said, "We need to be cautionary."
Q46 Jo Swinson: Finally from me, what is the difference of your role going to be once the Committee for Climate Change comes in in terms of advice to Government? Will there be a duplication of role there? Will your role change to accommodate what they do? How will that work?
Professor Beddington: The short answer is that I do not think there is a duplication of role. I think they have a particular task, but it is relatively early on. I think when that committee was embedded in Defra - and Bob can speak for it, but I know he was very closely involved, and I met Adair Turner and we discussed issues to do with agriculture. Last time I met, we were worried about agricultural emissions and the biofuel issue which Bob has just mentioned. In fact, the question I was posing to them was, "How can you within your assessment take into account these other security issues which I was generating?" I think it is very much a work in progress how the new Department of Energy and Climate Change is going to develop and we will be working very closely with them. The key here is really that we have a community of Chief Scientific Advisers and a community of advisers which meets regularly. We meet not just with Chief Scientific Advisers but we meet with the Chief Executives of the Research Councils, so a good approximation is that everyone who is actually funding science from government sources meets every twelve weeks. So there is a community there and I think that is one of the ways in which we try to ensure that there is both cooperation, synergy and an avoidance of duplication. They cannot guarantee it, but that is a good step towards it. In the case of the Climate Change Committee, it has not been going very long and with the change of departmental responsibilities we are going to see how that works, but I am reasonably confident that we will be able to talk to them and deal with it. For example, one of the questions I posed to that Committee is, is the institutional structure which we have in the UK for innovation in energy policy the appropriate one? That is going to be considered perhaps in a couple of years, but I was asking questions about the ETI, which I have mentioned to you, the Technology Strategy Board and the Carbon Trust, which are populating, as it were, the landscape of science and innovation in dealing with a clean carbon future. The question we posed was, "Is that right? Are we missing opportunities? Should there be another body, or should some of these bodies be merged? Should they interact in a reasonable way?" They are deciding whether to actually take that forward. Currently, because Adair Turner moved on there is a slight hiatus, but that is the sort of interaction we have been doing and that seems to me to be an appropriate question to them. I think if the Climate Change Committee is coming up with very detailed scientific questions, those questions will be answered by departments like DECC and Defra.
Professor Watson: Yes. On the Climate Change Committee at the moment there are basically two scientists, a couple of economists, a good technologist, et cetera, so the scientists are Lord Bob May and Brian Hoskins from Reading and Imperial College, and they themselves reach out to the scientific community to make sure they have got the latest scientific knowledge. I see them to be totally complementary. Let me take an aspect of climate change which we have not talked about, which is adaptation. We have focused on the mitigation. The Climate Change Committee will almost certainly now have a sub-committee on adaptation. It will be very useful to see what they come up with on that. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is doing a study on some of the aspects of adaptation. Through Defra we will indeed have a national risk assessment on adaptation. We will bring all of this together and build, of course, on what is said about adaptation in the IPCC, the methodologies they have developed, the whole concept of vulnerability. So we will bring all of this information together as we work through PSA27 with other government departments about what are the impacts of projected climate change on society in the UK, what are the most cost-effective adaptation strategies. So it is very useful, in my opinion, to have different groups looking at this information so that we can bring it all together.
Q47 Joan Walley: Given what you have just said and given that we have just received evidence from the Centre for Alternative Technology and the Climate Safety Report, could I just ask whether or not this work is going to be somehow or another incorporated into this joint approach you are talking about in relation to the Climate Change Committee?
Professor Watson: I cannot tell what will be incorporated into the Climate Change Committee. All I know is that when at least Brian Hoskins and Lord Bob May were looking at the scientific evidence to work with the rest of the Committee, based on talking to Brian not talking to Bob May, they looked at literally not only the IPCC report but the latest scientific literature, the latest models, et cetera. So I cannot tell exactly what they will take to them, but I would imagine that if they are doing their job correctly they will take all evidence into account as they make their recommendations.
Q48 Mr Chaytor: If the Government is going to succeed in achieving its 80 per cent target by 2050, which specific current policies will have to change?
Professor Beddington: I am taking some time to answer that. I think the answer is that if that target is to be reached we have got to approach it on a whole range of ways. The first thing is, I was just this morning involved in the launch of a study on the built environment and looking at energy saving in the built environment. We are actually giving a briefing to MPs and Members of the House of Lords tomorrow, so this is part of a study commissioned by Foresight, which I direct. The built environment is enormously important. It is over 50 per cent of our emissions. We need to be thinking about what needs to be done radically there. People kind of giggle when you say "loft insulation" but this is enormously effective. It only has 30 per cent penetration, despite some incentives and the fact that it has got a payback period of three years or less. What that report suggests is a number of ways in which one can think about looking at that very difficult issue. One of the suggestions, for example, which has gone up for consideration of Government is whether in fact there should be something - the press have taken up the idea of an MOT test for houses - in which there would be incentives and also potential penalties for failing to have an energy efficient house using available technology. So that is one of the ways we do it. The second one is to do with distributed energy. Currently we have a very centralised energy distribution network and I think if we are going to see the sort of successes you see at a local level, which you saw at Woking where you have got a 70 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in that local authority area. The argument is to actually stack the odds in favour of local authorities and small groups (whether it is actually particular local authority areas is a different matter) to facilitate greenhouse gas savings within the built environment and the way in which one can actually then use heat transfer, electricity transfer, and work on that. I think all these have got to be seriously examined and that is the recommendation in the Foresight report, which Government and Minister of State Margaret Beckett from CLG, who is one of the supporting ministers, has already indicated she welcomes that report, which I delivered to her today. Ed Miliband for DECC welcomed the report. That is one area in which we are looking and I think this is what you might call low hanging fruit. I think there is a real possibility of significant reductions in our emissions if we treat seriously the issue of the built environment. It is not just the residential built environment, although that is incredibly important. We are looking at legislation which will mean that essentially new homes from 2016 onwards will need to be essentially carbon neutral. It is important. It is arguable whether it should be early or later. But even if you do that, by 2050 still 70 per cent of our residential housing stock will actually be built pre-2000, so we have got to look at this retro-fitting. If you take office buildings, there is a big potential for policy development there, both in terms of the use of government procurement but also in terms of both incentives and regulations to drive that clean carbon agenda. This is open. Clearly this will require significant changes in policy. That has been passed to the Government today and I have hopes that there will be a response implementing policy coming from that. That is the demand side. On the supply side, I think what we are looking at is the need to take a number of factors into consideration in terms of, first of all, we clearly have what was BERR, which produced their energy policy, which is going to require a lot of effort to implement, whether in fact that is in terms of meeting the biofuels obligations, which was part of that, whether it is in terms of dealing with the building of new nuclear power stations, or whether it is in terms of expansion of other renewable sources like wind and -
Joan Walley: I am just going to interrupt you on that, just to say that, as you are aware, there is a division in the House. It is unusual to have a division on the subject in hand and I am going to suspend the Select Committee for 15 minutes. We have only got a small amount to cover and I think it would be useful to get to the end of our work.
The Committee suspended from 4.26 pm to 4.47 pm for a division in the House.
Joan Walley: I apologise for the interruption to our proceedings. I think Mr Chaytor just wants to complete his series of questions, and we are very grateful to you for staying. We will move on and proceed as quickly as we can.
Q49 Mr Chaytor: Just pursuing the issue of policy changes, we talked about housing and retro-fitting. What about aviation?
Professor Watson: Clearly, as we have already said, the domestic part is already embodied in the Climate Change Bill and the goal of an 80 per cent reduction by 2050. I think this is a very high priority for the EU to work within the EU and the US, and with all other countries and to say, "How would you get aviation into an international post-Kyoto agreement?" It is quite clear that if we are going to try and limit the greenhouse gas concentrations to anything in the range of 400 to 450 we have to bring aviation in. I would like to just make a comment on the policy.
Q50 Mr Chaytor: Could I just clarify one thing, because the original question was, what specific policies have to change? So is your answer that the thing has to change because the EU Emissions Trading Scheme will sort it all out with aviation?
Professor Watson: I think the policy on aviation has to be a global policy in the sense that there is a whole debate of how you even attribute the emissions. Do you attribute them to the country which owns the aircraft? Do you attribute them to where you buy the fuel? Do you attribute them to the passengers on the plane? They have got to work all through those issues, to be quite honest, so it really does have to be international.
Q51 Mr Chaytor: But is the positive expansion of aviation compatible with the policy of reducing emissions through a trading scheme?
Professor Watson: The answer is obviously, no, unless you can actually turn the fuel to something like a biofuel, a renewable energy fuel by definition basically. If there is an expansion of aviation, then clearly it is going to put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so I think one of the questions fundamentally is, are there technological advances in either the fuel or the aircraft design which can reduce those emissions? I think we are going to have to work both on fuel and aircraft design, basically, but at the moment the aviation industry is not there. But there are also some simple things we can do. So much of the emissions from aviation are just having the plane go out to the end of the runway. We can tow it out there. There is a lot, especially over Heathrow, with the plane going around and around in circles before the thing ever lands. So we have got to think through the whole aviation question of where the emissions are and see where we can get some of the cuts. On your question about policy, I do not have an answer. John's answer was, I thought, very good. We have got to look at new infrastructure, we have got to look at retro-fits, and the retro-fits are far harder, but we have also got to recognise that it is not simply policy, it is how do you get the right combination of technology with policy, with a market with the right price for carbon, and individual behaviour. John earlier said that the percentage of houses in the UK which have got adequate loft insulation or adequate cavity wall insulation is pitiful small, even though the payback is actually very, very short. So I think what we have got to look at is how you bring the combination of technology, policy, market and behaviour all together at the same time. It is not one or the other, it is actually how you bring the combination together.
Q52 Mark Lazarowicz: The longer I sit here, the more questions I have got, but I am trying to limit it to possibly one question or a series of questions. The Government's targets for 2020 and 2050 are not broken down into sub-tasks for the different sectors, as you know. Is it not now important for the Government to set sector-specific targets for carbon reductions, and indeed is that not going to be inevitable, implicitly anyway, when carbon budgets are set/
Professor Beddington: It is not quite as easy as that, because one of the things we cannot do is to predict the advances in science and technology. Take the case that I was just expanding, probably at too much length, on the built environment. If we actually are extraordinarily successful in dealing with the energy emissions from our built environment, then it is possible that you can actually relax the emission criteria, emission targets, in that area. I do not think it is necessarily a good idea that you define all your targets for the possible sectors because there is a lot uncertainty out there, and also science and technology will develop and opportunities will arise where you can actually push in different areas. So in general I am not really sure I accept your proposal.
Professor Watson: You could have sector-specific targets, conceivably, but I agree with John. Are we sure that it will even be the most efficient way to do it? You could simply have a national emissions and you could actually auction the emission rights. So you could actually make a very cost-effective way of auctioning emissions. Would you want to do that immediately? That could be destructive to industry. But equally, if you just grandfather to existing industries then you get stagnation in innovation in the industries. So I think we have to think through very carefully, once you have got a national emissions target, what is the right way to do it. Is it sector by sector? Is it grandfathering for each sector? Is it a straight auction? Is it over time you bring in auctions? How would you recycle the revenue for an auction system? I think there are lots of questions about what is the most efficient way to actually allocate the emissions and actually to achieve a carbon target.
Q53 Mark Lazarowicz: Do not carbon budgets almost automatically imply some type of sectoral breakdown to allow budgets to be built up?
Professor Beddington: What you want to do is you have clearly got to monitor and you have got to see how situations change. If you are asking about how we are going to move as you move further down the track, it may be appropriate to actually bring in those interim targets. I would query whether we actually know enough and have enough knowledge about the way forward to do that at the moment.
Q54 Mark Lazarowicz: One final question, if I may, on a slightly different theme. Where the UK buys emission credits from countries which do not themselves have binding carbon targets and where overall emissions are actually growing, how justifiable is it for the Government to treat these credits as reducing outlet emissions?
Professor Watson: I want to make sure I understood the question. Could you just repeat it, so that I have got it correctly?
Q55 Mark Lazarowicz: Where the credits are bought from countries which do not have binding carbon emission targets and where those countries have growing emissions, is it justifiable to deduct those and put them into our deductions?
Professor Watson: Under the Kyoto Protocol there are three things you can do to buy and sell the carbon. One is the emission rights purchasing amongst countries which do have targets, but there is also the clean development mechanism, which is just what you are saying. A country such as the UK could buy emissions from, say, China, who have no targets whatsoever. I am actually strongly in favour of the clean development mechanism as long as they are independent third party certifiable emission reductions. That is to say, if you want to think of how to make this most economically viable, then clearly you would want a country such as the UK to try and get domestic reductions, but if indeed there are cheap reductions which could be had in China or in India by trying to make the energy sector more efficient, I actually find that is a good way to try and get China or India on the right pathway to a low carbon economy. For example, if they were going to build three power plants, all fossil fuel and relatively inefficient, a normal sub-critical power plant at, say, 28 per cent efficiency and yet they said, "We are willing to actually build wind power plants instead of fossil fuel plants," that to me is the sort of investment in China where you could reduce the emissions significantly against their baseline and a European country or the US could get credit for. I see no problem with that. It helps on technology transfer, financial transfer and it helps to get China on the pathway to low carbon. They must, however, be verifiable and that they were going to build in a baseline the fossil fuel plants and they truly are moving away. This is true additionality of greenhouse gas reduction, that it must be additional and you have to be able to verify that you are moving them away from business as usual.
Q56 Martin Horwood: I just have one quick question for Professor Beddington, coming back to the existing housing stock. It is obviously common ground that energy efficiency is low hanging fruit, that it is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon in the short-term and all the rest, but it must reach a limit fairly quickly? We are never going to get Victorian terraces to perhaps a high standard. Do you have any sense of what the limitation on energy efficiency for the existing housing or building stock is? How far can that go?
Professor Beddington: I have not done that calculation and as far as I am aware the report has not tried to do that exact calculation, so the simple answer is, I do not know. But to take up the general point you are making, we have a housing stock which is obviously aging and we need to be thinking about it. I do not think we are ever going to get the housing stock to be carbon free, but that does not mean to say there are not fairly significant savings we can actually make there. Also, on a regional area if one moved to a local distribution of energy and the monitoring of blocks of houses, I think you can actually see some ways where actually you could gain really quite significant improvements. If I may, I was going to expand very slightly, which is not specifically to answer your question, Mr Horwood, but the report also points out that in the office building and in government building there is real scope for moving forward in terms of using procurement and regulation to improve on the carbon footprint of the non-residential building and that is an area which the report I spoke about outlines and I think that is also an important area. The residential housing seems to me to be potentially enormously helpful. We have got issues of fuel poverty, pricing mechanisms are somewhat inefficient and it seems to me it is a genuine potential win, win to actually think about incentives to go into the residential housing market and try to improve the carbon footprint and at the same time make energy efficiency helpful to the householders in there. But your point is reasonable, that there is going to be some limit on that. What that limit is, I do not know.
Q57 Martin Horwood: I think that would be a useful calculation to try and make at some point.
Professor Beddington: Yes, it is perfectly reasonable and I think the people in CLG, who are the ones who would be dealing with that, would be perfectly able to do it. We cannot possibly comment on your crossed fingers, as it were.
Martin Horwood: Spectacular success on the case of sustainable rents.
Q58 Mr Caton: I completely agree with you about the scope in the built environment, but sadly the Government is not showing the sort of leadership it should. We did a recent inquiry looking at the Government estate. A majority of government departments are failing to meet their own targets for carbon reduction and they are failing to meet their own targets for energy efficiency. Now, a Government which is saying, "Climate change is the biggest challenge we are facing," but does not get its own house in order is not sending the right messages to the population?
Professor Beddington: I could not comment on the detail of what you say because I have not seen the evidence, but I think in general there is a real potential in government buildings and in government refurbishment to actually significantly improve on the carbon footprint and I think it is appropriate. If they have not met those targets, that is obviously regrettable.
Professor Watson: I cannot comment except on the details at Defra. I know that literally Hilary Benn gets a report every three months on how Defra and the Defra estate is doing. I can get back to you as to how well we are doing or not doing, but I know it is reported to him because he takes it very seriously. You are right.
Q59 Mr Caton: From memory, I think Defra is not one of the main suspects.
Professor Watson: That is my memory. That is right.
Q60 Joan Walley: On this point and on the Foresight report you mentioned, I think it would be helpful for the Committee to know how the scientific advice squares with Government policy in respect of the long-term planning which has taken place, particularly with PFI products and projects which are, if you like, sewn up into the medium and long-term and already underway where actually you cannot reverse the non-zero carbon trajectory they are already on. I think we would be interested in your comments on that.
Professor Beddington: In terms of the Foresight report, the way it works is that this is completely independent of Government. We have a stakeholder group, which is usually chaired by a minister, and the CLG took the chair. With the creation of DECC they were obviously the appropriate stakeholders. The report therefore comes in. I direct the Foresight programme but I have no editorial control, so this is a truly independent report, and Government has an opportunity to respond to it. As you are aware, I have only been in the job since January, but the way in which Government has responded to a previous report on obesity seemed to me to be a good example of the way this Foresight process has worked. The Government responded rather quickly. It indicated a series of actions which needed to be done. The Department of Health has given us the main minister responsible and they have addressed the obesity issue. It is outside the terms of reference of this Committee, but that is a good example. What I have done within the Foresight Group is I have part of that team charged with follow-up, to actually make certain that this is not a report which just sits on somebody's shelf and is ignored. They are going in and talking to the key stakeholders, both in Government and outside Government, trying to take that forward and part of that challenge works. It actually is working. A couple of years ago the Foresight team reported on the flooding and you know that there was a very good report, excellent, brought about by Government reaction, but it actually has had ramifications subsequently. I was in Washington in September and the Foresight team, who were involved with the report on flooding, were working with the American Army Corps of Engineers, who have the main responsibility in the USA for dealing with flooding issues. So I take very seriously that this is just not going to sit on a shelf, it has got to be followed up.
Q61 Joan Walley: My point is that when we are dealing with the Treasury and when we are dealing with private finance initiatives there are decisions which are being made now and will be made in the next 18 months which will put us on that trajectory and how will use of the Foresight programme reverse the policymaking towards a carbon neutral trajectory? Do you think it should?
Professor Beddington: Yes. Let me say that one of the issues we are raising in this report - and it will not just be the report, I chose to highlight that but one has concern about the trajectories of all significant building projects, whether that responsibility lies with the Treasury or with CLG or with the department concerned, and one would have to look at it. But it is a serious point you made and Bob will refer to our Foresight team to see whether they look at it.
Joan Walley: Thank you.
Q62 Mr Chaytor: Professor Beddington, your predecessor described CCS as "the only hope for mankind"! Do you share that view completely and what is your best estimate of the earliest date at which CCS could be routinely fitted to new coal-fired power stations?
Professor Beddington: On "the only hope for mankind" I am not so sure I would agree exactly with that, but I think in the context that that statement was made I think it is important. It is clearly enormously important to address coal as an issue. There is no doubt about it. The large reserves of coal which are available in the world and the energy security of particular countries which are dependent upon that are going to mean that it is going to be used and it is going to be used substantially. I find it hard to imagine that it will not be used and therefore carbon capture and storage has got to be one of the ways we deal with it. So it is enormously important. Whether it is "the only hope for mankind," I would possibly be agnostic about that. There is always prayer and things like that. To go to your specific question, the sort of information which I am getting is that there is a hope that perhaps we would have something really working and really working successfully by 2015, but in the sense that there are obviously uncertainties I would qualify around that. This is getting enormous attraction at an international level. You are perhaps aware that the Australian Government is setting up an international institute to deal entirely with carbon capture and storage. They have put an initial ceiling into it of 100 million Australian dollars. I do not know what that is at the moment, I am afraid, but it is quite a lot.
Q63 Mr Chaytor: It is less than it was!
Professor Beddington: That is going to be an international effort and the Australian Government is very keen to lead on that. Obviously Australia has very substantial coal reserves. The ETI which I referred to earlier is looking at CCS as an issue, but there are some complicated issues associated with it. The first one is infrastructure. How do you move liquefied carbon out into a storage and how will it work? That will be very, very site-specific, but I think it is not impossible that we can see that. So 2015 is my best guess.
Q64 Mr Chaytor: Would your advice be that Kingsnorth should be approved without CCS being fitted?
Professor Beddington: The role I see of scientific adviser is to say, "If you do that, these are going to be the extra emissions. If you do that, this will be the saving." I do not know that it is appropriate, whether I am talking about whether you cull badgers or whether you say whether or not a coal-fired plant is really the role of another adviser, that I should say what the implications are one way or the other.
Professor Watson: I think the way I would phrase it is that without CCS we cannot achieve any of the lower targets for CO2 in the atmosphere. There would be no hope of 450. I doubt there would be a hope of 550. I have not done the calculations. All the calculations I have seen are that even by 2050 most projections would suggest that 50 per cent or more of all the electricity produced will still be produced using coal. If that is true - and that is to say that nuclear renewables will only penetrate the marketplace up to 50 per cent of the global electricity production - carbon capture and storage becomes an absolutely essential technique along with other techniques to go to low carbon production. So I would call it a silver bullet. What we clearly need - and the EU has talked about 12 pilots - I think it is absolutely critical that the EU puts those 12 pilots in place as soon as possible. I think we need to look at both pre-combustion and post-combustion, because the question is, can you retro-fit existing power plants. Hopefully we can go post-combustion predominantly with IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle). We have to look at a range of storage approaches from depleted oil wells, gas wells, and saline aquifers, so I would say an absolutely critical high priority would be to try and do these pilots as soon as possible in a variety of ways.
Q65 Mr Chaytor: I just have one more question on this. Professor Hansen gave some very interesting evidence, that in a sense focusing on targets and trajectories was unhelpful in one way, in that if you look at the total amount of carbon which is just buried in the ground and whether or not you should allow that into the atmosphere, it refocuses you just on looking at the sources rather than targets which might actually enable you to do the wrong thing in the short-term. If clearly that pool of carbon should not be allowed into the atmosphere, does it not lead to a much clearer conclusion that actually building unabated coal-fired power stations is insane and we should stop it?
Professor Beddington: Well, I think societies will take their own views through the political process and a number of societies feel it is important for their economic development, the alleviation of poverty, to develop coal-fired power stations. It is not for me to say whether that is right or wrong. I can say, as Bob has indicated, that CCS technology is absolutely essential if we are going to meet some of the key targets to avoid irreversible climate change, but I do not think it is appropriate to be saying that in some sort of absolute moral sense it is incorrect to be using coal-fired power stations. I do not think that is a scientific issue.
Q66 Mr Chaytor: No, unabated coal-fired power stations, that is the point.
Professor Beddington: Yes, I understand.
Q67 Joan Walley: On that note, it has been a marathon two-pronged session for us. Can I thank you both very much indeed for coming along. You said at the outset that you would perhaps be judged by whether or not there was any applause, but can I just say that I think from the way in which we have had the scientific evidence before the Committee today it might well be that we might ask you to come back within the twelve months for a return performance. Thank you very much indeed.
Professor Beddington: Thank you, Ms Walley, and we will live without applause. I think that is our role. Thank you for your time.