Examination of Witnesses (Questions 600
WEDNESDAY 12 DECEMBER 2007
Q600 Lynne Jones:
There has been quite a big increase in NERC's spending, has there
Dr Calver: It is across the whole
board of NERC's subject matter remit. We also get ad hoc
funding from the European Union. There are some directed programmes
in NERCFlood Risk from Extreme Eventsand the Engineering
Physical Sciences Research Council has a Flood Risk Management
Consortium. There are lots of initiatives. Of course, if there
is more funding, things can be done sooner but I think as regards
details I would be straying too far from my science remit.
Dr West: I think you have raised
an important point. It is not something we can address through
traditional research funding. I think this is an issue of training
society to start asking difficult questions. Perhaps society is
not good at thinking about probability; it is worse at thinking
about risk. Some organisations have been very good at defining
their own critical threshold. The Railways know exactly at what
point they have to impose speed limits because of the risk of
buckled rails. The Environment Agency in the Thames Estuary 2100
Programme knows what sort of flood level causes what sort of problem.
In general, for example, people know that very dry summers cause
damage to roads but very few organisations know what that cost-response
curve looks like, so they do not know how a dry summer causes
them problems. What we would like people to do before we offer
them the opportunity of looking at these good probabilistic climate
scenarios is to examine their own operation. At what temperature
do you have to start giving water to people on the Underground?
At what temperature do you have to start looking after old people
in a different way? In general, people know that there is such
a threshold but they do not know what it is, and so they tend
to wait until there is a problem before they respond. What we
would like people to be able to do is to say, "We know that
if the temperature goes over so and so for three days, we are
going to have to get our gritting lorries out to grit the roads
because the tar is melting". It is an entirely different
sort of research and it is quite introspective. It is asking people
out in the fields with their wellies on what is happening so that
people in the office can say, "We know that we have a problem
above this threshold".
Q601 Lynne Jones:
How do we maximise the probability that those with these areas
of responsibilities will actually do as you have suggested? Who
should have the chivvying up role in achieving these capabilities?
Dr West: If the Climate Change
Bill works out as I hope it will, I think that there will be a
statutory duty on some public bodies, maybe all public bodies,
that they have assessed their current vulnerability. I would suggest
that you cannot assess your current vulnerability without defining
Chairman: On that note we will conclude
our inquiry. A little while ago I think I became saturated with
high quality information, and there is a limit to how much I personally
can digest. When we look back, there may well be one or two other
areas that we might want to contact you on in correspondence.
Equally, if there are things which you want to expand on or explain
to us if you wish you had had a chance to put, we would be delighted
to hear from you. May I thank you all for a truly fascinating
and certainly intellectually challenging series of exchanges.
I think it has given us a much better understanding of our capability,
particularly in the meteorological area and the very interesting
possible extensions of marrying up the hydrology with the meteorology.
Dr West, you have brought things rather nicely to a conclusion
when you said that with all this information you have got to challenge
your preparedness to deal with some of the climatic phenomena
that we have been discussing. Thank you all very much indeed for