Submission from the Met Office
1. High profile science based issues (eg.
climate change, genetically modified organisms) generate significant
amounts of science based information and interpretation. There
is a significant risk however that these interpretations serve
a specific agenda or particularly lobbying position. The availability
of authoritative, robust and objective science information and
interpretation is crucial to ensuring policy is fit for purpose.
2. In many areas, scientific understanding is
increasing rapidly and in many cases generating significant improvements
in capability (eg the accuracy and capability of Numerical Weather
Prediction). Emerging scientific understanding, and the capability
it enables, can have an important impact on policy development.
Effective communication of these, and likely future developments,
is crucial to ensure policy is well formulated, "future proofed"
and makes the best use of developing capability.
3. There is increasing pressure to ensure that
research adequately supports policy development. However, care
is required to ensure a proper balance between these more focused
activities and more fundamental research. It may not be possible
to address future policy questions in the future unless they are
properly underpinned by fundamental research today.
4. In many instances there is an expectation
that science will deliver definitive and clear results. The reality
in many areas is that conclusions need to be drawn based on a
balance of probabilities. Some conclusions are likely to be very
well founded and others less certain. Policy needs to be developed
in full recognition of the associated uncertainties and, if required,
to accommodate them directly.
5. The Met Office is a Trading Fund Agency
owned by MOD. It is a world leading scientific organisation, both
in the field of weather forecasting and climate prediction, operating
on a 24/7 basis with the highest standards of operational
resilience. Responsible for providing forecasts on all timescales
(from an hour ahead to 100+ years), the Met Office is uniquely
positioned to support the UK Government in its development of
science- based policy in areas impacted by both climate change
and severe weather events.
6. An independent review of the Met Office Hadley
Centre concluded, amongst other things, that "It is beyond
dispute that the Met Office Hadley Centre occupies a position
at the pinnacle of world climate science and in translating that
science into policy advice".
The work of the Met Office Hadley Centre has allowed the UK Governmentthrough
Defrato play a leading role in gaining global acceptance
of anthropogenic climate change and developing mitigation and
adaptation strategies. The major contribution made by the Met
Office Hadley Centre, both to the recent Stern Review and to the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment
Report, are two recent examples of just how vital and high profile
its climate prediction work now is to Government policy.
Policy focussed science at the Met Office
7. The UK leads the way in a science-based
approach to dealing with climate change. It is at the forefront
of international negotiations on mitigation and adaptation, and
in providing climate change information in the UK for adaptation
through the UK Climate Impacts Programme.
8. The UK government currently invests around
£20 million p.a. in climate research at the Met Office
Hadley Centre through DECC, Defra and MoD. This is underpinned
by significant investment in model development at the Met Office
to improve weather forecasts. Exploitation of the synergies between
operational weather forecasting and climate predictions strongly
benefits both activities and maximises value for money. The recent
merger of two separate research programmes into a joint MOD and
Defra Climate Prediction Programme at the Met Office is an excellent
example of a coordinated approach to climate change research that
will further strengthen the quality of advice provided to government
on the underpinning science. This joint programme provides a framework
by which the departments can coordinate their interests while
the Met Office builds on the excellent fundamental science carried
out in the UK research community and translates this into policy
9. Although there is significant and close
coordination with Defra and DECC, changing climate patterns and
incidence of extreme weather events have far-reaching socio-economic
impacts and science advice can therefore underpin policies from
all Government departmentsfrom infrastructure to energy
to food supplies to health. It is also important to note that
the effects of a changing climate will be felt on a global scale
and may therefore have a direct impact on international investment
Scientists and policy makers
10. In order to ensure policy is developed
and reviewed in light of the best science advice available, policy
makers must first recognise how science can inform policy and
then engage the science community at the earliest opportunity.
For their part, scientists must not only recognise the relevance
of their research to policy but, crucially, also be able to communicate
11. A science-based approach to policy development
can only be effective if there is strong coordination between
Departments and the science communityboth to communicate
emerging policy requirements and to ensure that science is directed
towards policy. The use of inappropriate or out dated scientific
advice could lead to poor investment decisions and/or ineffective
Limitations and uncertainties in science
12. Just as policy is required to change
and develop with changing socio-economic factors, policy makers
must also be aware of the influences and driving factors that
stem from our changing understanding of science.
13. Science cannot, and should not, provide a
fixed, prescriptive answer to policy questions in most areas and
certainly not when considering climate change projections or when
developing policy to deal with the impacts of extreme weather
events. Science advice should be provided based on the best understanding
we have now but policy must remain flexible enough to adapt to
new research and developing technologies that enable the delivery
of breakthrough science and increased capabilities.
14. Although flexible enough to adapt to
improving science advice, policy must still be fit for purpose
and provide a real framework within which the UK can compete and
develop on the international stage. When using science to inform
policy decision there are two extremes to be avoided: total and
complete belief that projections are fixed and paralysis by the
15. Key to ensuring these extremes are avoided
is direct communication between policy makers and the science
community. Climate change projections, for example, have been
widely reported in the media. Taking science and research findings
from second hand sources without understanding the limitations
and uncertainties involved may lead to policy makers having a
distorted view on the exact message coming from the science community.
Confidence in policy and the underpinning science
16. Only through policy makers taking advice
directly from the most authoritative sources can we be sure that
policy is underpinned by the best science advice available. Policy
makers must understand the limitations and the impacts of the
uncertainties in the science and scientists must be open and honest
about these and communicate them effectively. Not doing so can
only undermine public confidence in Government policy as well
as leading to ineffective policy and wasteful investment.
17. In turn, confidence that the science advice
being offered is the best available can only come from a recognised
independent authority undertaking robust scrutiny and peer review.
Blue sky versus application oriented research
18. Although there is a policy need for
science research to be directly application oriented (with increasing
fiscal and environmental pressures for this to continue) there
are significant benefits in maintaining "blue sky thinking".
It is through the outcomes of this conceptual research that many
major breakthroughs in science come to the fore and, when brought
together with other research and influences, give rise to more
high-level policy change in the longer term.
23 An independent review of the Met Office Hadley Centre
from Risk Solutions commissioned by Defra and MoD was published
by Defra on 15 May and is available on the Defra website: