Submission from the Natural Environment
Research Council (NERC)
1. The Natural Environment Research Council
(NERC) is one of the UK's seven Research Councils. It funds and
carries out impartial scientific research in the sciences of the
environment. NERC trains the next generation of independent environmental
2. Details of NERC's Research and collaborative
centres and Major Programmes are available at www.nerc.ac.uk.
3. NERC comments are based on input from
Swindon office staff.
"Has the time come for the UKas part
of a clear economic strategyto make choices about the balance
of investment in science and innovation to favour those areas
in which the UK has clear competitive advantage?"
Q1. What form a debate or consultation about
the question should take and who should lead it
1.1 The debate needs to consider the whole
of the supply chain and all points at which benefit are delivered
to the UK economy. So, whilst it is sure to be important to understand
the relevant commercial markets, issues such as avoided cost by
better environmental policy, and the stimulus that regulation
could bring to delivering a "green economy" need to
Q2. Whether such a policy is desirable or
2.1 Currently although broad statements
have been made about research focus, it is not clear what the
government's expectations are for where the UK needs to be, what
the UK already does and what the gap is that will need to be met.
2.2 The research councils have focused on six
interdisciplinary areas of research through the cross-council
programmes (for example, Living With Environmental Change), each
of which use excellent research to tackle major challenges for
society. They draw on a range of users including business in co-designing
programmes through to exploitation of research knowledge.
2.3 NERC focuses most of its research funding
strategically. This takes into account what the key scientific
challenges are and what societal and economic outcomes may derive
from these, using the world-leading scientific capabilities that
the UK has developed. Also importantly, NERC maintains responsive
funding to identify emerging priorities for the future and train
the next generation of scientiststhese roles for responsive
funding are strategic in their own right, without the need to
be thematically focussed.
Q3. What the potential implications of such
a policy are for UK science and engineering, higher education,
industry and the economy as a whole
3.1 Whilst there are positive benefits for
the UK in focusing on key economic areas of competitiveness, there
is also a need to look to the future and take advantage of the
development of new knowledge and new capabilities that may develop
emerging economic opportunities.
3.2 It needs to be clear that not all research
that is undertaken has a direct economic impact. Research is needed
to provide evidence on broader issues such as regulation, policy-making,
quality of life, societal outcomes.
Q4. Were such a policy pursued, which research
sectors are most likely to benefit and which are most likely to
4.1 For the environment sector, there is
a major opportunity to combine our leadership in prediction of
environmental change, with our technology and engineering skills,
to contribute to a successful, new green economy:
understanding environmental constraints
and the process of environmental change.
4.2 Doing so successfully needs a very broad
range of skills across the environmental science and engineering
disciplines and beyondand so there is a significant opportunity
for extensive engagement, rather than the risk of communities
losing out. A particular opportunity for the UK is to capitalise
on our skills in predicting environmental change by developing
new markets in the area of environmental information services"seeing
the future" of the environment on business sensitive time
and space scales.
4.3 It is notable that other nations which
have prioritised the green economy (for example, Denmark, Germany
and Spain, and no doubt soon the US) have already seen their businesses
take a major market stake in relevant sectors (for example, offshore
and onshore wind energy generation).