Science and Technology Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 254

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 9 October 2013

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Stephen Metcalfe

David Morris

Stephen Mosley

Pamela Nash

Sarah Newton

Graham Stringer

David Tredinnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Lord Deben, Chairman, and David Kennedy, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change, gave evidence.

Q306Chair: Gentlemen, good morning and thank you for agreeing to come this morning. I would be grateful, just for the record, if you would be kind enough to introduce yourselves. I think we know who you are.

Lord Deben: I am John Deben, chairman of the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change. Previously, I have been involved in these issues since, I suppose, being Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture.

David Kennedy: I am David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change.

Q307Chair: On your website it says that you conduct independent analysis into climate change. What do you do, and in what way is that unique?

Lord Deben: Of course, all of this is done within the resources that we have, so there is a limitation on that, but our job under the Climate Change Act is to give the Government advice to set targets and budgets, and one of the things we have to do is ensure that the Government are warned of any change in the science. All that we produce has to be based on the science. Therefore, we need to fill in the gaps where there is no published work and ensure that the published work is properly interpreted and that we as a committee can do that. The committee itself is able to do that partly because of the quality of the member scientists we have.

Q308Chair: Should that not be just the Met Office’s job?

Lord Deben: Not really. First, it is a much wider job than the Met Office does; and, secondly, in the end we have a statutory duty to make sure that the advice we give to the Government is correct. For me, the basis of that correctness is ensuring that we are entirely in line with the science. That is why, for example, when anyone comes up with an alternative view-something that is based upon a piece of research-we feel it necessary to look at that; otherwise, we cannot keep the Government up to date. We have to be constantly sceptical. I insist upon being a climate sceptic, because my job is to ensure that we ask the questions all the time to make sure that we are not led along some line that has not been properly investigated. That is our job.

Q309Chair: Does that imply that you do not trust the Met Office to do that?

Lord Deben: No. The Met Office is one of the most important sources of our advice, but, if I may say so, any of us who have been a Minister do not just take for granted what people say. We want to be in a position ourselves to judge it properly.

David Kennedy: We work very closely with the Met Office in partnership. When we have done modelling that says, "Here is a climate objective. What are the emissions reductions needed to achieve that objective?", one of the approaches is to use the Met Office models and work in partnership with them. It is not exclusive; we do not work with just the Met, but we work very closely with them.

Q310Chair: Dealing with other organisations from whom you might get information, what sources do you trust? Let’s be blunt and give you the reciprocal of that: who don’t you trust?

Lord Deben: If you have to be sceptical, you have to be rather careful about the word "trust", because you have to ask the sceptical questions even of those people whom you have very good reason to trust-at least I think you do. There is a range of organisations with whom we work. We also have a range of issues to deal with. Sometimes we have to say to ourselves, "We are not sure they have covered that as effectively as we need to if we are going to explain that to Ministers." In that case, it is not that we do not trust them, but that we would go out and do some extra work ourselves, or perhaps go to someone else to look at whether that particular position is entirely covered.

David Kennedy: As to trusted organisations, we use work by the International Energy Agency; we take the official statistics in this country. All sorts of people are doing research, whether in the academic community or beyond that. We are very well networked with all of the relevant people working in this area, from industry players to trade associations and NGOs, so there is not anybody that we do not talk to and do not take seriously.

Lord Deben: To give you an example, I once worked for Mrs Thatcher. The one thing you could not say to her was, "That must be right because so and so have said it." You had to say to her, "This is what the evidence is. I’ve looked at it and this is what I think." You had to be the person who had actually put his head on the block, if you like-and I happen to think that is right. When you give people advice, you have to make sure that you have really done the work. That is what I and this remarkable committee do. We ought to recognise that we have some really remarkable people giving their time very extensively in order to do this. That committee and the very bright people we have working for us, with the ability to go out and get specialist work, is the right mix, which is why we are copied in the rest of the world, because people see this as a very sensible basis.

Q311Chair: In essence, you would assert that your reports are entirely evidence-based.

Lord Deben: If there is any part of them that is not, it would say, "The evidence for this is this amount. We think it probably is that." Otherwise, it will be entirely evidence-based, yes.

David Kennedy: It is a statutory requirement that our advice to Government is evidence-based and not otherwise.

Q312Stephen Metcalfe: Once we have all this information gathered together, obviously it is important that we communicate it to the public. There is conflicting evidence about the best way to communicate it. Local authorities are telling us that there is too much emphasis on the science and not enough on the potential impacts and actions; the Met Office is now saying that there is growing interest in the science itself. What is your view about the best way to communicate it to the widest possible number of members of the public?

Lord Deben: One thing I have found is that usually the answer to a question is "and" rather than "either/or", and in this case that is absolutely true. You will know from other issues that one of the frustrating things in dealing with constituents, for example, is that some are interested in the facts, details and all the rest of it, and others come to you with a view. Somehow or other you have to deal with both of those things at the same time. It is our job to make sure-indeed, we are statutorily required to-that the facts are available within the context of provisionality, because all science is provisional, based on what we know about it at this stage. I prefer that to "uncertain" because it is not uncertain. It is certain but on the facts we know. Then you say, "But all facts are provisional because somebody may come up with something else." So, in that context, our job is to present what we know and to be prepared to look at anything new, and that is part of it.

It is also true that you have to understand that people have another need, which is to connect with it. Our constitution under the Climate Change Act says that we have to involve the public. This is the area on which I am now trying to concentrate because it is the second stage. The first stage was to establish our scientific bona fides, and my predecessor did that brilliantly. My job to some extent is to try to involve people more. That is why we have gone to great trouble to redo the website and I do a great deal of public speaking and encouragement.

As far as our experience with local authorities is concerned, we think that a lot of the connectivity that translates the science into action where people are involved can be done on the local authority side. The comparison is with Germany where, as I understand it, more than half the renewable energy is produced by communities, cooperatives and individuals. That is a country with the largest amount of renewable energy. At one point last month it reached 67% of the generation, and in general it is nearly at the 30% level. One of the reasons it is so successful is that there is real community involvement and understanding. All of those people would not be able to give you the scientific background and probably would not be interested, but they will tell you what they do for their community, how it works and why it is important. That link is important as part of what we should be doing.

David Kennedy: The science narrative is important because, without it, you have not got a motivation to spend large amounts of money on low-carbon technologies. There is more work to do on the science narrative. A significant minority of people do not accept the science of climate change in this country, and the latest evidence is that that significant minority is getting a bit bigger, so there is more to do. But it cannot be just about the science; it has to be about why what we are doing in this country is economically sensible. We think there is a compelling story to tell about investing now and saving a lot of money in doing that rather than delaying and investing later on. That story has not been told-and certainly has not resonated.

There is a quality of life story. People are worried that a low-carbon economy is bad for quality of life and we have to stop doing things that we like to do, whereas low-carbon investments can be good for the quality of life, and, again, that story needs to be developed. As John has said, the last thing is that it is all very well having a good story, but what does it mean for people? What can I do now on the ground today in my life with my family and at work? Again, that is not clear to most people. Most people’s take on what you can do in contributing to building a low-carbon economy does not map very well with what we should be doing.

Q313Stephen Metcalfe: You have covered the next area I want to look at, which is: what more can we do to improve that situation? You said that one of your remits is to get the public more involved in this. How are you publicising the work that you do at the moment? You talked about improvement of the website, but that means someone has to go searching for it rather than taking it to them. Speaking engagements are a good way of communication, but potentially they do not get to a wide enough audience and communicate to them the fact that there are benefits from this.

Lord Deben: We use the internet considerably. The CCC has its Twitter following. I have my own Twitter page and do my best to do that, but we have a very limited budget. The budget is very, very constrained. Therefore, we do not have either the budget or would get much help from the Government if we were to go out with a great advertising campaign, so we have to use what we have. In a sense, we ought to do it that way because we should be providing the information and elements that others then use. In that sense we have customers and not consumers; we are passing it on to people who then use that information. We have to make sure we do it right across the board from businesses to NGOs and others; and that is what we have to do. Indeed, there is a sense in which we have to be very careful that we are informing and not campaigning. We are not a campaigning group and not an NGO. We are manifestly a statutory body, so I have got to do that.

One other way in which I hope to improve it is that I have one place on my committee. I would like to find the right behavioural scientist to help us talk about these things in the right way. Mr Miller, it is not the easiest thing to do. These are quite difficult people to find, and if you have some ideas I would like to hear them.

Q314Chair: I completely understand, and in a sense that is the purpose at the heart of this inquiry. In terms of your very limited budget, what proportion is spent on communication versus the rest?

Lord Deben: There is a lot of pro bono. It is not in the budget, but you would know exactly what it is.

David Kennedy: In a team of 35 we have two people who work on communications.

Lord Deben: But all of us are doing as much as we possibly can, well outside anything that anybody is paid for, I must say.

David Kennedy: Somebody needs to take charge of the story. We can provide a story, and we aim to do that. We have done it and we will aim to do it when we report back on the 4th carbon budget review where we can set out a narrative, but in terms of cascading and multiplying that narrative there has to be an important role for the Government. There is more that both central and local government can do once there is a story. They need to run with it and get people to believe that story. I think there is a sense in the Government that we have moved on and we do not need a narrative any more. We are delivering. We are focused on delivery and getting these investments made, but, if you just focus on delivery without having a story to tell people that this is sensible, good for the country and is good economic strategy, you have to question how sustainable that is politically.

Lord Deben: Mr Metcalfe, I cannot tell you what a temptation it is to allow mission creep. In other words, there is nothing, in a sense, I would want to do more than to get out there and explain things. I think I have to be reticent. Our job is to enable others to do that, and perhaps very often remind the Government that they too have a job. We have to do all that. We would easily confuse ourselves if we did not stick to our statutory duties, which is why I am always coming back to that Act.

Q315David Tredinnick: The Climate Change Committee’s submission criticises the Government’s failure to communicate "the need for action, and the components of an effective response." What do you think they should be doing?

Lord Deben: It is about this being part of everything they do. The urgency is such that one ought not to be able to make any statement about things in Government which are related to this without reminding people of that and seeing it in that context. The IPCC report, which was much highlighted by the speech of the OECD secretary, is saying, in his words, which I particularly like, that it is not like the banking crisis. You do not have a mechanism to pull people back. If we allow this to happen, we will not be able to do even what we had to do in the banking crisis. Therefore, we have to do things and act rapidly and quickly, so the first thing I would like the Government and other politicians to do-because we are clear that this is an all-party activity-is always to frame what they say in the context of these issues.

Let me take an example. I am on record as saying that I think fracking and the gas produced from it may well play a necessary part, particularly in the nontraded sector, in the future. But when we talk about fracking, all the time we have to say that this has to be within the context of meeting our carbon requirements; otherwise, we undermine this other part of our policies. It is a question of always talking about it in that context so that people, all the time, can understand this as an overall matter

David Kennedy: In terms of economic strategy, the Government have their growth strategy and their low-carbon strategy, and they are seen as separate things. Some parts of Government see the low-carbon strategy as a drag on the growth strategy.

Q316David Tredinnick: Is the core problem a failure to communicate between Government Departments?

Lord Deben: You will know, as I do, that the problem in all Government, as in businesses, is that you have your job and you get on with it. All the time you have to remind people to look at the bigger picture within which that job is fitted. I do not think it is a simple matter just of different Departments. There are not pro-Departments and anti-Departments; it is just that some Departments, individuals, civil servants and Ministers do not all the time see the need to call people back to the overall principles-the reason we are doing this, why this all fits in, and why something that the DCLG does really has an effect on meeting our carbon budgets, so if you do this or don’t do that then you can either contribute or not contribute to it. A greater understanding of that enables the public to have a greater understanding. The real problem with the issues of climate is that it is very easy to put that in a box over here and then look at all the rest of one’s life. My children won’t mind me saying this. When they were young, they were very keen on the issues of rain forests but they never turned off the lights. They didn’t see the connection. That picture is what it is like in Government; I’m afraid it is there as well.

Q317David Tredinnick: Earlier you talked about mission creep and the need not to stray into policy, but do you not think you have a duty to approach Government Departments to encourage coordination? You must have a view about where the problems are.

Lord Deben: Not only do I think we have a duty but it is the thing we seek to do.

Q318David Tredinnick: Can you give examples of what you have done or what you are thinking of doing?

Lord Deben: Where we feel that a Government Department has perhaps missed a particular action, or often a non-action-I do wish people would understand that not doing something is as powerful as doing something, which is one of those terrible things in life-I do my best to talk to that Minister and go through those details. David is very close to civil servants right across the board, so we try to put that bit in, not as a nannying, annoying thing but simply to say, "If you don’t do that, this, this and this happens, and then we’ve got a problem because we have to meet the requirements." We try to do that as much as possible with a relatively small number of people.

David Kennedy: Probably the best example is electricity market reform. We identified the need to move to a low-carbon power sector back in 2008. We recommended the need to reform the market. We suggested the high-level model, which has since been reflected in the Energy Bill going through Parliament at the moment. More recently, we have suggested the need for a decarbonisation target that sends a very clear signal to investors about the intentions of the Government in order to get those investments going forward. We make lots of different interventions. In terms of mission creep, we do not get involved in the very detailed aspects of policy implementation but tend to focus on whether the high-level designs are appropriate and whether the incentives are there to trigger the kind of actions that we need.

Q319David Morris: In our last session James Randerson from The Guardian told us that science should be apolitical, but, instead, many centre right thinkers and politicians think that climate change "is an issue of the left." Would you agree with that analysis?

Lord Deben: As someone with a long career as a leftie, no. First, factually it is not true. When I stand up in the House of Lords and speak on these issues, there is quite a number of surprising people who take a dismisser, denier kind of view about these things on the other side of the Chamber. So, first, it is factually just not true.

It is a temptation to say that. It is true in some countries-for example in the United States. There is a fallout because there are very clear connections between the climate dismissers and deniers in this country and those who take a strong view in the United States; those links are very obvious. But the real issue should be, and largely is, not party political. Remember that the Climate Change Act was passed with the largest majority of any Act there has been. You can see the eight people; they are still there and they still take the same view. But, in general, this has been accepted by all.

The problem, which I hope the Committee understand, is that if you ask people the general they all put up their hands with enthusiasm. Immediately the general becomes the practical and particular, they say, "Of course, I’m in favour of it in general, but I don’t like wind farms in my constituency," or, "I’m not very happy about this in these circumstances," or, "There’s a better way of doing it." Then your general agreement becomes a much more complex thing. If you add to that those who have a very strong view that almost any kind of regulation is unhappy and is a disadvantage, there will be a tendency to argue rather more on more of the issues. Therefore, you can make what I think is a rather Guardian-esque assessment, if I may say so. I think I would be a little more nuanced.

Q320David Morris: Would you agree with the view that many-particularly in the media-who are critical of science use this as a proxy for criticism for climate policies?

Lord Deben: I am criticised by some who say that you should not mix it with those who dismiss and deny, because they say they are not prepared to change. I do not know whether or not they are prepared to change. All I do know is that one has to keep on reminding people of what the science is. There is a real difficulty, is there not, because if you do not accept the science you are asking people to take your opinion against the science? You may be right. I always accept there is a possibility that that small percentage of people might be right. Galileo was right, but he was very unusual. There have not been many Galileos, but he was right and therefore we have to recognise that is so.

The real question, therefore, is one of risk. My view is that the basis on which you have to have this discussion is risk. If it is 95% likely, according to the science, that something is going to happen, you would be taking a very peculiar stance if you said, "I’m going to ignore all that and hope that the 5% is right." I much prefer to concentrate on that risk. Science can be used like the Bible. You can take a sentence and say that means Jehovah’s Witnesses are right and everybody else is wrong. You can do that with science, so I would much prefer to talk about risk.

Q321David Morris: Do you think we could ever see what is happening in Australia replicated here if the quality of the debate on the right does not improve?

Chair: This is a Conservative talking to a Conservative answering this question.

Lord Deben: I am an independent, if I may say so. Somebody who is appointed by a Liberal Democrat Minister, a Scottish Nationalist First Minister, a Welsh socialist and a Protestant Unionist in Northern Ireland is very independent. I spent three weeks in Australia lecturing and talking. I had an hour or so with the present Prime Minister. I had a similar series with the Cardinal Archbishop. Australia is a different country from anywhere else. He is the only cardinal archbishop who does not believe in climate change, as far as I understand it, although he is very conservative and will argue with the Pope on the subject, so it is a different place. I am not sure that the argument there ever descended to the point of rationality. It was all about image, attitudes and all the rest of it, and I do not believe it will get like that here. It has not quite got like that in Australia. There are many sensible members of the Liberal party who take a different view. Malcolm Turnbull is a man of very considerable worth. But there is a real problem, because in Australia there are extremes of a sort that we will not see here. The Greens take an extreme view which you would not see of Greens here, so it is a different world.

Q322Chair: I see that John Howard will be giving a lecture here in a couple of days supporting the sceptics.

Lord Deben: I have had meetings with John Howard. If you have decided that you are right and you are not going to listen to the science, I am afraid there is not a way in which you can avoid that; also, you have got on a train and it is awfully difficult to get off it. I admit to the principle that I do not want climate change to be true. I would get off this train any day. If I could honestly say that I did not believe in it, I would have no difficulty at all in saying that we must not do these things. I am forced to it by the facts. I wish I were not. In that case, if you face the facts, you have to do something about it. The alternative route is to say, "I don’t like these facts. There are one or two people who don’t like them and I think they may be right, and it is much more convenient not to believe them." I do not have any grandchildren, but I have the potential given that I have four children. I do not want my grandchildren asking me, "What the blazes were you doing?" That is all.

Q323Chair: I bet your children changed their view about switching off the lights, the same as mine did, when they had to start paying the bills.

Lord Deben: I think you are allowed to talk about them up to the age of 16; thereafter, their lives are their own.

Q324Stephen Mosley: Your report says that there are a number of siren voices who are given unjustified attention by the media. Who do you mean?

Lord Deben: I have tried terribly hard not to speak ad hominem, if I may say so, because that is precisely what those who do not believe in this do. They are constantly casting doubt on the bona fides of scientists, the motives of politicians and the rest of it, so I am not going to get into that area.

Q325Stephen Mosley: Who do you mean?

Lord Deben: I know you want me to say that, but I am saying that I do not think in my role I should be attacking individual people. My point about the media is best exemplified by a particular example where the BBC on Radio 5 live interviewed a person who was a sceptic or dismisser, in the sense they would use it. He was interviewed without anybody else. He was not an expert as a matter of fact, but he was interviewed and that was thought to be perfectly reasonable. I merely ask the question: if the issue had been the connection between smoking and cancer, would they have interviewed somebody who said that smoking did not cause cancer without having some reference outside?

I merely say that the science on climate change is in that context of the same weight. Therefore, you do not get a balance merely by having the people who believe in the science against those who do not believe in it, because that would drive you to an impossible position over whether or not the earth is round, or whether or not we landed on the moon, because you can find people on the other side. In the normal course of debate in the House of Lords, when Lord Lawson gets up I feel it perfectly right, where it is necessary and proper, to argue with him, but I am not going to get into people. I would love to-

Q326Stephen Mosley: Lord Stern has said that sceptics’ voices should just be treated as noise. Would you agree with that, or would you think they have a right to be heard?

Lord Deben: I am a democrat and I want everybody to be heard, and I would not like to say that. It is not a situation of having one person on this side and one person on the other. You have to think about it in the same context as you would smoking and cancer, or any other scientific issue. In a discussion about the moon landing, you would not feel that you had been biased by not having somebody who thought it was all got up by NASA; you wouldn’t do that. But you would give a place to somebody who thought that; that would be perfectly reasonable. When you are discussing the science of climate change, you really should not go off to Australia because you cannot find another person who has some scientific credentials to appear because you feel you have to have that balance. You have to recognise that balance has to have some rationality with it.

Q327Stephen Mosley: Many of the people who are labelled as sceptics agree entirely with the scientific evidence that man-made climate change is happening but they might disagree with the solution, or the need for a solution. What would you say to those people?

Lord Deben: There are two bits to that question. First, I have watched these people and many who say they agree with the science entirely did not start with that; they now accept it, so they have moved from deniers to dismissers. They then say that, although all that is true, either we do not need to do anything or do not need to do much at the moment because it is not as bad as we think it is going to be, or they disagree with the particular solutions put forward. Those are two very different issues.

As to the second one-not agreeing with the solutions-that is a perfectly proper and real debate. I want that because I do not agree with some of the solutions, and I think I have a right and duty to argue with those things. You will see the committee raising questions all the time about whether the particular solutions are working properly, and that is a proper basis for equal argument. As to the first one, the science is clear on the fact that it is dangerous, that there is a real threat and you have to do something about it. If that is the case, that is a different argument. If people are saying, yes, man is contributing to climate change but the effect is nugatory, or you can take the bottom of the range and assume it will be less big than that, the science does not say that. Therefore, that is a different kind of balance. It is difficult for broadcasters and journalists, but it is very necessary, as happens in lots of other parts of life, to have a perfectly proper argument on the practicalities of what you should do-but you have to take some things as the facts.

Q328Stephen Mosley: Last week the Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson, had some vitriol aimed at him within the press. I have seen articles in The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, so it is across the spectrum.

Lord Deben: It is a good range.

Q329Stephen Mosley: Essentially, he said that climate change should be approached rationally and with an open mind. That was the quote he used. Do you think he deserved that vitriol?

Lord Deben: Climate change is certainly something that should be approached rationally and with an open mind. I approach it rationally and with an open mind. I do not think the vitriol was aimed at him because of that but because of the conclusions he drew from that. Those are his conclusions. I do not think I am going to be drawn, even in so delicate and elegant way, into having an argument ad hominem.

Q330Graham Stringer: There is a third position, is there not, taken by people who are critical, which is probably represented by Professor Dieter Helm, who wrote "The Carbon Crunch", which I am sure you are familiar with?

Lord Deben: Indeed.

Q331Graham Stringer: It is not that the science is wrong; it is not that we should not be doing something. It is that what is being done is counterproductive, because by pressing down on carbon emissions we are just exporting them and, overall, the amount of carbon produced is greater. In the literature that you produce I do not see any recognition of that problem.

Lord Deben: I hope there is, and I will point to it.

David Kennedy: We did a full report on it.

Lord Deben: We did.

Graham Stringer: I apologise; I missed that.

Lord Deben: It is a very acute and important question. Dieter Helm does not depart an iota from the science, but he makes a perfectly reasonable argument, which should certainly be ventilated, because it is a real issue about how you ensure in a globalised world that actions you take do not have other knock-on effects. It is perfectly true you can argue that, for example, it is better to pollute in countries that have proper pollution control than export it to countries that do not. I entirely agree with that. But you can also look at his evidence and see whether it is true. That was why we produced a report which showed that, although it is a real danger and you have to look at it all the time, we did not think it should lead us to alter the policies, and we did not think that the arguments put forward were correct. You can go on having that argument and I am happy to have it, but it is a different argument and a worthwhile and valuable one because it ensures that you get the policies right. I want those sorts of arguments, so I do not disagree.

The only problem is that, whatever you say in this field, those who are determined to undermine any action at all will pick out three sentences from Dieter Helm, or anybody else, and say that that means the argument put forward is wrong.

David Kennedy: It is a really important area. There is a story which people believe that says we are the only country doing something on low-carbon investment; we are adding a lot of cost to our industry and we will close it down, if we have not already. The evidence is that we are not the only country acting; there are many countries with which we compete that are acting to invest in low-carbon technologies. We are pretty confident that there is no evidence any industry in this country has relocated to another country because of carbon policies. We have to be really careful with our carbon budgets and low-carbon policies that we do not drive industries abroad in the future. Nobody wants that, and the Committee on Climate Change has a statutory duty to ensure that that is taken very seriously in our advice, but there are ways of dealing with these things. The Government are dealing with them. For example, the biggest risk to industry is the electricity market reform and rising electricity prices that would result for industry. Those industries are now exempt from the rising costs, so that risk is mitigated.

Lord Deben: If one were to rank countries according to the amount they are doing, China now would have to be well at the top. The argument that you move industry to China, for example, and therefore that results in greater emissions is increasingly not so. One of the other problems is that there is a time lag here. Around the world you are seeing people doing what we are doing. People talk as if we are in the lead. We are in the lead in the sense that we have fashioned a very sensible mechanism for dealing with this, but, my goodness, looking round the world from Mexico to South Africa to Korea and China, these changes are being made, and that very much affects the analysis that is made. But it is an argument that has to be carried through, and you are right to raise it more widely.

Chair: Lord Deben and Mr Kennedy, thank you very much for the session this morning.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, gave evidence.

Q332Chair: Minister, welcome to our session this morning. Unusually, some witnesses on this inquiry have been reluctant to come before us. We are going to write a fairly strongly-worded letter to try to encourage some witnesses, but you wanted to come before us. Why was that?

Mr Willetts: I always enjoy appearing before this excellent Committee, Mr Chairman. I am proud of British science and the contribution it has made to the wider work of the IPCC. There is an important challenge about communicating it, and this Committee’s advice on that would be very valuable. I wanted the opportunity of making an input, because I certainly want to study your report when it is published.

Q333Chair: At the present time what is your Department’s role in communicating about climate science?

Mr Willetts: The lead Department on climate change is, of course, DECC, but we have a wider responsibility for communicating science through our Science and Society exercise. It has a modest budget, but we have been reviewing that and recognise we can raise our game by doing better with new media, for example, and reaching out to younger people. Communication is also part of the remit of our research councils. Therefore, it is part of the remit of NERC-the Natural Environment Research Council-for example, that it should communicate its results and findings; and BIS also has overall departmental responsibility for the Met Office. While the Met Office does not have a specific communication remit, nevertheless it is clearly a very trusted and respected contributor to the debate. You put all that together, and I think BIS does have a significant role.

Q334Chair: Specifically in relation to your Department, parts of it are responsible for some of the heavy industrial energy users. How do you communicate with them?

Mr Willetts: We do have business collaboration. We have a rather important body Living with Environmental Change-LWEC-which has a group that involves links to businesses for whom climate change and energy are a particular issue. That is not simply energy-intensive users but that is part of it. It is also people maintaining infrastructure that will be affected by changes in the climate. I have had meetings with LWEC. The Secretary of State tends to take specific responsibility for energy-intensive users.

Q335Chair: You mentioned Science and Society. As to bodies like that-Sciencewise, the Royal Society and so on-do you leave them to their own devices in this area, or is there a joined-up strategy that helps address some of these complex problems?

Mr Willetts: There is a very delicate balance. On the one hand, the evidence we have shows that clearly independent scientists are trusted; university-based scientists are very highly trusted; and scientists working for Government are not trusted quite so much. That is a pity, but that is what the evidence shows. It is quite important that this is done in a way where people do not detect the hand of Government behind individual interventions.

On the other hand, it is clear that the chief scientist, Sir Mark Walport, made a very useful contribution in the period around the launch of the most recent IPCC report. He clearly regards communicating the overwhelming scientific view on climate change as a challenge to which he can contribute, and I encouraged him in that view; similarly, David MacKay at DECC and the Secretary of State in DECC himself. The fact that there were scientists and Ministers all out and active was helpful.

Q336Chair: You have just given an extra £47 million to the Royal Society to promote public engagement with science, among other things. Given that, were you not surprised that at the outset they were a bit reluctant to come and give evidence to this inquiry?

Mr Willetts: I was not even aware of that, so I do not think I can comment on that.1

Chair: We did have very constructive evidence from them in the end.

Q337Pamela Nash: It is two years since the Government, including BIS, published a paper on the transition to a green economy. That included tackling climate change as part of the reason for developing the green economy, but not the only reason. Can you explain to the Committee this morning a bit more the relationship between trying to mitigate climate change and its effects and developing a green economy in the UK?

Mr Willetts: The main challenge is simply the effect of climate change on the environment around us, but we do believe that there is also a commercial opportunity for Britain if we can establish a leading role in future energy technologies. The most conspicuous example of what we are trying to do is the Green Investment Bank, which is promoting investment in these types of technologies. If you look at our catapult centres, the offshore renewables centre based in Glasgow is a classic example where we see that this is an area where we have a scientific and technological opportunity, at the same time as the nation and the world are facing a very significant challenge.

Q338Pamela Nash: Do you think those benefits have been well communicated to the public at large but also the businesses that you come into contact with on a regular basis?

Mr Willetts: We can always raise our game, and I am sure this Committee will have advice about what we can do. People follow individual polls, but overall there is a recognition that something very significant is happening to the climate. There are other arguments that we also deploy. There is an energy security argument about being less dependent on imports, sometimes from rather unstable parts of the world. There is a good housekeeping point that it is good not to be wasteful. If we can get more output from a given amount of input in energy as anywhere else, that is an improvement in economic performance; so those arguments run alongside the fundamental challenge of climate change. In what I say, Vince says and Ministers at DECC say, we try to bring together those arguments.

Q339Pamela Nash: In its annual review the Science and Society’s journal suggested that part of the role of your Department should be to communicate core messages on climate science and that you should be encouraging partners and stakeholders to do the same. Is that considered when policymaking is taking place in your Department? Is an improvement in public understanding of climate change and its effects and the work we are doing on the green economy considered a measure of how successful the policy is?

Mr Willetts: For the research councils that do have communication in their original remit, we regard their ability to spread understanding of their research as a key part of it and it is something we look at. Indeed, in separate inquiries by this Committee on open access it is all about improving communication. Almost every day in the media when you read a story about a new finding, new drug or whatever, it is very likely that there is a publicly-funded research council initiative behind it. It is not always badged and obvious to the casual reader that that is where it comes from, but I see the forward plans of the specific material they are putting out, and there is a flow of it.

The Met Office is in a slightly different position, in that its mandate does not explicitly have a requirement to communicate climate change to the public. It obviously communicates with the public on weather. An interesting question, which this Committee may well get us to focus on, is whether there is more that we could expect of the Met Office. What would be reasonable to expect it to do without sacrificing its crucial responsibilities for weather forecasting, and is there anything we could fund? We have no funding available at the moment, but those are issues and I look forward to the Committee’s report.

Q340David Tredinnick: To what extent do you think scientists should be communicating messages? Scientists generally have a high standing with the public and are perceived to be even-handed as experts. How much should we deploy them in the communications and public relations battle?

Mr Willetts: There is a very delicate boundary here. Climate change is just one example, and it applies in other areas as well. Scientists should certainly try to communicate the facts as they understand them, and they must always be open to challenge and dispute because science is ultimately empirical. The Government chief scientist in NERC and NERC-funded scientists can absolutely communicate what they believe to be the findings from their research.

There is then separately a policy debate about what your response should be-what follows as a result of that. That is a public policy decision. Outside, independent scientists will not hazard a view on that, but we all understand-I think the Government chief scientist described this excellently the other day-that that is the point when elected politicians and Ministers take over.

Q341David Tredinnick: Do you think that somewhere in the Department, or in a related organisation, there ought to be a focus point for communicating scientific matters? It has been described as a portal. Should we be making it easier for scientists to present their research? There is a general reluctance among some people in the scientific community because they will be monstered by the media on delicate matters. Should we not have some facility that helps?

Mr Willetts: We have to be very careful about trying to maintain this at arm’s length. BIS makes a modest contribution to the costs of the Science Media Centre. Quite rightly, that centre does not want to be dependent on any one source of financial backing, but it does an excellent job in ensuring that scientists are more media savvy than perhaps they were a decade ago in communicating their results.

We are working on a portal, which is currently a kind of beta. It is not properly functioning, but it will be fully functioning quite soon. We are working on a portal that makes all the research council-funded research and findings more easily accessible through a single user-friendly portal. That is a project under way at the moment.

Q342Chair: That is not yet in public use.

Mr Willetts: You may be able to get some information, but it is beta. It is still being trialled and developed; it is not yet fully operational, but we hope it will be in a few months.

Q343Chair: Perhaps we could have a look at it.

Mr Willetts: Yes. When it does go fully live perhaps I could send the Committee a note. It is absolutely aimed at all the different publicly-funded research. We are thinking of groups like SMEs, which may not know that somewhere there is publicly-funded research perhaps on advanced material they are using that they cannot easily find. We want to make it a usable and easily searchable tool for that kind of purpose, and that is what we are working on at the moment.2

Q344Graham Stringer: I was hoping that the chief scientific adviser would be with you to answer this. You may be able to answer it. In a highly contentious area, it is important that the science is of the best quality and is peer-reviewed. Ministers in the last Government and this one in explaining the likely consequences of climate change regularly use the Stern report, which is not peer-reviewed. Is that not a problem?

Mr Willetts: This is where you get into policy. There is a lively debate among economists on some of the methodology and long-term discount rate in Stern.

Graham Stringer: That is right.

Mr Willetts: That is a legitimate subject for discussion. There is a genuine policy question. There is a balance: one is trying to mitigate climate change and slow it down or stop it happening and one is adapting to it. That is an area for rational economic debate. The third option is that we just suffer because nothing happens, but in reality we are seeing a combination of those three responses.

Q345Graham Stringer: I accept that, but that was not quite the point I was asking. Why do the Government consistently use a non-peer-reviewed report?

Mr Willetts: When you are talking about policy proposals-we have not endorsed everything in his report-peer review is not quite the same. We are endlessly drawing on policy proposals, reports and advocacy from a range of groups. When it comes to the more empirical, objective scientific evidence in an area, at that point we do need peer review, but all the time people send in reports to me with their views. I am going to the launch of a Higher Education Commission report later today. That is not peer-reviewed, but I will engage with it because I think it is an interesting piece of work.

Q346Graham Stringer: You answered 80% of this question when you talked previously about the Met Office not having a role in communicating climate science. Have you actively considered that, and do you think that it should do? Do you think it should change its terms of reference?

Mr Willetts: There has already been a significant step in the climate change service launched in the summer, which brings together the Met Office, NERC and the Environment Agency, to try to provide a clearer user-friendly source of guidance and advice on climate change. That is in its early days; it has just started to function. There is a legitimate question as to whether we should go further and whether the core unit is the right one. That is a genuine question, and that is why this Select Committee’s views on all that are matters we will want to consider very carefully. It will probably be at least as much a matter for DECC as for BIS, though two of the three bodies involved-NERC and the Met Office-are within BIS. That is one of the reasons why I did think it right to participate in this inquiry.

Q347Graham Stringer: One of the drivers of the public’s perception of climate change is whether they really agree with what the Government are doing about it. There is some evidence that the Climate Change Act and focusing on emissions is counterproductive because we are just buying goods from abroad that might have been produced here, so the overall contribution to the carbon content of the atmosphere goes up. Do you accept that as a criticism, and do you think that in those terms the Climate Change Act is effective?

Mr Willetts: Your point is a fair one. Ultimately, this is a global process. If we do not do some smelting or some activity in Britain but, instead, we buy products that are the result of that process being done abroad in a less energy-efficient way, the world is not a better place; it has gone backwards a bit. It is a very valid point that needs to be taken into account when trying to work out the best way forward.

Q348Graham Stringer: Therefore, do you think that the Climate Change Act at the moment is effective or counterproductive?

Mr Willetts: We are working within the framework that we inherit. Going back to the energy-intensive users, we try to make these types of assessments when they say, "If you push up our costs too high in Britain and import the product from China instead, have you really made progress on climate change?" We are aware of that argument.

Q349Chair: The Committee has just taken evidence from Lord Deben. We had some interesting exchanges about his work. Is there a real buy-in across all Government Departments about the responsibilities here? Are there areas of weakness in your view?

Mr Willetts: Government is obviously perfect in every possible respect.

Chair: I would like that to be peer-reviewed!

Mr Willetts: What I have here, which I think puts it very well, is the coalition agreement. That is the crucial document to which all of us as Ministers work and is the framework within which we function. The coalition agreement on this is very clear: "The Government believes that climate change is one of the greatest threats we face, and that urgent action…is required. We need to use a wide range of levers to cut carbon emissions, decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies." That coalition agreement is the framework within which the Government operate.

Q350Chair: Is it right to assume from that that all of the newspapers which reported on it misunderstood what Owen Paterson was saying recently?

Mr Willetts: I do not know about that. As Ministers, we are all working within the framework that I have just reported to the Committee.

Chair: Minister, thank you very much for your attendance this morning.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon Gregory Barker MP, Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, Professor David MacKay, Chief Scientific Adviser, and David Warrilow, Head of Science, Department of Energy and Climate Change, gave evidence.

Q351Chair: Minister, can I welcome you this morning? For the record, it would be helpful if your two colleagues would introduce themselves.

Professor MacKay: I am David MacKay, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

David Warrilow: I am David Warrilow, Head of SCIENCE in DECC.

Q352Chair: Thank you very much. First, what do you see the Government’s role to be in communicating climate science to the public?

Gregory Barker: First, good morning, Mr Miller, and thank you very much for inviting us to speak. The wider communication of the risks of climate change is essential to informing the debate about the responses to it. For over 20 years the scientific community has been warning successive Governments, as well as the public, about the potential impact of climate change. It is important to note at the outset of this session that we are very clear that over that period the actual science has got stronger and the perception of risk greater. Clearly, that is very relevant now in the immediate aftermath of the publication of the latest IPCC report, which has played a central role in communicating the science of climate change and its risks. The take-out from that is that not only is it happening but it needs a man-made response to mitigate it.

It is certainly important that the public understand the challenge and why we are making these policy choices, and that it is conveyed in as easy a way as possible. It is not always easy to understand a set of quite complex scientific data. They need to understand in the easiest possible way the rationale behind sometimes quite significant policy choices that Governments are making. Unfortunately, we get some mixed messages in the media. To a degree, while there is not complete consensus in the scientific community on the actual science-there very rarely is on any given topic-I think it is fair to say that the science has become a bit of a political football, and that is regrettable.

In this context it is important for the scientific community to be able to communicate the raw data and its evolving understanding of climate change, and it is important that science has an independent voice.

Q353Chair: The Department has a clear role in communicating. We recognise the quality of the science within the Department, but what skills and resources are there within central Government to ensure effective communication about climate science and policies?

Gregory Barker: They are partly sitting either side of me, so perhaps I can invite Professor MacKay to address that.

Professor MacKay: Going back to your original question about the role of the Government in communicating, one of the principal roles is to fund the climate scientists themselves, which we do through the research councils and direct grants to the Hadley Centre and others, and support those scientists in communicating the science themselves to policymakers and the general public. That is the most important thing we do.

Within DECC we have a team of climate scientists. David Warrilow is a professional climate scientist. We have another staff member with a climate science background. I am not a climate scientist, but I keep in touch with that community.

Gregory Barker: Do you want to give the Committee an indication of your background?

Professor MacKay: I was a professor in physics at the University of Cambridge for the last 15 years.

Q354Chair: With respect, Professor MacKay-I always start with that when I address physicists-not all physicists are brilliant communicators. Communication of this complex issue takes a special set of skills. Do they exist within the Government machinery?

Professor MacKay: The most important people to do the communicating in our view are the scientists themselves. We do have skilled communicators working for the Government. For example, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser clearly has an important role in communicating science to the public, but our feeling is that the people who are trusted the most-our surveys indicate this-are the scientists themselves. While we do have some skilled communicators around, we try to work by supporting the scientists to do the bulk of the communication of the science themselves.

Gregory Barker: Being very honest, Chair, I think you have put your finger on the nub of it. There is a dilemma. The most trusted sources of impartial information are scientific experts in their field, but you are quite right. With no disrespect to any of my scientific colleagues, they are not always the best communicators of simple messages that can resonate with the public. I sometimes struggle to understand exactly, certainly in a concise way, some of the very complex issues that scientific colleagues will try to get over in the briefing. For the general public, who may be glancing at parts of these messages on the television, radio or newspapers, it can be doubly difficult.

We do have a number of other ways of communicating that, but this is work in progress. I do not think any Government have got it right. The previous Government spent quite a lot of money on their Act On CO2 campaign, which in part conveyed the science. It was not widely applauded. We have some other things, such as a 2050 calculator, for example, which allows people to go online and look at various scenarios of how we meet our climate change objectives. We have a schools toolkit; we have an energy challenge road show. We try to engage with social media. We work together with DFID, and we undertake international work in conjunction with the Foreign Office. We work closely with the Met Office, which is a very trusted voice on this, but I do not think there is any silver bullet to try to reach all of the audiences appropriately and effectively; we just have to work through a number of media.

Q355Chair: Do you have at your disposal any behavioural scientists who are expert in getting across some of these complex messages?

Professor MacKay: Yes. DECC funded with some partners the creation of a report on "Climate Science, the Public and the News Media, which was recently published.3 That gives us insights into how the public understand the communications that come to them from the media and scientists, and we are definitely taking this evidence into account as we continue to engage with scientists and the media.

Q356David Tredinnick: When I asked the Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, just now about communications, I suggested there should be a portal to make it easier for scientists to communicate. My memory is that he said they were working on something, which has not yet been published. Professor MacKay, despite what you are saying and the report you published, should not some help be given to scientists to get their message out? Should there not be a central focus, maybe cross-departmental, for that to happen, given the trust that is placed in the opinion of scientists?

Professor MacKay: One such organisation that does serve as a portal not just for climate scientists but for all scientists is the Science Media Centre. That is a charity which receives support from several Government Departments, including DECC. Their role is to try to help scientists communicate clearly with journalists and the general public. I am delighted that we are supporting them. They do a good job. When the IPCC’s fifth assessment report came out a couple of weeks ago, I spent much of the day at the Science Media Centre with another dozen or so scientists using their premises as a portal. I think the journalists really appreciate the engagement they get there.

Q357David Tredinnick: Minister, to what extent is the Government’s mandate to tackle issues such as climate change dependent on public acceptance of the science?

Gregory Barker: It is iterative. Clearly, the greater the public acceptance, the stronger the appetite for robust action. All the polling suggests that the majority of the public accept that that is not the fundamental problem. Seventy-two per cent of the UK public, according to latest polls, believe that climate change is happening; 80% think that humans are implicated in some way; only 15% polled think it is mainly or entirely caused by natural causes; and 75% of UK adults questioned felt informed about climate change as topping the list of science topics. There is some degree of penetration of public opinion. The public are informed; there is broad support. It is not universal. The minority of those who do not accept the science are particularly vocal; they tend to feel that very strongly, whereas the majority who do accept the science tend to be less fired up about it. There is an issue here about not trying to manage public opinion, but we want to make sure that the public have access to all the facts, and we are constantly looking at the best way to inform them.

Q358David Tredinnick: I am interested to hear what you say, but, with respect, some other polls out there say that the acceptance of the science is slipping. If that is the case, do you pursue the science anyway, even if the acceptance appears to be weaker than it has been?

Gregory Barker: We are partly hindered by the fact that the IPCC report only once every five to seven YEARS. When they do so, there is one huge report containing gazillions of facts and interesting pieces of data, which are to a certain extent impenetrable to many members of the public. The media will then report that over one or two news cycles and then it is done for another five years, whereas the sceptic press tends to be much better at dribbling out documents, often non-peer-reviewed, or non-robust data, which nevertheless feed into a willing media or parts of the media that are willing. We need to get better at keeping up a steady stream of useful, robust peer-reviewed science rather than just waiting for this big dump once every five years.

The reality is also that the previous IPCC report was less robust than the latest one. To be clear, that did impact on public trust and confidence. Although the issues identified were small relative to the overall scale of the body of evidence in favour of the conclusions that that report reached, nevertheless they were picked out and it had a disproportionate impact on public trust. I think that has had an impact up until recently.

Likewise, we have to be realistic that the whole episode of the leak of emails from the University of East Anglia, although the subsequent report largely cleared the individuals in question, nevertheless did a lot of damage. It did even more damage outside this country. It played particularly badly in the USA. As for the new IPCC report, which we took delivery of only about 10 days ago, rather than just explain it in one or two news cycles in the immediate aftermath of publication, we need progressively to unpick it and ensure it is refreshed regularly, even if it will be another four or five years before the next one is published.

Q359David Tredinnick: One of the ways that we could deal with this problem, surely, is for your Department to make a determined effort to get over that the basic science is settled-that there is a framework, a paradigm, within which we work on these issues.

Gregory Barker: That is absolutely right. Unfortunately, here we are dealing with probability. I am not a scientist. We are dealing with probability and risk rather than absolutes, which would be much easier. Even though the probabilities are extremely high, which are now statistically almost off the scale according to the IPCC-they said they were 95% certain-they are still nevertheless dealing with a range of probabilities, and that can be difficult to convey. It also leaves open an opportunity for doubt-some of it reasonable doubt and some of it just sceptics who take a very contrary view.

Unfortunately, in this country in particular, we have a tendency always to like to see a debate between two polar opposites in the interests of fairness. That appetite for fairness or counter-opinion gives a disproportionate idea to the public that the sceptic view is perhaps more legitimate or more widely held, which is perhaps a better way of saying it, than it actually is. So long as there is any degree of questioning from within the scientific community-and it is always likely to be so-you could be forgiven for thinking, for example, if you were listening to the BBC on the publication of the IPCC report, that the scientific community was a lot more divided on this issue than in reality it is, particularly among the experts.

Professor MacKay: I think what you are driving at is a suggestion that we should devote more departmental resources to the public communication of the science.

Q360David Tredinnick: I did not use the "r" word; that was not what I said. I did not suggest necessarily spending a lot more money on it but that perhaps there should be a policy direction which, through your media outlets, could make it clear that a lot of this science is firmly settled and that the standard deviations from the mean are way away from the report.

Gregory Barker: In light of the latest IPCC report, there is a lot of sense in what you say, Mr Tredinnick. Are you intending to call, or have you already called, the BBC to see how they respond to criticisms of their reporting? I was struck that, of all the interviews that I did on the day of publication, the BBC was the one that consistently projected the report as being an either/or, or 50-50. For example, when I went on to Sky to discuss it, it was not about the fundamental science. There was a broad acceptance of it, and the debate was around the appropriate response. When I went on to ITV, again it was about the nature of the response and what we were doing in response to this. What are the Government going to do in response to this very clear report? The BBC was still stuck in the groundhog day of debating the science, even though, as you rightly say, the larger part of the scientific community accepts that this is settled and the debate should be about the right response in terms of Government policy.

Q361David Tredinnick: I do not know whether the Chairman is trying to comment on the BBC, but I have one further question.

Chair: Very quickly-we need to move on.

David Tredinnick: From what you are saying, isn’t the way the IPCC report is published a fundamental problem? Every five years a great block of information comes out that is totally indigestible. Would it not be much better if we had a publication perhaps in stages and sections so that people can have a better understanding of it?

Gregory Barker: It is to a certain extent published in stages and sections. In the last 12 months it has been published in certain sections, but it is basically one big media event.

David Warrilow: Actually,the IPCC big report comes out in three stages. The first is just the science; next March we will have a report on the impacts of climate change, which will be another large volume; and in April there will be one on the mitigation response. They are big reports. In between these major reports, they produce special reports that focus on specific issues. One of the things that the IPCC is going to do over the next year and a half is review its products and whether it needs to change what it does in future. The kinds of comments you are making are important for that, because one of the things we are suggesting is that the IPCC should canvass its views from users to see what the most useful product is that they can produce.

Gregory Barker: I entirely agree with your analysis.

Q362Stephen Metcalfe: You described lots of ways that you are trying to engage with the public. There is a lot of activity going on about getting the message across. Do you think that that constitutes a communication strategy for the Government, or does there need to be a more concise approach that pulls together all the various sources of information and identifies people’s roles and responsibilities, whether that is the Met Office or the Committee on Climate Change, so that everyone knows what it is they are supposed to be doing to help present a clear, settled message from Government? Would it help to build trust in that message if it had that wide base underlying it?

Gregory Barker: There is an underlying strategy and a clear acceptance of our respective responsibilities. One of the hampering factors-it is a reality of life-is that, when we came into office in 2010, across Government, all Departments and issues, there was a big cut in advertising and marketing expenditure as part of the deficit reduction programme. So we are spending less money-we are not really spending any money-on the advertising campaigns that the previous Government ran. It is open to quite significant debate whether or not the previous Government’s advertising campaigns, which were called Act On CO2, were particularly good value for money in terms of their effect, and whether the greater controversy they incurred by running them in the first place outweighed the benefits that they had on the people they were able to reach and influence, or they just simply reinforced the views of people already predisposed to support action on climate change.

As Professor MacKay said in his opening remarks, our view is that the best advocates for climate science and those who are most trusted in the public’s mind are the scientists themselves. It is clearly a challenge to make sure that they speak to the public in language that the public can understand and, ideally, in pithy soundbites. The climate sceptics are very good at alarmist headlines or the aggressive countering of facts. We need to be less cautious and maybe more robust in countering those, and we do that, but there is an overarching strategy. I am sure we can always look to improve the way that we coordinate among ourselves. In particular, I would like to see a stronger role, or certainly a stronger voice, for the Met Office, which is internationally respected and I think people do listen to what they say.

Professor MacKay: I would add that we do coordinate our comms strategy with both the Committee on Climate Change and the Met Office. We meet them on a regular basis. We also coordinate with the science and engineering academies in the UK; so we do try to coordinate our communications with each other.

Q363Stephen Metcalfe: How often is that high-level strategy about the message you are trying to get across revisited, or is it more of a process-driven change? You meet, decide what is current today and then decide what to do about it.

Professor MacKay: We have been having roughly monthly meetings to coordinate DECC, the Met Office and others, so I think "a process" is a good way to characterise it.

Q364Stephen Metcalfe: We have talked about getting the public and scientists to communicate together. I imagine that is quite a challenge because they live in different spheres almost. One area that seems to be having some success is local authority engagement with the promotion of information on climate change. Do you think they need to be given a more specific role in delivering that strategy and the messages?

Gregory Barker: To a certain extent that runs counter to the prevailing political agenda, which is to stop handing out Whitehall-driven diktats to local authorities. That would run very much against the whole drive of the coalition, which is to push a localism agenda, but you are certainly right that those local authorities that have engaged in this agenda seem to have done so with relative success. North Somerset and Liverpool both ran successful climate change awareness campaigns with a small amount of money, but that came from Defra rather than DECC. These things would undoubtedly be helpful, but in the constrained fiscal environment in which we live there are choices to be made, and imposing another burden on local authorities-

Q365Chair: In terms of the invest and save philosophy, if we get local authorities to engage with their public, it could potentially mitigate some of the long-term pressures on budgets, on everything from flood defences and so on to power consumption.

Gregory Barker: Indeed. I do not think there is one silver bullet in reaching consumers or the public, however you define them. Certainly, engaging local authorities is definitely the way forward, but this has to be done by means of positive engagement and winning the argument with them that this is an important priority, rather than just setting a target or some such from Whitehall.

Q366Graham Stringer: The spats of John Hayes and George Osborne with different energy Ministers have added quite a lot to our entertainment and amusement. What impact has that had on your ability to communicate your policies on climate change?

Gregory Barker: Very little, if any.

Q367Graham Stringer: Do you want to expand on that?

Gregory Barker: Very little, if any.

Q368Graham Stringer: I am not sure that is completely credible, Minister, but we will take it at that. One of the interesting parts of this inquiry is that we have asked not all but nearly all witnesses what the definition of climate change is. We have had as many definitions as questions, some of them pretty vague. What is your definition of climate change?

Gregory Barker: The definition is that climate change is climate change. I think you would have to-

Q369Graham Stringer: That is not particularly helpful.

Gregory Barker: No, but it is self-explanatory. Climate change is a changing climate. I do not quite understand the question. It is not a technical term. Professor MacKay may be able to fill in the details.

Professor MacKay: I am happy to add another answer to your question.

Q370Chair: If you look to the left, the answer has been put in front of you.

Professor MacKay: We need to define climate first. Climate is the statistics of many variables: temperatures; precipitations; wind speeds; ocean currents; ice masses. The climate is the collection of all those variables; it is the averages and the probability distributions of weather and all those other variables, including salinity and acidity of oceans. And climate change is a change in those statistics.

Gregory Barker: Colloquially, it is now taken to mean man-made climate change. We now use it as shorthand for man-made climate change.

Q371Graham Stringer: It is a very general definition. We have gone from "global warming" to "climate change". Some of our witnesses have said we should change to definitions of climate disruption or the planet’s energy balance. That has been the range. Do you think it would be helpful to the debate if we stuck to one of those issues with a very clear definition so that people could refer back to a quantification of those changes?

Gregory Barker: I do not think you are going to get a definition that will roll off the tongue in a short number of words. As Professor MacKay explained, even the most concise definition, if it is to be sensible and correct, will be more than just a few words. We can debate language. For example, climate change is a better shorthand than global warming because, for a lot of people, the impact of global warming will not be to see their temperature rise in a dramatic way, but they could be the victim of extreme weather events, or even a shift in the pattern of their climate. Therefore, climate change in a very shorthand way is probably the best way of expressing this, but the moment you get a slightly larger and more encompassing definition the difficulty is where you put the full stop.

Professor MacKay: My feeling is that climate change is a pretty good title for what we are talking about. Global warming is still one of the most important features of climate change, so I would not want to change these things around. Global warming gets misunderstood. People focus on a particular part of the system, namely the surface temperature, and say, "Oh, global warming has stopped," but that is not the case. The whole globe includes the oceans and ice masses. If you look at the heat content of the oceans and ice masses, that has been steadily increasing, even during the last 15 years when the surface temperature has had a bit of a plateau.

Q372David Tredinnick: Minister, we touched on the difference between the reporting of issues by the BBC and Sky earlier in the session. To get this on the record, what responsibility do you think public broadcasters and newspapers have accurately and effectively to inform the public debate on complex issues such as climate science?

Gregory Barker: They have a very real moral responsibility. In the case of the BBC, they have a clear statutory responsibility to inform. I think it is in the original charter, is it not? We need the BBC to look very hard, particularly at whether or not they are getting the balance right, and I do not think they are.

Q373David Tredinnick: Is it fulfilling its duty as a public broadcaster to inform the public properly?

Gregory Barker: They are fulfilling the duty in the sense that they give it airplay, but there is too much focus on trying to stimulate an increasingly sterile debate on the science, given the overwhelming body of opinion now in favour of the science. If they want an active debate, perhaps they should be talking about the policy responses to that science rather than the science itself.

Q374Chair: You want the media to adopt the same principles as they do with, say, party politics, so that in your constituency your regional media should not give the Monster Raving Loony Party the same airtime as you.

Gregory Barker: Exactly. I am not trying to ban all dissenting voices, but we are doing the public a disservice by treating them as equal, which is not the case.

Q375David Tredinnick: This brings us on to the regulation of the press generally.

Gregory Barker: It is way above my-

David Tredinnick: I am sure you will be happy to answer questions on it. As we know, at the moment there is a very limited requirement for the press to correct when reporting factual topics, such as climate science. Will your Department be pressing for more stringent requirements to be put in place when the Press Complaints Commission is wound up and replaced?

Gregory Barker: We do not have a departmental view on that at the moment, but I would hope that in best practice, apart from anything else, we would see better corrections of misleading evidence. It is extremely frustrating to me that a number of stories run very prominently, particularly in Sunday newspapers, which give a very misleading view of science, or dress up opinion as science, and that goes uncorrected, or, if there is a correction, it is a tiny one at the back of the paper somewhere.

Q376David Tredinnick: Minister, surely, if you hold these strong views, it behoves you or there should be an obligation almost on you to put them forward, because it is becoming quite contentious, is it not?

Gregory Barker: But, with a free press, every single Department would have a view about the fact their policies or views are being traduced. It is the nature of a free press that you will not always be happy with the coverage. We have to tread very carefully in that whole arena. My Department does not have a formal policy on that.

Q377Chair: For some Departments that is not the case. For example, Dame Sally Davies has been quite outspoken on some erroneous health information that has been published. Professor MacKay, you are an independent chief scientist. Should you not be equally robust as an independent chief scientist, not as a politician?

Professor MacKay: Absolutely. I wanted to answer an earlier question from Mr Tredinnick. Resources are tight. We review the allocation of resources within the science and innovation team in DECC, and we think about how much effort we are spending on communication compared with all the other important priorities.

In terms of my own time, I have many priorities in my job, ensuring that good evidence is being used in DECC and we are quality-assuring our work and analysis. That is an extremely high priority for me. Public communication is part of my role as well. I do a lot of public engagement, including with local authorities. The British Energy Challenge involved me visiting 10 cities in partnership with local authorities to discuss climate change action, so I definitely feel I have a role as a public communicator. I am reviewing with my team right now how much time I spend on climate science. I feel very tempted to devote some time in the next couple of weeks to try to do some clear science communication about the basic science of climate change, so you can watch this space.

Gregory Barker: In response to the point about misleading, inaccurate or downright wrong reports in the press particularly on the science, I am not happy with the way that DECC to date has handled the whole issue. In the past there has been a tendency to argue for right of reply or try to put in a piece from a Minister in the following week’s newspaper. It is not particularly fruitful to get into arguments or match assertion with assertion. Often, people do not read those pieces anyway, by which point the horse has bolted.

We have just appointed a new head of communications at DECC, who totally gets this, as does the new permanent secretary, Stephen Lovegrove. There is a need for us to be much more nimble and immediate in responding to factual errors, not to the arguments made by commentators or columnists, particularly in the weekend papers where it seems to be more prevalent, but we need to respond on the same day, or in the same news cycle, taking advantage of social media- particularly Twitter, for example-to identify not the arguments per se but the facts on which they are based. Quite often, facts are used selectively or inaccurately, or they are just downright wrong. Often, simply rebutting or correcting one or two facts in a few words in a tweet of less than 140 characters can be more effective than a right of reply two weeks later in an article buried in the back of a newspaper that people will not read. We need to get on the money in correcting factual inaccuracy.

Q378Graham Stringer: Lord Stern takes a different view and says that sceptics are just noise and should be treated as noise. Do you agree with that? While we are on Lord Stern, given your robust statement before on peer-reviewed papers, are you not embarrassed about quoting Lord Stern’s work, which is not peer-reviewed?

Gregory Barker: I have huge admiration for Nicholas Stern. He is one of a range of people to whom we listen carefully. I have never heard the allegation that his work is not peer-reviewed before.

Q379Graham Stringer: His report has not been peer-reviewed. It is not an allegation. We are dealing with facts; it is a fact.

Gregory Barker: Are you referring to his report in 2008?

Graham Stringer: Yes.

Gregory Barker: I think it was in 2008, or it may have been earlier. It was fundamentally a work of economics rather than climate science. Lord Stern is an economist, not a climate scientist, but certainly on issues of economics we listen to Lord Stern not exclusively but very carefully.

Q380Graham Stringer: What about the point about treating sceptics as just noise?

Gregory Barker: I do not agree with him there. That is to a certain degree wishful thinking. Politicians in particular have a duty to engage in the debate. The question is how much of the debate you allow them to dominate. I think it is right that we should reply, as we do in Westminster Hall or the House of Commons, to sceptics from within and outside Parliament. Of course, we listen to their views and treat them with respect, but we should not let the views of a relatively small minority dominate the whole agenda.

Q381Graham Stringer: You did a bit of a body swerve previously when I asked you about disagreements between Ministers. Do you think all Ministers have an obligation to be on message when Owen Paterson has recently been criticised for what he said? Do you think all Ministers should be on message?

Gregory Barker: Most Governments strive to have all Ministers on message at all times, but, when you are dealing with a collection of dozens of politicians, that can be slightly stretching.

Q382Graham Stringer: The two books that I have found most useful in thinking about climate science are Professor MacKay’s and Dieter Helm’s. First, do you get people in your Departments and Ministers to read your book? I think it would be very helpful if they did. Secondly, Dieter Helm’s thesis is that the Climate Change Act in essence is counterproductive because it focuses on emissions and not the overall carbon budget. On the first question, I would be interested in your reply.

Gregory Barker: You gave me a copy the first time I met you.

Graham Stringer: It would show the education level of Ministers and officials.

Q383Chair: Have you read it?

Gregory Barker: It was my summer homework in 2010.

Q384Graham Stringer: On the second point, do you believe that the Climate Change act is working, or is Dieter Helm right and it is counterproductive?

Professor MacKay: In answer to your first question, as the Minister said, the moment anyone senior arrives in DECC I personally give them a copy of my book. That goes for all Ministers and senior civil servants.

Q385Graham Stringer: Do they read it?

Professor MacKay: I have had very positive feedback from many of the people in the Department who have read my book.

Q386Graham Stringer: It is a very good book. What do you say on the "Dieter Helm" point?

Professor MacKay: On your question about Dieter Helm, he has a political point.

Q387Graham Stringer: It is not political. He is saying, quite simply, that the Climate Change Act focuses on reducing the emissions of carbon in this country and that by focusing on that you are increasing the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, because we import already produced goods so you pay for the transport and probably less efficient production in the third world.

Professor MacKay: It is certainly a matter of fact that, if you look at our consumption emissions and compare them with our production emissions, our consumption emissions, according to the people we employ to estimate them for us, have been rising. The only way in which successful climate change action will happen is if all countries engage in mitigation policies to reduce emissions. I think Dieter Helm has a good point, as I have said this before, but the Department is committed to trying to achieve a global deal on climate change action.

Q388Graham Stringer: My question is that in the short term by pressing down on emissions are we not having a counterproductive impact?

Gregory Barker: Do you think we should encourage emissions?

Q389Graham Stringer: No, that is not the point I am making at all. I am saying that, if you reduce emissions here and import already produced goods, the overall budget for carbon dioxide will increase, whereas if you had allowed the production here you may well have less carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.

Professor MacKay: The Department is very conscious of the effect you are describing, so we take careful measures to try to avoid the export of energy-intensive industries to other countries.

Q390David Morris: We have been told about the particular difficulty in separating science and policy. What difficulty does this cause your Department in its work?

Gregory Barker: I am sorry-I do not quite understand that.

David Morris: I will repeat that.

Gregory Barker: No; I heard the question. I could explain the difficulties that we have. Is there a particular point, because we have trotted round this?

Q391David Morris: The point is that sometimes it can be misconstrued that policy often masquerades as science. What difficulties does this cause your Department in its work? Do you get the two remits mixed up sometimes, or is it perceived to be mixed in that particular way?

Gregory Barker: There is no doubt that I am a politician and not a scientist, so I steer clear of trying to inform anybody too heavily on the science. I think politicians should take the science from the experts.

Professor MacKay: Maybe I can give a partial answer to your question. People do mix up the science, which is factual, with the policy response, which is and ought to be subject to political argument. An example of someone who has deliberately mixed up these things is Nigel Lawson, who, in a recent newspaper article insulting the IPCC’s work, alleged that the IPCC was calling for a phase-out of fossil fuel use. That is not the IPCC’s role at all. They are scientists reviewing the science literature and describing what is happening, the consequences of continued emissions and, if policy were to have a particular target for climate change, what emissions would be compatible with that target. That is not their role and they do not recommend any particular policy. They just say, "If you emit this much, this is what will happen," with error bars. It is unhelpful for people like Nigel Lawson to mix up and allege that the IPCC are a political organisation, when their role is clearly to describe science as honestly and factually as they can.

Q392David Morris: Information for the public of some of your policies-the Green Deal for example-does not explicitly make the link to climate change. Was this a deliberate approach?

Gregory Barker: Yes. I think there is a willingness by the public to act on climate change and all other environmental imperatives, but that is limited to a certain amount of the public. For most people they will not act in a way that will cost them money when they have many other competing demands on family budgets, particularly in the current environment with the pressures on the cost of living.

As far as concerns the Green Deal, we have to be very clear that, while there are obvious advantages to the environment and climate change in particular, specifically helping to reduce emissions from the built environment, the real driver for most consumers in taking up the Green Deal should be that it will help them save money on their energy bill; it will help them to live in a warmer, healthier, cosier home. Although individual polls vary slightly, we know that there is a significant body of opinion-20% to 30%-who will do it for environmental reasons; a slightly larger number will do it for financial reasons; but, even in the current climate, the largest single body of those willing to make changes to their homes and install measures will do it effectively for home improvement to make their homes nicer, warmer, cosier and improve the fabric of their homes. When communicating messages, particularly when there is a call to action, it is important that we go with the grain of public aspirations and consumer behaviour rather than try to oblige people to act when we are looking to them to act on their own initiative.

Q393Chair: Sometimes those things run in parallel, do they not?

Gregory Barker: Yes, absolutely; they are not mutually exclusive.

Q394Chair: If you take the advertising of modern cars, the fact that a vehicle produces less than 99 g/km, or whatever, is an advertising feature. It is a climate change message as well as being a fiscal incentive, because it is a lower tax band.

Gregory Barker: But you tend to find that, given a like-for-like product at a similar price, a lot of consumers will say, "If there’s not really much between them, I will go for the more environmentally friendly." That is right. But if you say, "You can have either the old polluting model, which will be cheaper, or pay extra for the cleaner version," very few people-not very few but fewer-will say, "I will pay up to have the cleaner one." I am glad to say there are people who do do that, but we have to make it easy for the public. We have to make public policy at the macro level a "no regrets" policy for the economy as a whole, and we have to make individual consumer choices attractive for them. We cannot allow this debate to be polarised into expensive climate action versus cheap fossil fuel habits. That does not reflect the reality of consumer choices anyway. Often, the more energy-efficient and innovative technology choices are the ones that will benefit the consumer across a number of metrics.

Q395David Morris: Is it better to ignore the science completely to encourage action by the public and focus on other messages, such as energy security and efficiency and impacts such as flooding?

Gregory Barker: I certainly would not ignore the science, but we can run these issues in parallel, and I see no contradiction or difficulty in doing that. If you are in an area at risk of coastal flooding in the near term, that will be very much on your mind rather than the longer-term implications for global climate change. That will resonate with you much more directly. Issues around energy security are equally valid, and we need a measured approach across the board. We need to keep the lights on; we need national energy security; we need to keep prices down; and we need to manage the low-carbon transition. These are all important factors and we cannot play one at the expense of the other.

Q396Pamela Nash: I would like to return to the IPCC report. Could you expand a bit on how that might affect UK policy on climate change?

Gregory Barker: In terms of the impact on policy, I do not think there is a major policy shift to come from the UK as a result of this. It is more likely that we will see a drive for greater action on the part of our international partners. I was in New York representing the UK in the Major Economies Forum, which is a smaller group of nations that come together to discuss international climate negotiations on an ad hoc basis through the year in the run-up to the annual COP, which this year will be in Warsaw. Unfortunately, we had the meeting of the MEF just days before the IPCC released their report but we had already anticipated it. It is very useful to be able to present that body of work on an objective basis to that forum, given the large number of contributors from a number of different nations. It is undoubtedly going to be a factor in convincing other more important economies than ours in the climate change agenda to take more aggressive action to bear down on emissions.

The fact of the matter is that the UK is an international leader on climate change. Our emissions are down 25% to 26% on 1990 already. I cannot think of another major economy that is able to make that statement. If you are talking about developing economies, you are talking about lessening of carbon intensity and limiting their growth-not absolute reductions. It is welcome that the United States has seen a reduction in its net carbon inventory in the last couple of years, largely as a result of the shift to shale gas, but obviously there are impacts there because, unless there is a wider take-up of gas in other economies around the world, all that will happen is that you will displace coal from the US into other markets, so there will not be a global net benefit.

The IPCC report is a useful piece of evidence to encourage global action. I do not want to sound complacent, but we already have a statutory obligation to reduce by 80%. Only a handful of countries have similar unilateral commitments. We need to see meaningful action on the part of the largest emitters, and that is where the IPCC report will, I hope, have its greatest impact.

Q397Pamela Nash: That was really helpful. I want to talk a little before we finish about the reporting of the IPCC report and your role and that of your Department in that. What preparation took place in the Department for that report being published and your response in the media to that?

Gregory Barker: We started planning for it some months in advance. It was flagged up in my diary back in June that I should be available on a Friday. Normally, I would not be in London on a Friday; I would be in my constituency. Obviously we cannot control the media, so there has to be a degree of responsiveness, but we certainly had one of the biggest operations as far as the Department is concerned that I can remember for some time in anticipating and trying to manage it as best we could. There was a very comprehensive briefing for the Minister, albeit we got the final report only a few hours ahead of its release. But there was excellent support from the science team in the Department. Professor MacKay and I hit the airwaves; Ed Davey hit the airwaves from China. I thought that was rather good given the importance of developing economies, particularly China, in this whole agenda. It was pretty comprehensive. I am sure we can improve on it.

Q398Pamela Nash: Did that strategy extend beyond the actual day of publication? Is there a strategy going forward even now?

Gregory Barker: Absolutely. This goes back to the earlier point that we were both discussing about not allowing the IPCC’s big lump of evidence to impact and for it to be unpicked only for a couple of news cycles and then put to one side. We need to do a better job-we will endeavour to do that-of pulling out evidence and introducing it where possible into the media in a way that is topical and relevant as we go through the year and beyond, but there is an imperative. If you want the thing to get coverage, you have to have a hook or angle, so we need to keep pressing the refresh button. The publication of further reports next spring will be very helpful, but we certainly will continue to talk about it and be heard as best we can before then.

David Warrilow: We had public presentations of the report at the Royal Society last Tuesday to a mixture of industry, NGOs and the public, and also presentations to Whitehall. Nearly 200 civil servants turned up for a briefing from the co-chair of the IPCC who dealt with this particular report. We also gave advice to the Foreign Office to inform posts round the world so that they could talk about the report in their own embassies and with the people they deal with abroad. We have undertaken quite a wide range of activities to explain what the report is about, to comment on it and make sure the information is out there. The IPCC are also doing quite a lot of work to promote the report, as you might expect.

Q399Pamela Nash: Thank you for that information. We heard evidence earlier this morning that, whereas we are always talking about how much scientists are trusted in the press, there seem to be different levels of trust in scientists who work for the Government compared with independent scientists or university academics. I would love to hear all your views on who is trusted by the public and how we can use that better to communicate this to the public.

Gregory Barker: I have some statistics here. The trust is highest in scientists working at universities. The latest data show it is 93%; so universities rank highest. It is followed by those working for charities, where it is 76%; for environmental groups it is 72%, which is the same as Government actually.

Pamela Nash: You look surprised, Minister.

Gregory Barker: For industry, it is 56%. You are right that those who are independent of Government in universities rank the highest. Then charities, environmental groups and Government are all pretty much of a muchness, and industry is quite some way below. I will make sure you get that.4

Q400Pamela Nash: Do you see a greater role for the Met Office, research councils and other organisations?

Gregory Barker: Professor MacKay may like to expand on this. We are actively in discussion with the Met Office on how we can better use their expertise.

Professor MacKay: To go back to your original question, it is a sad truth that apparently coming to work for Government has decreased the fraction of people who trust me.

Q401Pamela Nash: I am afraid you will not get sympathy from politicians.

Professor MacKay: We are working actively with the Met Office to try to enhance their communications.

Q402Chair: Do those statistics mean that, given the correct public perception of the independence of some of our research scientists, even though they are funded through public money at places like the Hadley Centre, research agencies like the National Oceanography Centre, universities and so on, there is a strong argument in this field for maintaining the perceived independence of those bodies by keeping them out of the private sector? The private sector has much lower buy-in according to those figures.

Gregory Barker: I am not quite sure I know what you mean by "out of the private sector."

Q403Chair: There have been discussions, have there not, about the long-term future of Wallingford and institutes like that? Is this not an argument against that?

Gregory Barker: Our survey was based on industry, which is not synonymous with the private sector. So the nature of the funding of these institutions was not something that really worried the public. How they are endowed is not something that weighs heavily on their mind; it is about the calibre and independence of the institution. When they see industry, it means that, if you are in the business of making money out of smelting metal, extracting coal, or you are an oil company, obviously that will weigh heavily on whether or not you are seen as an independent arbiter of the science. I do not think even the most robust advocate of privatisation would advocate that the Hadley Centre, or any other of these research institutes, should go into the business of prospecting for oil.

Q404Chair: You have not listened to all the cases, obviously. This is worrying. Minister, we have covered a lot of ground. You and your very impressive colleagues have a huge responsibility in this. If there are areas we have not covered that you feel would help to inform this inquiry, we would be grateful if you dropped us a formal note. We have determined this morning that, although ministerial sessions are usually the last ones in an inquiry, unusually we are going to take one more in an attempt to persuade some of those people who have contrary views on the science to come and explain to us where they are coming from.

Gregory Barker: Thank you. It has been very useful from our point of view. I reiterate that we do not pretend we have the silver bullet, and it is a constantly evolving challenge to communicate this effectively. I will be very interested to see your final report and its recommendations about how you feel we can do this better, and also the submission of institutions like the BBC, so that we can move on from that slightly sterile debate around the science.

Chair: Thank you very much.

[1] The Minister later clarified that, t he Society receives a grant of £47m pa, most of which is used to support research fellowships for the UK's most outstanding scientists. But it does include £515k to support the Society's public engagement programme, including their highly successful annual Summer Science Exhibition. The £47m is the total grant, it is not "extra" to another amount.

[2] The Minister later clarified that, t his refers to the 'Gateway to Research'. A beta version is currently accessible ( The final version is planned to be launched before the end of 2013.



Prepared 1st April 2014