Memorandum by Professor Sir David King,
Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government
1. The Committee has stated in its call
for evidence that the Inquiry will not be examining the scientific
side of climate change, which has clearly been the main focus
of my attention as the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser.
Defra leads for the Government on the majority of the policy issues
raised by the Committee, and will be submitting evidence in a
2. This Memorandum therefore focuses on
those questions where there is a particular science or research
3. Based on the science, the key driver
for policy at both UK and EU levels is clear and, not withstanding
the often complex nature of climate change science, relatively
simple. We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activity
to avoid the worst impacts of climate change that is now inevitable,
most notably carbon dioxide as the biggest contributor. There
is a need for a step change in energy efficiency and for a radical
shift from use of fossil fuels to low carbon energy generation.
To achieve these ends, determined action is required at both Member
State and EU level, as well as globally.
4. Climate change is not just an issue for
the longer term, though it is certainly that, but one that requires
action now. I therefore welcome that a range of initiatives are
being pursued at EU level to complement and to support action
by Member States, including the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, negotiations
with manufacturers to reduce vehicle emissions, and through support
for the research, development and introduction of low carbon technologies.
5. For its part, with centres of excellence
such as Hadley and Tyndall, the UK is a world leader on climate
science. It is vital that we should continue to invest adequately
in such research, working closely on this with EU and other partners
to improve our understanding of the impacts of climate change
and of adaptation options.
6. The establishment of a National Energy
Research Centre later this year will provide enhanced leadership
and cohesion to UK energy research, and will also provide a focus
point for wider international engagement.
Q3(a) How well understood is climate change
among the public at large? Do many people know of its current
and predicted effects? Do people know of its causes? Do people
know what they can do to mitigate the effects of climate change?
7. A report published by the Economic and
Social Research Council last yearprovides
an insight into these questions. The research explores public
understanding of climate change issues (along with issues connected
with MMR and cloning/genetic medical research) and the link between
public understanding and media coverage.
8. The study found that most people do appreciate
that human activities, such as use of fossil fuels and deforestation,
are a cause of global warming. However it was also established
that few people understand the mechanics of the greenhouse effect,
even at a simple level, and that people often mix up the causes
of climate change with other environmental issues.
9. For example, a survey of 1,000 people
conducted in October 2002 revealed that 53 per cent believed thinning
of the ozone layer to be a cause of climate change, whilst just
16 per cent believed that greenhouse gases affect climate by preventing
heat from escaping from the atmosphere. 45 per cent saw nuclear
power as a cause of climate change, despite the fact that nuclear
power is a carbon-free energy source.
10. This confusion over the causes of global
warming was reflected in the difficulty people had in understanding
the link between their own daily choices and climate change. For
example, asked which of the following options would have the least
effect on climate change: (i) purchasing organically produced
apples from New Zealand or (ii) purchasing non-organic apples
grown locally, 23 per cent opted for the New Zealand apples and
a further 34 per cent said they didn't know.
11. This confusion is perhaps not surprising
given that just 2 per cent of the media articles about climate
change reviewed by the researchers made any reference to how people
might contribute to reducing the rate of climate change.
12. Understanding of the consequences of
climate change was greater. For example 53 per cent appreciated
that global warming is generally predicted to result in more rainfall
in Britain in winter. However people tended to be most aware of
the consequences of global warming in the British context, whilst
many of the most serious impacts will be felt in the third world
13. The authors of the study, in my view
rightly, conclude that the lack of even a basic understanding
of the mechanics of the greenhouse effect is in itself not a problem.
More of a problem for democratic citizenship to work is the confusion
over its causes and consequences, making it difficult both for
people to judge the merits of climate change proposals and to
be aware of the impact of their day-to-day consumer choices on
14. A further and perhaps even more significant
finding of the report was that although people, when prompted,
express concern about climate change and say that the government
should do more to tackle it, when polled more generally about
what issues concerned them environmental issues barely register.
15. The full ESRC report can be found at:
Q4. Are EU policies regarding energy and
renewable technologies compatible with climate change policy?
Should there be more integration between these initiatives?
16. The development of renewable energyparticularly
energy from wind, water, solar power and biomassis a central
aim of the European Commission's energy policy. The Commission's
White Paper for a Community Strategy set out a strategy to double
the share of renewable energies in gross domestic energy consumption
in the European Union by 2010 to 12 per cent (from 6 per cent
in 1997). The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions is a major
Community objective and the European Commission rightly recognises
that renewable energy has an important role to play in this.
17. The primary mechanism for increasing
the penetration of renewables at the EU level through improvements
in technology is via the EU's Sixth Framework Programme. The strategic
and policy objectives of this programme of research into sustainable
energy systems include reducing greenhouse gases and pollutant
emissions (in line with Kyoto commitments), increasing the security
of energy supplies, improving energy efficiency and increasing
the use of renewable energy.
18. In the short to medium term, the EU
policy goal is to pave the way for the introduction of innovative
and cost competitive renewable and energy efficiency technologies
into the market as quickly as possible through demonstration and
other research actions aimed at the market. The medium to long
term research objective is to develop new and renewable energy
sources, and new carriers such as hydrogen which are both affordable
and clean and which can be well integrated into a future sustainable
energy supply both for stationary and transport applications.
19. It is disappointing that the budget
for research, technology development and demonstration type activities
in the area of sustainable energy systems has been cut from that
available under the Fifth Framework Programme, but the direction
of the work programme is broadly in line with UK priorities, most
notably to increase the penetration of renewables and the alleviation
of climate change.
20. The priority attached to energy research,
development and demonstration will clearly need to be revisited
during consultations and discussions on the development of the
Seventh Framework Programme, which will run from 2006-10.
21. It is a welcome development that the
recently published document: "An Environmental Technologies
Action Plan for the European Union" had as a core theme the
need to tackle climate change and to move to a low carbon energy
22. Fusion offers the potential in the longer
term for a clean, sustainable and greenhouse gas free source of
electricity. Europe, the world leader in fusion technology, is
a key participant in the international partnership to develop
ITER, the facility for testing the feasibility of fusion power
generation. The European Commission leads the formulation of EU
policy in this area and represents the EU in the international
negotiations. The Commission has been working very hard with the
international partners in this project to develop an approach
to ITER's development which would be acceptable to all parties.
Q6. The EU has played a significant role
in international negotiations on climate change. What role should
the EU play in shaping future international objectives after the
2008-12 commitment period laid down in Kyoto?
23. The EU will have a leading role to play
in developing the post-2012 international framework for emissions
reduction, a process which will need to be informed by the most
up-to-date scientific evidence.
24. By setting itself the target of achieving
a 60 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 the Government
has placed the UK at the forefront of international efforts to
tackle climate change. I should like to see similar leadership
shown by the EU in the negotiations that lie ahead.
20 February 2004
1 Towards a better map; Science, the public and the
media. ESRC: Professor Ian Hargreaves, Professor Justin Lewis
and Tammy Speers. Back
In a survey by Mori in December 2002, environmental issues came
19th on the list of key issues people said were facing Britain,
below trade unions and inflation. Back