Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-150)|
10 MARCH 2004
Professor Sir David King, Mr Nick Grout, Mr John
Holmes and Mr Simon Crabbe
Q140 Lord Lewis of Newnham: I agree with
everything you have said but one of the things I find rather worrying
is if you look at fluorine containing compounds. You are going
up by 20 in going from CO2 to methane in danger to climate change
but here you are going up by 20,000 per molecule in going to C-F
compounds. My understanding is that there is a tendency now to
be using more HCFCs in air-conditioning in motor cars and things
of this particular sort. That is now being released, but there
is going to be what I shall call the fridge problem: we have to
dispose of them. Is there any control being put into trying to
reduce the CFC compounds and using, say, just straight hydrocarbons
in your refrigeration processes? I know by comparison it is a
minor point but it could be the straw that does the metaphorical
job on the camel's back.
Q141 Chairman: A brief answer, because we
have kept you for an hour, and we must get back to the EU, for
a moment, too.
Sir David King: A brief answer would suit me
very well, and I could give a written response to the question.
Very briefly, though, the European Union does have in train a
process of looking at, especially, the fluorine-containing carbon
compounds that you have mentioned and bringing them under control.
Perhaps I could amplify the answer in a written response.
Chairman: Thank you very much. That is much appreciated.
Q142 Lord Haskins: I would like to bring
us back to the Committee's remit. You have given us a very detailed
explanation of what is going on in the scientific world, very
impressively. The worry about that is that a lot of that is going
to take a long time to come. Human behaviour, on the other hand,
if we can change that quite quickly, produces quite short-term
results, if we can do it. Eighty per cent of our regulation in
this country on the environment is EU-based. It is actually quite
convenient for national politicians to say, "We have to abide
by this Directive because it is a European one" (one area
where even sceptics find being a member of Europe helps, because
they can run behind it). My question is: are we doing enough,
is the European Union doing enough, in terms of affecting human
behaviour, through regulation? The interesting other issue is
the different reactions of various Member States' citizens towards
these problems. If we could get the lowest common denominator
up to the highest common denominator what difference would that
make? With the arrival of the accession countries, where a huge
amount of work has got to be done, is the EU facing up to these
things and doing as much as it realistically can?
Sir David King: I think, again, Lord Haskins
is asking a very important question, which is more directed at
the social sciences than the hard sciences, but I think it is
very, very important. How do we change attitudes and cultural
approaches on this issue? Of course, much of what we have been
discussing is about the change in cultural attitudes towards this
problem. Smogs used to cover London, and in 1953 there were 11,000
fatalities in London due to the terrible smog that year. It took
that for the culture change to emerge where people said, "Let's
do something about this." I am afraid it seems to take some
kind of disaster of that magnitude. The scientists knew what was
causing the smogcarbon particulates from incomplete combustion
of coalso it was a matter of banning coal burning, and
the problem was dealt with. I think we need to see if we can avert
that. Interestingly, I gave a talk on climate change at the Ambassador's
residence in Paris, which was very well attended by the French
community, and I pointed out that the 15,000 deaths last year
in France alone from that excessive summer that they had could
be directly linked into climate change. I was told that nobody
had raised this as a climate change issue in France. So, interestingly,
one cannot take it for granted that people do make these connections.
Q143 Earl Peel: And, presumably, the increase
in fires as well.
Sir David King: Yes.
Q144 Chairman: Also, in your article in
Science you make the point that the countries which will
suffer and where hundreds of thousands of deaths may happen are
India, Bangladesh and the Philippines. In a sense, is part of
the problem that it is a long way away, and the 15,000 in France,
because of the very hot summer last year is a very interesting
"at home" example?
Sir David King: Yes. I am afraid the figure
I give for South East Asia is more in tens of millions.
Q145 Lord Haskins: On the behaviour theme,
if you take food, which you mentioned, I guess 80 per cent of
the food the world produces is wasted. If we could deal with that
waste issue then we would be going a long way towards dealing
with the other problem of having another 4 billion people in the
world in the next 40 years, who are going to accelerate this problem.
Sir David King: That is absolutely right. If
you take energy wastage down power lines, it is enormous. We lose
electricity in transferring it from power stations to homes at
an enormous rate. High TC superconductors. We know we can put
super-conducting lines in that will not lose any energy; so there
are technologies and abilities to move this, and surely we can
introduce technologies into the food chain to improve that situation.
Q146 Earl Peel: On this question of wastage,
something we have not really touched upon is the question of aviation
fuel emissions. I suppose we really have to ask Sir David whether
he feels there is anything the EU could or should be doing in
that direction. Where food is being flown from all over the world
it is negating a lot of local production and availability.
Sir David King: The UK Government is currently
pressing the EU on the aviation fuel issue, so we are certainly
alive to that problem. If I can just free wheel on this, though,
it is a major problem because what you need to stop is the possibility
of planes landing at small, offshore islands simply for refuelling.
It is a major international problem and I think it will require
global agreement. We are pressing the European Union for action
Q147 Chairman: Could you, finally, give
us an idea what further action, in your view, could be taken at
a scientific level to persuade those countries who have not yet
ratified the Kyoto Protocol of the need to take measures to reduce
emissions? As a follow-on to that, what would it take for the
scientific consensus to filter through to political actors?
Sir David King: I think that the international
scientific community has worked closely through the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. This includes scientists from right round
the world, including Russia, Australia and, of course, the United
Statesthe three countries that have not signed up to Kyoto.
So at the scientific level the consensus is there in all of those
countries. When I was in Seattle we took UK scientists with United
States' scientists just to make the point that the US scientists
were fully on board. The question is the conversion of the political
group into understanding, I think, the severity of this problem.
I am certainly planning to go to Russia in the near future because
I do think that once they have settled the election in Russia
we will need to discuss with the political people the importance
of their signing up. I think they know the importance. I think
I also know that we are in for some hard negotiations.
Q148 Lord Lewis of Newnham: Related to this,
it does seem to me that one of the critical features in all this
is going to be how industry as a whole views it, because they
are going to see this as a liability. Can it be presented to them
in any other way than a liability?
Sir David King: To the Russians?
Q149 Lord Lewis of Newnham: Yes.
Sir David King: For Russia, in essence, the
major advantage is in carbon trading because, as I say, 1990 is
the level on which carbon trading is based, and they are so far
below that level that they could literally have millions of dollars
on their hands in the carbon trading exercise. So it is actually
quite difficult to understand why that instanttodayeconomic
advantage cannot be seen as a means of powering their economic
growth. Once they have got the economic growth they would be able
to afford to be paying into the club. So the arguments, I think,
are quite strongly in favour.
Q150 Chairman: Sir David, you are obviously
an extremely good missionary for this very important cause. It
has been a delight for us all to listen to you and hear your answers.
What is also very pleasing is that despite the statistics there
is a clear note of optimism in your voice and in your thoughts
as well. Thank you, and your colleagues, very much indeed for
the time you have given us. You will be sent a draft transcript
of the meeting and if there is anything you wish to correct, please
do so. Thanks from us all.
Sir David King: My Lords, thanks very much,
and thank you for your kind comments.