Select Committee on Economic Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-61)

Sir John Houghton

18 JANUARY 2005

  Q60Lord Vallance of Tummel: One of the complexities of this is the interplay between the science and the economics. They are different languages and different disciplines. Could you comment firstly on whether the IPCC as a forum allows a genuine exchange of these two interplaying disciplines—and I have to say I am slightly sceptical of big international forums allowing you to do that kind of thing—and, secondly, whether the models that are used are capable of integrating the two disciplines and getting sensible answers?

  Sir John Houghton: Well, the IPCC started off very much on the scientific and natural science end but we all realised when we began that we were only doing this because we could hand it over to policy people and the economists in the end, so we felt we should really try and get them on board too. The natural science end was easier because there is more of a tradition of scientists working together internationally on something like climate, whereas there is very little tradition of economists working together internationally. That is still a problem—I think economists do not naturally join in that sort of activity so readily as people in the natural sciences. Nevertheless, the IPCC has made substantial headway with doing that and when you put models together which are climate models added to impact models added to economic models, then you have to be very wary indeed of the sort of answers you are getting, and how realistic they are and so on, but nevertheless you have to try to do that sort of thing in order to help yourself on your way to discover what the real policy should be. Others can comment on how far you could do that.

  Q61Lord Sheldon: Talking about this business of a hundred years and things like that, I have an obsession that over a period of time like this you are going to get as much pure water as you want from all those oceans. It has astonished me that if one were alive a hundred years from now we would have as much water as we wanted. Given that situation does that not change the position with the problems that you have been describing or have some effect on them?

  Sir John Houghton: We have got used as human beings to the amount of water that is available in our regions and in the way we live. If that distribution changes seriously, if we get a lot less water, then we have got to get it from somewhere and that is a big infrastructure problem. If we get too much water we are going to get floods and we have also got to cope with drought. In the developed world on the whole we can cope with that. In a hundred years we can build whatever is necessary in order to cope with those problems and we will probably have to do quite a lot of that. In developing countries that is a lot harder. In Bangladesh 10 million people at the moment are living below the one-metre contour. What are they going to do when the sea level rises? They will have to move. You cannot build walls around that, so you get big problems. If you have droughts on a scale in sub-Saharan Africa which we have not had before, more frequent and more intense, that is a major problem in the world. We could try and feed them, of course, by trucking food in, but that is not a way of solving their problems, of living and working and all that sort of thing. They will want to move. It is the best thing they could do out of self-interest and Norman Myers looked at it and wrote a report on how many refugees we could expect by 2050 and he came up with a figure of 150 million and it was a conservative report. That is a lot of people What do you do with them? That is a very serious issue.

  Chairman: I think we ought to draw this session to a close as we have another witness. I am very grateful to you for coming and giving us very comprehensive answers to our questions and I hope we did not show our ignorance too much in the way we put some of the questions, but at least we are all wiser as a result of what you have had to tell us this afternoon.

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