Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-422)|
Professor Paul Ekins
22 MARCH 2005
Q420Lord Lawson of Blaby: We had a heated debate
very recently in this place of which that was one of the elements.
I would be interested in your analysis. Adaptation is a very important
matter which has been raised and you agree that it is an important
issue. Perhaps I can illustrate best by an example. You have talked
about whether you are going to have a barrier against a three
foot or two foot rise in sea water levels or a five foot one.
You said if you do a two foot barrier, it is going to be no use
if there is a five foot rise but this thing is happening over
a considerable period of time. It is not happening overnight.
You would have time to build a bigger barrier if events showed
that it was needed. If you knew that was going to happen, you
would do the big one straight away but equally it might be argued
that it is not sensible to build a barrier against a five foot
sea condition when you only need a two foot one. Has there been
any study? Can you give us a summary of what economists think
as between these two courses of action?
Professor Ekins: You have set out the issues
very well. Each of these decisions has in a sense to be taken
on its own merits on the basis of the best available knowledge
at the time. I do not happen to know whether people have evaluated
the relative costs, likelihoods and whatever about two foot as
against five foot barriers, but that is a very important thing
to be thinking about. I guess there will be literature on it.
It is something that I am not familiar with.
Q421Lord Lawson of Blaby: That is an example
but it is true with adaptation right across the board.
Professor Ekins: Indeed.
Q422Lord Lawson of Blaby: It is true with the
development of technologies. If you wait, it might cost you more
but you might get it right.
Professor Ekins: Of course. One of the great
difficulties in this particular area is that, if we thought there
was a likelihood that these changes would be incremental and gradual,
adaptation would be a much easier business. The fear is that these
changes may not be incremental and gradual. The fear is that something
may happen which we are not even thinking is possible now because
the climate system is complicated and we do not necessarily understand
it very well. Under those circumstances, this makes a rational,
marginal calculus of which economists, including me, are beloved
rather less relevant because we are not in a marginal situation
under those circumstances; we are in a situation of major changes
and shifts and it is under those circumstances that worst case
scenarios, precautionary principles or whatever the class of policy
approach is become more relevant.
Chairman: You have been answering questions for a
considerable time and we are very grateful to you. You have given
us some forthright answers on a whole range of issues. May I say,
on behalf of the Committee, thank you very much indeed for coming,
for sparing us all the time you have and for answering questions
in the way you have.