Thursday 23 October 2014
[Sir Alan Meale in the Chair]
Communicating Climate Science
[Relevant documents: Eighth Report of the Science and Technology Committee, Communicating Climate Science, HC 254, and the Government Response, HC 376.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Damian Hinds.)
It is a pleasure to present the Select Committee on Science and Technology’s report in your presence, Sir Alan. I know that you take these matters extremely seriously and I hope that, in the remaining months of this Parliament, the House will spend some time talking about the challenges that face us.
The Committee published its report in March. In it, we examined the level of understanding among the public of climate change; what voices the public trust for information; how understanding could be improved; and the role of the media and the Government in so doing. Our inquiry was prompted by our concern about the mismatch between the public’s understanding of climate change and its causes and the Government’s, which is reflected in many Government policies. We concluded that there is an urgent need for action.
The results of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s tracking survey in March showed that although only 35% of respondents thought that climate change was caused mainly or entirely by human activity, 68% were very or fairly concerned about it. However, when respondents were asked to explain how or why, most failed to give a clear answer. More worryingly, many are still unaware of the high level of scientific consensus that climate change is significant and that it is caused by human activity.
Why is that, when the basic science has been well understood for many years? Each of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s five reports since 1990 has been increasingly confident about not only the causes of climate change, but the impacts that the planet is experiencing. The latest report says:
“Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented”.
It also says:
“Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere”
and the “observed warming”. That seems to be a widely held view. Even—I will refer to this later—the Daily Mail eventually conceded to us in writing that it accepts a human element; what it did not agree with us about was what to do about that. The report continues:
“Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change’s inquiry in July concluded that the IPCC findings are based on
“thousands of peer-reviewed academic papers that together form a clear and unambiguous picture of a climate that is being dangerously destabilised.”
Despite that unequivocal scientific foundation, the IPCC’s processes still attract some criticism. It is not helpful to label those critics of the processes as “sceptics” or “deniers”, but the existence of that vocal minority is likely to reflect a much wider concern among the public in general that will require attention if the Government are indeed committed, as I believe they are, to their climate change policies.
The Committee was interested in where those critical of the IPCC process and the Government’s approach to climate change sought information and how those who were not actively engaged in the issue brought themselves up to speed. When people are asked where they get their information about science and climate change, the most common answer they give is the media—television, in particular. It was, therefore, somewhat disappointing that the BBC, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail all initially refused to provide evidence to our inquiry—it was not particularly surprising, though, as those three organisations have regularly been criticised for their inaccuracies or their failure to ensure balance when reporting on climate science.
Failures in the BBC are particularly concerning as it is the most utilised, and most trusted, source of information for the public. It seems bizarre that although the BBC takes great care not to create a false balance in politics—it would not put the Minister against someone from the Monster Raving Loony party in her constituency for a debate and consider that a matter of equals—in science it does create such an inequality. That is fundamentally wrong.
We considered that the BBC, as the country’s premier publicly funded broadcaster, had a greater responsibility to communicate scientific understanding properly, even if that meant compromising the potential for a good story. I think it is the potential to create a good story that tempts editors into creating the false balance that has sometimes occurred.
We did not consider the BBC’s policy of relying on individual editors’ abilities to judge the expertise of contributors to debates to be acceptable, especially as BBC news continued, even during the course of our inquiry, to allow opinion to be presented as fact and to use non-scientists to comment on climate science. It is clear that the BBC needs to develop editorial guidelines for all commentators and presenters on the facts of climate science.
The sensible recommendation for guidelines at the BBC led to my being accused of climate McCarthyism by a well known contributor to one of the publications I mentioned earlier. I am used to such accusations—a broad back is needed in this place—but that was typical of how, on serious matters, people resort to slinging mud rather than trying to have a rational discussion.
Thankfully, the BBC editorial complaints unit was much more constructive and sensible in its approach. It upheld a complaint—not by me—about the appearance of Lord Lawson, who, for all his talents, is not a scientist, on the “Today” programme opposite Sir Brian Hoskins, the most eminent scientist and professor of meteorology, to discuss the most recent IPCC report on climate science. The unit made it clear that, when appropriate, the opinion of minorities should be heard—in political terms we agree that the BBC should give some airtime to minority views—but, it conceded,
“it is important to ensure that such views are put into the appropriate context and given due, rather than equal, weight”.
I want to be clear. The Committee did not say that non-scientists should not be allowed to talk about the climate; nor did we say that Ministers should not be challenged on their use of science—we have sometimes found Ministers to have a looser grasp on scientific fact than we would like, but that is not the point. What we said was that, when climate science is being discussed, it should be discussed by scientists. Obviously, discussion of policy that may or may not derive from that science should be open to all. That interface, the use by the Government of the scientific expertise that they call on, has a well established methodology. In some cases it works brilliantly well, but it could be significantly strengthened in this case.
I would go further. I want everyone, not only people here in Parliament, to engage in the debate about climate policies that affect us. We have done that with other environmental subjects over the years. Think of some recent changes and campaigns ranging from those to clean up beaches to those to improve recycling and so on. They were done through a great deal of public engagement, but we do not seem to be as effective in respect of climate change policies.
Politicians do themselves and the general public a gross disservice when they attempt to dispute widely established, peer-reviewed science simply because they disagree with the proposed policies. It is perfectly in order for Parliament and Ministers to listen to scientific advice, but to come to different policy conclusions because of broader policy issues. That happens from time to time. It is simply wrong, however, that we should seek to dismiss science, as happens from time to time, as a way of dealing with something with which we do not agree in terms of the policy outcomes. That point was highlighted by a recent speech by a former Secretary of State.
Given the problems that we found with how climate science is debated and reported in the media, it was clear to us that the role of scientists and Government as communicators becomes even more relevant. While I have had the privilege of chairing the Select Committee in this Parliament, and virtually all the rest of my time in Parliament, I have worked on how the interface between science and policy works. Although an awful lot happens in this place, it is not enough. We need to help Members of Parliament to understand complex scientific matters in a more effective way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and I were at a hearing yesterday about complex matters to do with mitochondrial DNA. We have been bombarded by information. Some is based on misinterpretation of the science, while some mixes objections of an ethical nature—I respect people’s right to have such objections—with a misinterpretation of the science to produce the result wanted. We have to get away from that. We have to have a more coherent, evidence-based policy-making system.
The scientists and scientific bodies we spoke to all agreed that scientists need to communicate more and better. That can be difficult and is somewhat time-consuming. A while back, I spoke to a leading scientist who was in the early stages of research into genetically modified foods. He said that he found communicating impossible, adding, “Come and look at the scars on my back.” That is part of the problem. Some scientists, because of the way in which they have been treated when commenting on some things, have found it difficult to come into the public domain and talk with the kind of freedom that they should have in such complex debates.
Our report acknowledged the difficulties and the time consumed, but we were clear that scientists who are publicly funded and work in the climate science field, which is of such relevance to policy, ought to be under an obligation to communicate to a wider audience if that will aid public understanding. We fully endorse the chief scientist’s view that scientific research is not complete until it is communicated effectively.
Bearing that in mind, we were surprised that the Royal Society was also, originally, reluctant to contribute to our inquiry. We were disappointed to find a limited effort on the society’s part to communicate with the public on the issue, with no public meetings since 2010. It had, however, published a briefing on the science in February this year and held a meeting in July on the physics of climate change. That is in stark contrast to the sterling work of the society’s president, Sir Paul Nurse, who has spoken strongly in support of climate scientists and climate science. We welcome the efforts of the president, but would like to see more effort from the Royal Society itself, a publicly funded scientific body, to engage directly and inform the public at large.
The Government, in their response to our report, considered scientists to be the most important communicators about climate science and stated that all Government communication should be consistent with scientific peer review. We certainly agree. Information, however, needs to be put into context, but scientists who move on to talk about policy are inevitably seen as politicising their science. That has happened all too readily in climate politics. Each new piece of published research is quickly grabbed as supporting evidence, or trashed as biased or inadequate in one way or another. It is a challenge.
If scientists should talk science, it is obvious that politicians should talk the politics. For a policy issue that crosses so many political boundaries, a coherent message from all Ministers and their associated organisations is important. We found, however, little evidence during our inquiry of any significant co-ordination in Government or among Government agencies and bodies at national or local levels to communicate the implications of the science. That is despite the evidence that what the public want is clear, consistent communication and leadership from the Government on climate change. As far as the public are concerned, the most important communicator about climate change is the Government. At the moment, we think that they are failing.
Last year, a communications capability review of the Department of Energy and Climate Change found, unsurprisingly, that DECC had one of the smallest communications teams in Whitehall—it had been reduced too heavily in 2010—and that there was a clear need for a head of communication, a role that had been left vacant for more than two years before being filled in August. Unfortunately, after another gap, the post was refilled only two weeks ago.
It is difficult not to conclude that the Government’s failure to ensure adequate resources and continuity for the Department’s communications team may explain their inability to present a clear narrative about climate change, as indicated in our report. That lack of effective communication about climate change needs to be a priority for the new head of communication, as should the proper provision of resources have been. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.
It is also disappointing to see so little progress since the Government published their response to us in June. I remind the Minister that we were told that a climate narrative would be finalised and made public shortly—I look forward to seeing it, but wonder how long “shortly” is. In Government, that sometimes means a long time away, but we produced a serious report, so I expect a serious definition of “shortly” to emerge today.
We were also told that the Department would be improving the presentation of climate science on gov.uk—not much has happened—and that it would establish a science expert communications group and a cross-Government climate change communications group. I would like to know what has happened to that proposal. When are the groups going to start communicating? Will they have a mechanism to communicate with Members with regard to our role of communicating with our constituents? The Government were also to publish a joint communication with learned societies and national academies.
Those are all welcome, positive steps in the right direction, but there is little, if any, evidence of progress. We are told that a climate narrative is still due shortly, as is the update of gov.uk. The only development is that there is now a cross-Government climate change communications group, but details are minimal and we do not know how frequently it meets, what it discusses or with whom it communicates—is it just with Ministers or with the broader civil service? Is it intended to engage with Parliament? I would also be interested to know what is on its agenda.
A year and a half after we announced our inquiry and six months after the publication of our report, it is quite disappointing that so little progress has been made. At the same time, the need for effective communication and engagement on the issue is greater than ever. Will the Minister provide us with some idea of when we can expect clear and measurable progress in implementing the Government’s proposals, many of which were suggested in our report? That would go some way to addressing some of the issues I have raised today.
In conclusion, there is a broad understanding across the House that there is nothing simple about the messages that need to be communicated. Responsibility for the issue spills over into several Departments, ranging from those responsible for the BBC through to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, DECC and so on. There needs to be a joined-up narrative designed to help us do a job that is immensely complicated. Taking scientific messages to our constituents is difficult.
I raised a scientific issue on the Floor of the House yesterday, because there is a huge amount of misinformation about hydraulic fracturing, an issue on which I happen to agree with the previous Secretary of State. Science messages are being dominated by people with a pre-cast agenda. We have to get away from that and deal with things as they truly are, not as some people would have us believe. In presenting this report on behalf of my Committee, I hope that we will see some progress. We are dealing with very long-term issues, so I hope there can be a high degree of cross-party consensus.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, on his final point. It is important to separate scientific fact, evidence and theory from policy making. When policy making and science collide, there are often the most horrific difficulties, as people who want to change the policy try to change the scientific facts. We have seen that with stem cell research and we are seeing it at the moment on mitochondrial replacement therapy. People with quite genuine and reasonable ethical objections try to distort the science to get the policy they want.
There are particular difficulties around climate science, both in this country and internationally. Professor Trewavas, a fellow of the Royal Society, pointed out in his evidence to the Committee the fundamental difficulty of climate science, which is that there is not a single scientist on the planet who can distinguish between natural variation in climate and those changes in the climate system that are caused by anthropogenic interference. Nobody can do that, which is why climate models are so important in the debate on climate science.
The difficulty is that models do not conform easily to normal scientific method and analysis. The basis of science and the scientific method—Karl Popper laid down probably the clearest basis for it—is that hypotheses can be tested and things can be disproved. That is extraordinarily difficult with models. We must realise that a lot of climate science is based on models, not on the normal scientific method under which we can disprove and falsify hypotheses. That is a difficulty.
Just for clarity, when my hon. Friend had a proper job, a long time ago, he was a chemist. Will he confirm that his argument applies to any science in which we cannot see and touch the evidence? For example, some aspects of astronomy and palaeontology would fit in that category.
When we cannot repeat experiments, as we cannot with astronomy, we get into a difficult but different area. There is a difference between climate science and astronomy and cosmology, because of the ability to make and test direct observations in a way that is particularly difficult when we are relying on computer models. My hon. Friend makes an intelligent and sensible point, but cosmology and astronomy are not quite the same as climate science.
My point is that it is not just non-scientists who have become enthusiasts for policy, but scientists as well. Many of my views on climate science were formed during the investigation that the previous Science and Technology Committee and this one carried out into the “Climategate” e-mails from the university of East Anglia. I am not going to go down the path of analysing that case—although we have a lot of time, so I suppose one could—but from reading those e-mails and talking to the people involved, I came to the firm conclusion that, at best, those scientists were guilty of noble cause corruption. They believed so fundamentally in what they were doing and the policies that they wanted that some of their scientific work was below the standards one normally expects. Professor Kelly of the university of Cambridge, who was part of the panel that looked at the work of those scientists, said that their methodology had turned 300 years of the scientific method on its head. It was also clear that they were not using the latest and best statistical methods, and they could not even reproduce their own work because they had lost the papers. That is not science but narrative. That case informs a lot of the discussion about climate science.
When looking to communicate something, we need to know what we are talking about. The first lesson in debate and discussion for undergraduates is to define the terms, so that they know what they are talking about. Many discussions, both political and undergraduate, could be saved if people made it clear at the start what they were talking about.
Every witness was asked for their definition of climate change and the answers were interesting. The Committee concluded that the best definitions of climate change were given by Professor Slingo of Reading university and the Met Office and Professor Rapley. Basically, they talked about the energy imbalance in the earth and the disruption to the climate. We thought they gave good definitions.
We would have expected the Department to have a definition that the Minister understood, or at least had one at its finger tips. I am pleased to see the new Minister in her place, but I have to say that one of the crassest statements I have ever heard from a Minister at a Select Committee—I have served on many Select Committees over the past 17 years—was when the previous Minister of State was asked for his definition of climate change. He said:
“Climate change is climate change.”
That was less than useful. When I asked him to be a bit more helpful, he said,
“Climate change is a change in climate.”
That was not much more use. He then said that he did not think it was a technical term.
It was bad enough that the then Minister was not in agreement with senior scientists or even with the Government’s scientific adviser, who gave us a perfectly sensible definition, with a slightly different emphasis. I was surprised that the Government said in response to the Committee’s report, in which we said which two definitions we preferred, that they did not agree with the scientific adviser and were not sure what definition they were using. They said:
“However, we also note that the term ‘climate change’ does not apply just to the physical manifestation of a changing climate, but also actions to address human influence on the climate.”
That rather extends the definition. They continued:
“For example, the scientific definition of ‘climate change’ based on Professors Slingo’s and Rapley’s definition does not explain the use of ‘climate change’ in the acronym ‘DECC’. In this case ‘climate change’ means not just the physical manifestation but also steps taken in the UK and internationally to reduce”
greenhouse gas emissions
“and other human impact of the climate.”
There is a Humpty Dumpty element in that—words will mean whatever we choose them to mean. That is not helpful.
The first thing the Government should do if they want to communicate effectively on what climate change is and what they mean by it is to agree on a definition and what action is required. The Government do not agree and give the definition of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but they want to extend that as well. That is an unsatisfactory position for any Government and it is not surprising that climate science and climate change is not communicated effectively if Ministers, scientific advisers and the Department do not agree on the same words.
One statement is that there is consensus on climate science and climate change. That is sometimes used to close down debate. The Science Media Centre said:
“Climate change is real and man made.”
We heard that in a number of forms throughout the Committee’s hearings. A previous Minister said that the consensus is now beyond debate and that the BBC should not be interviewing people who do not accept it. It is worth looking at the consensus and at what it means. I will quote evidence that was given not to our Committee, but to the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change.
Robin Guenier who, as far as I am aware, has done the only academic research into what is meant by the consensus, references Doran and points out that his results in the scientific literature and the 97% claim is based on consideration of only 79 of 10,257 earth scientists who were surveyed. He then referred to a study by Anderegg, who found that the 97% claim was based on a very limited sample of researchers whose opinion was asked for. He discounted 472 of respondents. Similarly, Cook concluded that there was overwhelming consensus, but that was from a survey of about 12,000 scientific papers, so he was looking at secondary sources.
Basically, Guenier’s view was that anyone who believes that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and has some influence is part of that consensus. That is not really where the argument is. He then moves on to two other studies, discounting the statistic of 97% and looking at a survey by the American Meteorological Society. It is worth quoting from that because, again, the previous Minister did not like it. It states:
“Only 52% of respondents thought global warming was happening and was mostly anthropogenic; moreover, at most 34% (and probably less) believed warming was happening, was mostly anthropogenic and would be ‘very harmful’”.
Therefore, the debate on this issue relies on a belief that 97% of scientists believe there will be some climate catastrophe because of extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The evidence from scientific literature does not support that 97%.
Finally from that submission, I want to quote Xie Zhenhua, who led China’s delegation to the recent UN planet science conference in Warsaw. He stated:
“There are disputes in the scientific community. We have to have an open attitude to the scientific research. There’s an alternative view that climate change is caused by cyclical trends in nature itself. We have to keep an open attitude.”
He is not an obscure scientist. When people say there is consensus that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and has an impact on the climate, the evidence does not extend to the belief that carbon dioxide will do major damage to the planet.
Last week, Steven E. Koonin—again, he is not an obscure scientist, but was the Under Secretary of Energy for Science, in the United States Department of Energy, and one of Obama’s senior scientific advisers—made a statement. By profession, he is a computational physicist. He clearly makes the point that there is consensus that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but the real question he believes should be answered is:
“How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influence?”
He says that the answer is extremely difficult to determine. He believes that the carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere at the moment is responsible for only about 1% of the changes taking place. More interestingly, he points out that we do not know very much about the ocean and how it interacts with the rest of the system. We certainly do not understand probably the most critical part of the computer models, which is the feedback mechanism. It is not even clear whether feedback, when things warm up, will be positive or negative: whether feedback will intensify the increase in temperature or whether—because, at its simplest, there is less cloud cover—it will reduce the effects. Nobody knows that.
Mr Koonin talks in detail, because it is his specialism, about the computer models. He points out that the grids used within the computer models have a 60-mile resolution. That is a very big grid to have on the earth. Within those boxes, someone then has to change the average temperature and humidity, and work out how the carbon dioxide and the heat it traps affects the temperature and the humidity. He points out that dozens and dozens of assumptions are put into those boxes, because the resolution is so big, so they are adjusted. Adjustments and assumptions are effectively the same word—one could also use the word “fiddle”, because if someone is changing things that they do not know, they can change them to get the results that they wish.
The models cannot, by and large, reproduce the current situation and they imperfectly represent the past. There are huge, detailed differences between the 55 models that the IPCC uses. Rather than looking across the piece and seeing whether there is a consensus among scientists on the big issue—which there is not—if we look in detail at the modellers who are at the core of the climate change debate, we find that because they make different adjustments in their models, there is no consensus there either, and there are often huge differences in their predictions.
Many hon. Members in previous debates have pointed out that all but about 3% of the models that are used are running hot—in other words, they are over-predicting the temperatures that the earth is experiencing. It is not clear from the models why, when there has been a 25% increase in carbon dioxide, there has been effectively no rise in temperature. There is no clear explanation, and that is not covered by the models. The other basic theory with the models, which is well known by people who look at these things, is that the models predict that there will be increased warming in the atmosphere near to the earth’s surface in the tropics. Those hotspots have not been observed.
I think my hon. Friend answered his own question when he said earlier that we simply do not understand feedback mechanisms as well as we would like to, particularly in respect of the impact of the oceans on both absorbing CO2 and the massive variations in temperatures. They are so poorly understood that that ought to be a call for a massive scientific study on our deep oceans.
I essentially agree with that, but there are two other points to mention. First, the stats on the temperature in the ocean, as well as other ocean statistics, such as salinity, are very recent. We know very little about what has been happening in the oceans over the last 30 or 40 years. Records go back between eight and 20 years. Secondly, as my hon. Friend knows, we as a Committee supported the Met Office’s bid for a supercomputer, which will certainly improve weather forecasting and bring the resolution of forecasting down. It may also help the Met Office with getting its models right. I am always in favour of increasing knowledge and improving understanding, but the real point I was making—by going through those different papers and what Obama’s scientific adviser was saying—is that much of the Government’s policy is based on the belief that climate science at present is settled, and it is not, because nobody knows the answers to those questions.
Having shown that, I want to pick up two or three other points. We had some interesting sessions with the BBC, BSkyB, Channel 4 and different experts on the media. Clearly, they are slightly wary of this subject, because passions run so high. It is fair to say, if we look at the BBC first, that it does not have as much expertise in science as one would wish it did. Most of the journalists are Oxbridge educated on the arts side, not on the science side. The BBC agreed to try to increase its journalists’ knowledge of science, but when we asked the representative from BBC which scientists it would get to do that, I was disappointed that the answer was none—that is, they are going to have their knowledge improved by other journalists, not by scientists.
Because the BBC is criticised from both sides, it has made real efforts to improve its coverage of climate science and climate change, but I am not convinced that it has got it right. It asked for a report from Professor Steve Jones, who is a well respected professor of genetics—I am slightly in awe of Professor Jones when it comes to genetics; I have read his books, and he is a brilliant man and a good communicator.
However, to go back to the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston was having about whether climate scientists should be the people to talk about climate science on the BBC, Professor Jones was an odd person to choose to advise the BBC on climate science. We had a private meeting with him—which was interesting, because I was a bit star-struck on meeting him—and I did not think his answers were really adequate, because he was looking at secondary and tertiary phenomena. He seemed to think the fact that the Thames gate had been raised more times than was predicted was in some way evidence that global warming and climate change was happening, and I do not think it is. Rather, it is evidence that the gate has had to be raised a number of times. One of the interesting facts about climate change is that, with all the extra carbon dioxide that has been put into the atmosphere, the rise in sea level, which is about a foot a century, has continued at almost exactly the same rate.
The BBC, fortunately, did not accept Professor Jones’s recommendation that climate science was settled. It says its remit is to give everybody a say and to give the opportunity for different views in British society to be explained to the rest of our country. The difficulty with that—this comes back to the Lord Lawson debate that goes on—is whether non-scientists should be able to talk about scientific issues. Should someone only be a climate scientist to talk about climate science?
I was a scientist some time ago. I have read some of the papers. Can I therefore debate and discuss climate science? I think I can. I would not pretend to be an expert in climate science, but I am scientifically trained enough to be able to understand those papers. When it comes to policy, because a lot of the argument about the science is settled, the aim is to stop not just the debate about the science, but the debate about the policy impact. People have to be careful that by trying to restrict debate in that way, they do not stop the production of better policy.
It is true that the media, as I said at the beginning, tend to be ignorant of science, and I cannot leave this subject without giving two examples. One is slightly old. “The World This Weekend”, a few years ago, put the tsunami in Thailand down to climate change, which would be a surprise to most scientists and geologists. A few weeks ago, The Times, in one of its editorials, declared carbon dioxide to be a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. Without carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we would all be dead. Plants need carbon dioxide; we need plants—end of story. It is not a pollutant. The amount in the atmosphere goes up and down. That just indicates how bereft of scientific training many journalists are.
It was quite an achievement to reach a consensus, whereby we all voted for the same report in the Committee, because clearly we place different emphases on matters, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston talked about the IPCC as a resource for knowledge in this area and was saying that it should be respected. I do not agree. I think the IPCC should be disbanded, for a number of reasons. It is a political process. It claims to be a scientific body, but it is not. It holds its discussion on how the IPCC report is produced in private. When I say “in private”, a number of lobbying groups—green groups—go along. It comes to its conclusions based on compromise between those groups.
At the last meeting, the IPCC increased the size of the report by five pages and took out 700 words. Then it decided, having changed the summary, that it would change the basic documents underlying it to be consistent with the summary, which I think is a perverse process. The IPCC should be much more transparent or should be changed, not least because we need reports more often than every seven years on this issue as science improves.
The surprising thing about the IPCC is that as temperatures have flattened out over the last 16 or 17 years, and as its models have failed to predict that, it now has greater confidence in its results. I find that a strange conclusion—when people predict something incorrectly, they then say they have more confidence in the results.
I want to finish with two points. This is a serious debate. It is disappointing that so few hon. Members are present. A great deal of Government expenditure is based on a belief that there will be catastrophic climate change. The evidence for that is very limited. All energy policies should include the following. Security of energy supply, so that the lights do not go out, is the top priority. Cost to the consumer, both industry and the individual, is the second priority; and the third priority is how much carbon dioxide and pollutants are being put into the atmosphere.
At the moment, it is an act of genius by Government—this is not a party political issue, because the previous Government followed very similar points—to be responsible for putting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than would otherwise have been the case, because our carbon footprint is increasing at present; for them to have prices higher than they otherwise would be for some of the poorest people in the country and to be de-industrialising parts of the country; and for them to manage that when there is a greater probability and risk that the lights will go out. That is an energy policy based on a misunderstanding of the science, which could be disastrous for individuals.
This is a highly fraught area. I was appalled when I listened to “The Life Scientific” a few months ago, when Professor Julia Slingo was on, to realise that she had been vilified and been the centre of a campaign of abuse by people who think that she has got the science wrong. That is completely unacceptable. The vast majority of scientists involved in this area are honest, diligent researchers coming up with decent scientific papers. Some of their work is misrepresented. I think that a small number of scientists at the university of East Anglia have fallen below the standard I would expect for scientists.
There is that kind of vilification on one side and there is the vilification of Lord Lawson, who is not of my political party. He has tried to enhance the debate, particularly on the policy side. He has said—I would not go quite this far with him—“Accept that climate change is happening as people say. What is the right policy response?” I think he has enhanced that debate, but, again, he comes in for a great deal of vilification from the other side. If we are to understand the science better and to get better policies than we have at the moment, that nastiness, which should not be part of any political discussion and certainly any scientific discussion, should cease.
I intend to make only a very brief contribution to the debate on the report by the Science and Technology Committee, “Communicating climate science”, but I did feel that it was important to come along, listen and give some perspective from the point of view of the Select Committee on Environmental Audit. As hon. Members on both sides will know, that is a cross-cutting parliamentary Select Committee; it looks right across the board at different Departments.
Unsurprisingly, our Committee has spent a lot of time looking at climate science and climate change. The overarching theme that comes out of virtually all our inquiries is that looking at environmental issues, from whatever perspective, should not be a matter for just one Department, one business, one sector or one section of the media to deal with. It needs to be brought together in a cross-cutting way. It seemed to me that the conclusions of the Science and Technology Committee report were doing just that, so I felt that it was important to come along and take part in the debate.
I congratulate the Chair of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), on securing the debate. It is important that we discuss work that Select Committees of the House have done. However, much as I welcome the support for and the emphasis on sound science, the integrity of science and the importance of science not being exploited for short-term political expediency, I think that what the report is really trying to say is that there must be an overall strategy from Government for communicating climate science. I believe that that is very important.
I was heartened to see that the report was unanimous; there was no minority report. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer), however, I wonder whether there was complete unanimity.
It was a remarkable work.
It certainly was remarkable, because when I listened to my two hon. Friends, I did not get the sense that I was hearing about the same report. In fact, I looked at their body language to see whether there was any difference from what was said in the report, and I did not see that either.
Climate change is the most important issue that we face locally, nationally and internationally, so it is strategically important that we communicate the science of climate change in as robust a way as possible, having regard to the facts. After that, what matters is policy, and the support that politicians receive for those policies. If we do not have the trust of the British public for the policies that we want to implement on climate change and climate science, we will not get the policy outcomes that we so urgently require. That is why I had misgivings when I was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton.
For me, the most important thing is that, as even the Prime Minister stated during Prime Minister’s questions on 26 February in response to questions about the winter floods,
“man-made climate change is one of the most serious threats that this country and this world face.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2014; Vol. 576, c. 255.]
He spoke about the UK’s carbon budgets and the importance of long-term investment. Hon. Members from both sides of the House know that we are at an important stage in the international negotiations that are taking place, which we hope will be completed in Paris in 2015.
This week, there are also important negotiations going on in the European Commission about the target of reducing carbon emissions by 40%. There is great concern that even if that proposal goes through, we will still be moving away from our target of keeping warming within 2° C. Negotiations are under way and huge decisions are being taken, and it will be incumbent on Ministers to return to the House and do the best that they can on those negotiations.
If Members of Parliament, let alone members of the public, have no awareness of the science of climate change, we will not have the public trust that we need to achieve the required outcomes. I do not think that future generations will forgive us if we do not achieve those outcomes, because the clock is ticking. Indeed, Lord Prescott talked about stopping the clock in the negotiations that took place in Durban. We are in an urgent situation, and I believe that the overall recommendation in the report—that the Government must communicate climate science—is exactly what is needed to bolster and support the international discussions.
For that reason, I hope that the Minister—I welcome her to her new position—will set out whether and how the Government will draw up a climate change communication strategy and ensure that it is implemented consistently across Departments. Perhaps she could give us more detail than was provided in the Government’s response to the report. As part of that work, will she have further talks with other bodies, especially the BBC? We have heard a lot about the BBC, and many Members have met and challenged the corporation about its inclination to run with controversial stories rather than taking on board existing climate science, saying that there is a problem and asking what should be done about it. That would be the proper focus for discussion.
Communication is not only about the Government’s having a communication strategy for climate science, but about campaigns to increase public awareness. I was interested in the reference in the report to the education model, because I believe that there should be a duty to promote sustainable development in the national curriculum. That is the only way to encourage youngsters to be aware of sustainable development and engage with climate science throughout primary school, secondary school, college and university, so that whatever their chosen job or career, they will be sensitive to climate science and sustainable development. That awareness will influence the work that they do, and that will contribute to the Government’s strategy for meeting the 2° C objective. We need a communication strategy, but we also need to look at what we are doing in education.
I have looked at the computer model for teaching climate science in schools, and I do not think that there is a great understanding of that model. I was speaking to somebody yesterday about the Canadian Parliament’s green citizenship programmes. I think that environmental issues are all part of the citizenship agenda, and far more can be done through the curriculum to sensitise young people to such issues, whether they go to university or train to be plumbers. At the core, it is essential to get the science right and communicate it.
We are talking about a huge subject. We have seen from situations such as the floods and the take-up of the green deal that there is insufficient public awareness and understanding to support the necessary policies. Education is key, and it is not possible without a communication strategy. Whatever the politics inside the Select Committee when this unanimous report was agreed, I hope that because of the evidence submitted to the Committee and the urgency of the need to address climate change issues, a long-term benefit of the report will be a wider response from the Government in addition to their written response.
The Environmental Audit Committee has published several reports on related issues, such as carbon budgets and energy subsidies. We also published a follow-up report on the progress made on carbon budgets. If we are to achieve the correct energy policies, which take account of security of supply, affordability and climate security, the whole country needs to have an understanding of UK policy. That relates back to the importance of understanding the science. I hope that the report will help us to fulfil the need for an overarching communication strategy based on science, rather than on the sceptical science that we occasionally hear too much about.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Alan. I congratulate the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), on securing this important debate. I am not a scientist, but listening to the two members of the Select Committee, I could see where some of the problems lie. Much of the language in discussions about climate change science is not very usable for the average person on the street. Sitting here and listening, we sometimes struggle to understand exactly what is being said. That is part of the problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) mentioned how journalists are being taught how to report this stuff by other journalists. There is a point in that, and perhaps a bit more specialism is needed within journalism. I always say that the people who best put across issues of complex science are those who really understand the fine technical detail, because they are able to explain it in everyday language. It is the same with good teachers. Some important points have been raised on that issue, which is why this is an important debate.
The debate is timely, as there are two events with huge ramifications for the UK taking place in the next year. The first is the general election, and the second is the United Nations climate change conference in Paris. It is essential to have in the public domain a simple, clear, evidence-based narrative about climate change, its causes and likely impacts.
I could not agree more with the Government’s submission to the report; I only wish sometimes that the Government’s actions matched their rhetoric on this issue—I am not referring to the Minister. It is perhaps an understatement to suggest that the Government are guilty of mixed messages, with differing views on the severity, consequences and even the existence of climate change coming out of different Departments. The report repeatedly makes a point about the lack of coherence in Government climate policy and communications, and I think that point is well founded.
Until just a few months ago, the Government had a Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who holds views that run counter to the scientific consensus. His greatest hits include:
“the climate has always been changing.”
He has also said that wind farms are “clearly a massive waste” of everyone’s money, and that:
“People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries.”
That is somewhat disconcerting coming from a man who was in charge of the UK’s climate change adaptations.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
As I was saying, the former Secretary of State’s words were somewhat disconcerting coming from a man who was in charge of the UK’s climate change adaptation. His successor as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), seems to be carrying on in that vein. Just a few days ago, her Department announced that it would remove a common agricultural policy subsidy from solar developments, under the curious logic that solar farms have caused the UK to become an importer of apples.
That is further evidence of a Government who have no joined-up voice on renewable energy and climate change, and who are more interested in sensationalist headlines than sound policy. The Prime Minister promised to lead the “greenest Government ever”, but just a few years later he was reported as saying that he would cut “the green crap”. These inconsistencies in communications have far-reaching consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston put very well the point about the media not being balanced in their reporting of climate change—pitting scientists against non-scientists—and I totally agree with his analysis of that unbalanced reporting.
We combat climate change by developing a low-carbon energy mix, including renewables, new nuclear, and carbon capture and storage. Incoherent messages from the Government and the media undermine both investment in the low-carbon sector and our response to the threat of climate change, which is real. As David Kennedy, the former chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, put it so clearly:
“Not investing in renewables only makes sense if you don’t want to meet our emissions targets.”
Record investment in electricity generation under the last Labour Government has collapsed under the coalition and a fifth of our capacity is coming offline in the next decade. That creates a squeeze on our security of supply. Only last month, the UK slipped to seventh place on EY’s energy attractive index for investment in renewables, with EY referring to Government “policy tinkering” and saying that
“conflicting signals…become too much for investors…to handle.”
The Select Committee’s report feeds in to so many of my meetings with renewable energy developers; the mixed-up messaging emanating from Government about our commitment to reducing our carbon emissions through low-carbon technologies gets raised every time I meet developers. Every Conservative-Lib Dem row, whether real or for public relations purposes, is another hammer blow to investment in low-carbon technologies. Of course those rows get reported, so even when the media are accurately reporting what is said, they are again sending out mixed messages to the public.
We cannot expect investors to put their money into low-carbon technologies if they hear expressions of different levels of commitment on climate change from different Departments. It is with great regret that I have seen the cross-party consensus that we had before the 2010 election crumble. Just five MPs voted against the Climate Change Act 2008. I want to be entirely clear: it was not Labour that broke that consensus. We understand the importance of speaking with a clear message on climate change.
It must be both frustrating and confusing for members of the public to hear, on the one hand, that averting catastrophic climate change is the great challenge of our time, which it is, and, on the other, that the Chancellor wants to water down the implementation of the fourth carbon budget, that Britain should go no faster than the rest of Europe, that wind farms are pointless and that solar PV is a blight on our communities. The reporting of these issues is often misleading and sometimes verges on the hysterical.
In the Government’s response to the Select Committee’s report, I am pleased to see an admission that Departments could operate in a more joined-up manner. I will give just one example of where there is a lack of joined-up working: planning for onshore wind. I asked the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change what discussions he had had with his colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government about such planning, and the answer came back: none.
The Committee on Climate Change, the Government’s independent advisory body, has warned the Government about their mixed messages on climate change. For example, the CCC supports a 2030 power sector decarbonisation target, as do Labour and large renewable energy developers such as Siemens, yet the Government have refused to set such a target. For the sake of clarity, I should add that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change supports the target, but voted against it.
I hope that the Government look again at the recommendations of the Select Committee’s report, and in particular that they speak with one voice on climate change.
Before the Minister speaks, may I say that I welcome her move to a new role on the Front Bench? It is well deserved. You are a former member of the Council of Europe, Minister, and I am sure that your great knowledge of greater Europe will serve you well in your new post.
Thank you very much indeed, Sir Alan, for those words, and I also thank you for chairing this debate.
In addition, I thank the members of the Science and Technology Committee for their hard work in preparing this report during the past year. I welcome the findings of the Committee’s inquiry into communicating climate science, and I thank the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) for presenting them so clearly to us at the start of this debate.
As we said in our response, the Government must communicate what we are doing to address the risks that climate science has revealed, but communicating climate science is just one part of communicating the wider issue of climate change. Let us be clear that these are two interrelated but distinct discussions. Scientists, as independent and trusted experts, must take the lead in communicating science, and we in government must focus on communicating our responses to scientific facts.
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
The scientific consensus is overwhelming: the fact is that climate change is happening and people are causing it, and we need to take urgent action to avoid dangerous climate change. Global climate change is already being seen around the world. Nine of the hottest years ever measured were in the past 12 years; heat waves have become more frequent and are lasting longer; the height of extreme sea levels caused by storms has increased; and oceans are acidifying and becoming fatally unhealthy for sea life. These facts are well known by members of the Committee but these changes are neither mysterious nor unexpected.
In 1988, the UN General Assembly was told that
“human activities could change global climate patterns”.
Mrs Thatcher, a scientist, took note and showed global leadership. She said:
“It’s we Conservatives who are not merely friends of the earth—we are its guardians and trustees for generations to come...No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy—with a full repairing lease. This government intends to meet the terms of that lease in full.”
When the Prime Minister addressed the UN General Assembly this September, for the Secretary-General’s summit on climate change, he demonstrated that we will stand by those words.
This is a timely debate, coming just before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finalises its fifth assessment synthesis report in Copenhagen. This report will bring together the findings of the three working groups covering the fundamental science on climate change, future risks and options for responding. I thank the Energy and Climate Change Committee for its inquiry into the IPCC’s report on the physical science basis of climate change. I welcome the Committee’s finding, which was that the IPCC procedures were robust, just as its conclusions are stark. The fifth assessment report represents the most up to date and comprehensive review of the science of climate change. It also provides an excellent vehicle for communicating climate science and will inform the international negotiations in Paris next year.
The science has spoken. As the Government, our priority is to communicate the actions we are taking in response. We must explain how the science underpins our actions, even if communication of science must be led by the scientists. In direct response to the Committee’s recommendations, we have taken action. I am delighted to say that we have updated our climate science brief on gov.uk, which went online earlier today.
Ah, we have stimulated something!
The hon. Gentleman, speaking from a sedentary position, is absolutely right. We have taken action as a result.
We are also setting up an expert group to advise the Government and others on communicating climate science.
I am interested to know who is on the expert group. Will the Minister elaborate on that?
I am not moving on from the expert group yet. I will say a few words about that. The matter was brought up in some detail by the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. We want to ensure that this group has an effective role and we are talking to those who are likely to be involved. We have set up the group and my Department has also set up the cross-Government climate change communications group and developed a cross-Government narrative, which climate science is part of.
The cross-Government communications group is composed of working-level officials invited from all Departments. It has met twice so far, in June and again on 15 August, and it will continue to meet for the foreseeable future. In the first meeting, 12 Departments attended, including the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The Scottish Government are also included. We also had representatives from the Department for International Development, the Treasury, the Environment Agency and the Met Office. That is another example of action following Committee recommendations.
My Department’s new chief scientific adviser, Professor John Loughhead, whom I was delighted to meet yesterday, on his first day, will have an active role in promoting understanding in this area, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Professor David MacKay. The Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Mark Walport, will of course also play an integral role. The Government will continue to work with the academies, learned societies and other experts, including the Met Office, to help ensure that authoritative scientific voices on climate science are more readily available to the general public.
However, most people do not need, or indeed want, to understand the detailed science; they want to understand what they can do. The good news is that the public in the UK understand that climate change is a serious issue. More than two thirds of people in the UK are concerned about climate change. This is a strong mandate for all political parties to take ambitious action to tackle climate change. That underpins this Government’s actions to seek an ambitious global deal in Paris next year and our policies to reduce UK emissions entrenched in the Climate Change Act, helping towards achieving our commitment of an 80% reduction of emissions by 2050.
Does the Minister agree with me and the Government’s chief scientific adviser that, although emissions are reducing, this country’s responsibility for putting increased amounts of carbon into the atmosphere has increased as we have imported more manufactured goods? Although one can boast about reduced emissions, actually there is a perverse consequence, which is that this country is responsible for more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.
The Government’s overall aim must be not only to reduce its own emissions, but to share that ambition with other countries. Even though we may slow down and—eventually, we hope—reduce this country’s emissions, that way of doing things is going to be really successful only if we bring other countries with us.
Although a small group—we may have a member of that group in this Chamber—is highly sceptical about action on climate change, fewer than one in 10 people in the UK think the benefits of tackling climate change are outweighed by the risks. In fact, six times as many people believe that the benefits of action outweigh the risks.
The hon. Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) challenged some views held strongly by other people, but he is in a distinct minority. I take issue with his wider point about this Government’s strategy, which is to reduce the emissions and the costs and to provide security of supply to consumers. It is wrong to characterise that strategy as in any way disadvantaging people who are worse off, because our clear plan is to ensure that the most vulnerable are always helped as much as possible. We do that through a number of strategies, led by my Department, particularly through the eco-subsidy, which is directed at the vulnerable.
Our challenge is to explain why climate change matters when people are concerned quite rightly about jobs, the economy and the cost of their energy bills. We must continue to talk about the risks posed by climate change, including risks of floods and heat waves, which have already increased in the UK, and the need to take action to avoid the unacceptable risks of sudden and irreversible climate disruption. However, alongside these risks, we must talk about the benefits that can flow from tackling climate change.
Our priority for communicating on climate change is to make sure that the importance and urgency of action on climate change continues to be heard, despite the weight of other concerns and other news. We recently laid out the case for climate action at local, national, regional and international level, and a global deal, in our Paris 2015 publication.
We are not in the game of chasing headlines. We know the science has spoken and we want informed, sensible debate on what we do about tackling climate change. We are working hard, responsibly and successfully to ensure that messages on climate change and our policies to reduce our emissions are accessible to the public, and to explain how these will affect other priorities, such as bills, health and, indeed, keeping the lights on. To do this we are looking wider than traditional media. Indeed, ahead of the next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference of parties at the end of the year, I will be part of a wider Tweetathon in late November, communicating to all peoples and civic society, to debate these important issues.
We can avoid dangerous climate change through innovation and global will. Reducing emissions is part of securing economic growth. This is already happening. As a result of the commitment seen so far, new technologies are becoming available. For example, in only six years the cost of solar photovoltaic systems fell by two thirds. Costs continue to fall and deployment continues to accelerate. This month, the world’s first carbon-capture power station started operation. The UK is among the leaders in developing CCS.
My Department was instrumental in developing and launching a recent report on the new climate economy. The cast list was impressive. The report was overseen by a group of ex-Heads of Government, Finance Ministers and key chief executive officers from around the world. The IMF, the World Bank and the OECD were all involved. The report proves that economic growth and action to reduce emissions can go hand in hand.
The recent summit in New York showed that there is international will to tackle this global problem together. Our Prime Minister joined more than 100 world leaders and hundreds of leaders from business, finance and civil society. That global will at all levels of society will help to build momentum and find solutions.
The hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) suggested that the Government’s words did not match our actions, and I would take issue with that. My first example is the fact that the Prime Minister has, as she said, gone to the EU today to try to secure a deal for the whole of Europe. The UK has led, and it is now essential that we get the EU to come with us.
The Prime Minister was right to describe us as the greenest Government ever. We continue to be proud of saying that, and we are delivering not only at the international level, but locally through, for example, solar PV. Half a million households are now proud to have solar PV on their houses, and we hope that will continue. We also hope that solar PV, which has been so successful recently, will become subsidy-free by 2020.
I found myself in agreement with much of what the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) said, because she shares my concern about this being such a serious issue. She reminded us of the party consensus that exists. I feel we are the last generation to be able to change something, and the first to be absolutely able to act and to have the tools to do so.
The hon. Lady shares with me a commitment to ensuring that we take action, and she raised interesting questions about public awareness. The public’s activity in support of action is incredibly important. When I was in New York with the Prime Minister and other Environment and Energy Ministers for the recent summit, there was a climate change march of more than 400,000 people—in fact, marches took place in 40 cities throughout the world. When I had the opportunity, I told the people who were marching, “Please keeping doing this. Keep raising your voices. Keep reminding politicians how much you care about this and how much you will hold us to account, so that we continue to make the right decisions for your country and the world.”
The hon. Lady made an interesting point about education. I am aware that climate change is part of a GCSE geography syllabus, but I do not know whether it goes further than that, and I would like to come back to her on that.
To finish, many of those who purport to have issues with climate science do so because they do not like the implication of the solutions. Some may be worried that the proposed measures to tackle climate change are intrusive and at odds with the free market. However, the science is clear: human emissions are driving global temperatures upwards, and continued emissions will lead to further warming and many other changes to our planet. We need to take action to avoid unacceptable risks.
Let us talk about real solutions and options and about acceptable levels of risk, rather than wish the problem away. I am optimistic we can avoid dangerous climate change. It will take political will and technological change, and that is already happening. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister once again emphasised that climate change is one of the most serious threats facing our world and underlined UK leadership. We will continue to communicate what we are doing to tackle climate change and how we are playing a part in improving the UK’s energy efficiency, as well as our far-reaching plans to decarbonise our energy supply and to push for an ambitious global deal in Paris.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further with members of both Committees, and I thank them for bringing this report to our attention.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell—I do not think I have done so before.
This has been a fascinating debate. It has been couched in language that makes people feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer) and I are miles apart; indeed, the Minister implied that my hon. Friend was a sceptic. However, all scientists should be sceptical about all the evidence in front of them. In that respect, the Minister, in her use of language, made one of the mistakes I plead with people to avoid: she talked about a scientific fact, but there are very few scientific facts, although there are strongly held views based on the evidence. We should be careful with language, because it is part of the problem in trying to get messages across. I have banned my Committee staff from using the words “anecdotal evidence”, because something is either an anecdote or it is evidence—it cannot really be both. We need to be very precise in using language in this debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton made a number of points on which I have come to different conclusions based on the evidence. In several inquiries, he has crawled over the whole saga of East Anglia, and I publicly made some criticisms of the university management’s handling of the issue. Where I take issue with my hon. Friend is that I do not doubt the integrity of the scientists involved—I do not think they fixed the evidence, although the methodology involved in putting things into the public domain was weak in the extreme, and there are lessons in that. All information needs to be cross-referenced with the best peer-reviewed work, and I shall touch on that in my comments on the Minister’s speech.
I also disagree with some of my hon. Friend’s other comments. He did not respond to my observation that palaeontology looks backwards in the same way he asserted climate scientists should not look backwards when using models. In that respect, I plead a slight bias as my daughter has a PhD in fluid dynamics and is a specialist in mathematical modelling—I can get only to page 10 of the PhD. However, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the definitions we faced were fraught with difficulty, not least the one from the Department, which was inadequate.
My hon. Friend may be regarded as a sceptic, but I do not see that as a criticism. However, I fundamentally disagree with his criticism of the IPCC, and there is no evidence to justify his belief that it should be wound up.
From time to time, my hon. Friend does tease Ministers more than somewhat, and that is on the public record. The Committee had the new Minister for Universities, Science and Cities before it this week, and my hon. Friend asked him to explain the second law of thermodynamics, which I thought was a tad on the cruel side. [Interruption.] The Minister did not get that question.
I welcome the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and the work being done by her Committee, because there are significant cross-cutting issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) talked about the need for joining up, and that is certainly true of my Committee’s work and that being done by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North. However, we also heard about it when we did a report on horizon-scanning, when even one of the top civil servants—Jon Day from the Cabinet Office—said that there is a problem with the Government’s silo mentality in dealing with some of the long-term horizon-scanning problems, and nothing is bigger in that respect than climate change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central was absolutely right about debates on this issue being conducted in the language of science, and we have to try to address that.
Let me turn now to the Minister’s comments. I very much welcome her to her role, and I thank her for her response. I also thank her for publishing the new part of the Department’s website today—we will call it the Select Committee page. Having looked at it briefly—the Minister reminded us of it only a few moments ago—I would recommend that she go back to the Department and lay down some challenges to the authors of that section. There are lots of scientific assertions in the first part of the narrative, most of which I am 100% in agreement with, but they could easily be improved by including hotlinks to the source material, so that anyone who challenged those assertions could see the basis on which the Government had drawn their conclusions. Having given advice to Governments for some years on the design of electronic information and how to communicate such things, I strongly urge that that is what should be done. It is so easy to put on a hotlink back to the source material when quoting 1° C or some such figure. The House should do that too, much more often. The expert group is also very welcome. It should perhaps be challenged with the peer review of some of the information presented by the Government.
The Select Committee has made a commitment, in addition to decisions that have been made by the Liaison Committee, to produce a legacy report towards the end of the Parliament, setting out what we see as the big challenges for our successor Committee and asking questions about what the Government have done in response to reports. Has action been effective? What recommendations have been missed? What should be prioritised in the next Parliament? The Committee will, to use the current vernacular, nudge the Minister’s Department to prepare for that. I hope that she will be able to give answers about the missing information that I mentioned before.
It is critical that we should use consistent, coherent arguments and accessible language. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton mentioned the attribution of tsunamis to climate change, which is bonkers. We must get away from that, and from editorial comment such as the one my hon. Friend mentioned from The Times, and be pro-active about encouraging newspaper editors and journalists to improve their use of language about the subject. This is a hugely important area; if we do not carry the public with us, and should the scientific consensus prove correct, as I believe it will, we will find ourselves in deep difficulties—not just as a nation, and not just in coastal areas, but with respect to our responsibilities globally.
I know, Mr Rosindell, that you have an interest in things military. I had the privilege of taking part in the Royal College of Defence Studies senior staff course a few years ago. As to predicting future causes of war, it was interesting that the dominant input from some of the country’s greatest experts covered, as well as some fairly obvious factors such as religion, things such as water—its shortage or excess.
The relevant changes affecting countries all over the planet are attributable substantially to changes in the climate of the planet we live on. If we do not do positive things, and encourage the kind of work that has been done through the IPCC and the kind of carbon reduction targets that have been adopted by countries as diverse as the Netherlands and Mexico, we shall be doing future generations a massive disservice. It is our responsibility. Let us communicate it in clear language.
Question put and agreed to.