Parliamentary Links Day: Science in an Uncertain World

Yesterday, the BES policy team attended the Parliamentary Links Day today at Portcullis House, Westminster, hosted by the Royal Society for Chemistry.

Politicians and leading scientists gave talks throughout the day, followed by the opportunity to interact with them afterwards at the reception.

Speakers included Dr Brian Iddon CChem FRSC MP Member Commons Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills; Rt Hon John Denham MP, Secratary State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, former and present chief scientific Advisors Professor Sir David King and Dr Bob Crawford, and Professor Rosemary Hails of the Institute of Biology and CEH. Numerous politicians and representatives from NGOs were amongst the audience too, including Rt. Hon Tony Benn and Rt. Hon Kenneth Clarke.

Research and Development

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, led the proceedings citing a doubling in the research budget in the last two years and the UK’s leadership in scientific output – second only to the USA. Mr Denham ranked the energy programme as the chief scientific priority for the UK with Aging research and security coming second and third. The Living With Environmental Change programme was mentioned, being particularly topical since food supply, energy security and terrorism present challenging and uncertain prospects.

Climate Change

Sir David King put forward a compelling and urgent case for the reduction of carbon emissions globally, in light of a projected 2-3 degrees centigrade rise in global temperatures. Historically, some important global and local environmental issues have been identified by scientists, leading to policy change resulting in positive outcomes. These include London smog, addressed by the banning of coal fires in 1963, and global ban on CFC use in refrigerators and aerosols resulting in ‘rebuilding’ of the ozone layer. In this sense, Sir David King believes that, with global ratification of binding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, through ‘decarbonisation‘ of the global economy, the negative consequences of climate change can be abated.

Questions led by the British Psychological Society prompted Sir David to reiterate the need for government cabinets to really take on board the idea of decarbonising the economy. The need for a frameshift in national psychology, in that as a society we must stop idolising celebrity over-consumption, is imperative.

Ecosystems Approach

Professor Rosie Hails focused on the need for an ecosystems-based approach to valuing biodiversity in future development proposals, given society’s dependence on nature’s goods and services for food, materials and environmental regulation. This approach is also in accordance with the guidelines of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and the UNEP-Global Outlook-4 ProfessorHails called for an end to the extensive bureaucracy associated with GM crops applications on the basis of scientifically unvalidated safety and environmental concerns. Particular emphasis was made on the need for regulation that is proportional to benefits and risks, rather than sentiment.

Overall, the day presented the opportunity to both meet high profile scientists and key politicians as well as ascertain the hot scientific topics scientists are hoping politicians and policy-makers will act upon.