Prof Sir John Beddington warns of floods, droughts and storms

Floods Prof Beddington fears more flooding is likely

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The UK government's chief scientist has said that there is already enough CO2 in the atmosphere for there to be more floods and droughts over the next 25 years.

Prof Sir John Beddington said there was a "need for urgency" in tackling climate change.

He said that the later governments left it, the harder it would be to combat.

Prof Beddington made his comments in the final week of his tenure as the government's chief scientific adviser.

"The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are going to have more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms.

"These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale," he warned.

Prof Beddington's comments come at a time when "climate sceptics" have been challenging claims by scientists that the release of CO2 into the atmosphere is increasing global temperatures.

Other critics have argued that even if the burning of fossil fuels is changing the planet's climate, the reduction of CO2 levels by the world's emerging nations is unrealistic, impractical and undesirable.

Prof Beddington's blunt response is: "The evidence that climate change is happening is completely unequivocal."

But the issue, he says, has been clouded by the fact that the planet's climate system operates slowly to changes and so there are long delays in CO2 level rises in the atmosphere resulting in changes to weather patterns.

"So the next 20 or 30 years are going to be determined by what's up there now."

Governments have agreed to try to keep the rise in average global temperatures to below 2C. Given the slow progress in attempts to curb CO2 emissions at successive climate change talks, many experts believe that target to be unrealistic.

Prof Beddington made his comments in a wide-ranging interview with BBC News to coincide with the end of his tenure as the government's chief scientific adviser.

Badger cull

In it he says he did not give advice on the pilot badger cull trials which were aborted late last year after it emerged that there were more badgers in the proposed cull sites than had previously been estimated. The aim of the pilots, which are due to be tried again later this year, is to reduce the rate of increase in the spread of TB in cattle.

Some scientists believe that the cull will offer little if any benefit, with one expert, Lord Krebs, describing it as a "crazy scheme".

Prof Beddington says he gave advice in general terms about the scientific consensus on the issue. He says he told ministers: "You won't get any improvement for four or five years, the level of improvement is modest, around a 16% reduction and that there will be an increase in infections initially as badgers move out.

"It's interesting that the identical evidence was used in Wales to decide not to have a badger cull and in England to have a cull," he added.


He expressed irritation that government did not pay heed to his scientific advice on the ineffectiveness of homeopathy beyond the placebo effect. Homeopathic treatments are available on the NHS and the government's Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency licenses remedies.

"It is irritating. The political decision is that that they wish to continue [licensing homeopathic products and having them available on the NHS] to continue choice. It is one that is arguable on a political point. But the scientific advice from myself and the chief medical officer, Sally Davies, is completely unequivocal: 'This does not work'.

"The occasions where that sort of scientific advice - where it's unequivocal - has been ignored [by government] are very, very rare."

Research cuts

Prof Beddington is among those credited with having limited the cuts to the UK's research budget when the Chancellor, George Osborne, was making his first Autumn Statement in 2010.

However, he could not prevent a deep cut of £1.6bn in spending for research equipment, buildings and infrastructure. Prof Beddington has gradually won back that money in a series of announcements of new money for science by the Treasury. But these have been targeted at specific areas of science, such as graphene research, nanotechnology and space, thought to be important to the growth of UK economy.

This has won support for science from the Treasury. But because the funding is directed to these specific areas, there is less money overall to fund staff and cutting-edge research outside those deemed by Prof Beddington and senior members of the research community as strategically important. So how does he respond to the charge of allowing the chancellor to "pick winners"?

"We've asked ourselves what are the areas where there is likely to be most growth? I don't see that as picking winners because picking winners tends to support a particular technology. This is a very sensible thing to be doing."

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  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Why bother with an advisor if you don't listen to him? It is a key problem with a system, of rulers that are only good at politics and nothing else.

    Regarding climate change though, can we actually make a difference in the UK when China are building a coal fired power station every week? Of course not. We are better off preparing our infrastructure for the change rather tilting at windmills.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Anyone who cannot see that the weather is becoming more unpredictable and extreme all over the world is just in denial.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Hmm, if the 'Climate Change Deniers' now claim the weather is just naturally getting colder & wetter, then why are the icecaps still melting?

    The truth is that 'Climate Change' cause the weather to be hotter for some & colder for others, but all can see that the extremes are getting worse.

    To argue that it will just clear up by itself, is like avoiding the doctor when your leg has turned green!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Whether or not there is a long-term warming trend on top of natural variation, there has certainly been a trend towards greater variability of weather events over the last 50 years or so. It's that greater variability, with higher probabilities of droughts, flash floods etc., that requires us to invest now in flood defences and river dredging and the like, not the warming trend if there is one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    I first heard about global warming and greenhouse gases in the 60's at college. I'm still waiting for all the doom and gloom to come true.
    Does anyone remember what acid rain and what that was going to do?
    The sun and sunspot activity are responsible for variations in our climate, including going into and out of ice ages.
    Governments just use scare tactics to justify extra "green"taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Notice how the people who agree, simply agree. The people who disagree, have various different opinions and will often argue the toss, even between eachother.

    "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation"

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    The cathedrals of this new and discredited religion are the monstrous ugly windmills that are ruining our country and making rich men richer, very similar to all other religious institutions in the past.
    Tell this guy to go away and ponder his future and stop lying to us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    the pied piper plays his merry brainwashing tune and the rats keep following with uninformed glee.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    The amt of CO2 in the atmosphere changes all the time with consequent significant changes to climate taking MILENIA. This is part of a natural negative feedback mechanism involving chemical weathering and other activity. The point is that the release of fossil fuels is leading to a change over DECADES. Variations betwen years may not be significant, but between decades they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Look at the other planets changing, storms raging, do you think that is us burning fossil fuels there too.... philistines. Our time is coming, as with past civilisations that lived on this planet. Time for mother earth to heal, and others to be born. I welcome it after watching this world slip into greed and corruption. :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I'm not a scientist so only use the "facts" the media feeds to me. The fact politicians use MMCC to raise taxes automatically makes me doubt it. When they don't use those taxes to change anything it adds more doubt.

    All I know is the UK weather is getting worse. Long Winters and short dull Summers make me unhappy. If it's real use the £billions of green taxes to actually try to change something!

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The scepticism about climate change is whether it is due to natural causes or whether it is due to human activity.
    The consensus amongst scientists is that human activity is a determining factor.
    As politicians operate on a 4 year cycle and most ministers are in post for two years, long term planning let alone an understanding of the science is beyond them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    So nature is taking its revenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Global warming may or may not be happening but it is obvious we are making at lot of man made CO2 (basic combustion chemistry) and it is obvious that CO2 causes warming (reference - planet Venus) . So the real question is - can the sceptics afford to get it wrong?
    I think buying shares in makers of air conditioning units could be a good long term investment

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    65 brookone - wrong conclusion! The world has a vast number of delicately balanced ecosystems, but systems that have been going in and out of balance since life began. There is no single "right" balance. See the article on here about previous rates of extinction. What we are doing is talking about maintaining the climatic conditions in which mankind has flourished.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    Free contraception for everyone globally, and compulsory sterilisation once you have 2 children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    ooh a fortune teller can he predict wether my wife will be in a good mood tomorrow .

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Human activity doesn't cause climate change, however it does unfortunately accelerate the change. We are moving it to a planet wide warming period, this includes the melting in part or completely of the ice caps. Government advice should have been to stop building on river flood plans, lower lands near the coast, and planting of a billion trees. As for the next ICEAGE yes it will come, but not yet

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    When I was young the river was managed mostly by local unqualified moderately paid people, Flood plains were used, weirs adjusted, ditches were cleaned, gullys cleared. Responses were fast. Now we have central control by computer, with little preventative work, and slow response. Add to that the general neglect of Infrastructure and we get flooding. Government Penny wise, Pound Foolish?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    Our short sighted species is too self centered to deal with longer term issues. It needs to get a lot worse before people will do anything about it. Sad, but true. More extreme weather - hottest, driest, coldest, wettest is what is forecast and funnily enough that appears to be what is happening in the last few years.


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