DECC Distances itself from Davey

Following Ed Davey’s somewhat silly comments about the climate debate, I recently submitted an FOI request for more information.

From: Ben Pile
Sent: 22 June 2013
To: deccfoi
Subject: Foi Request – Davey speech 18 June.

Dear Sir,

On 18 June, Ed Davey made a speech at at Residence Palace, Brussels, which is published on the DECC website at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/edward-davey-speech-ambitious-and-flexible-europes-2030-framework-for-emissions-reduction

Davey: “The science is solid and accepted by pretty much every government on earth. Of course there will always be those with a vested interest in the status quo. Who seek to create doubt where
there is certainty. And you will always get crackpots and conspiracy theorists who will deny they have a nose on their face if it suits them. But the truth is this: while forecasts of the future rate at which the world will warm differ, and while many accept we will see periods when warming temporarily plateaus, all the scientific evidence is in one direction.”

Davey’s comments — now published by DECC — seem to refer to arguments made by individuals or organisations in the wider debate about climate and energy policy. However, these parties were not named. Moreover, nor were any specific claims made by these parties addressed by Davey given any substance.

I am sure that the comments made by Davey in his speech reflect the best scientific advice and research, and an impartial view of the arguments for and against the policies he is advancing.

However, in the interests of clarity and an informed debate, I believe the Secretary of State should be more candid about who he is addressing his arguments to, and what the substance of their arguments is. I would like the following questions to be treated as a FOI request.

  1. Who are the parties with ‘vested interests’ referred to by Davey?
  2. By what means was Davey made aware of these ‘vested interests’?
  3. Who are the ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ referred to by Davey?
  4. By what means was Davey made aware of these ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’?
  5. What is the science, referred to by Davey, which is contradicted by the ‘vested interests’ and ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’?
  6. How do the arguments advanced by ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ and ‘vested interests’ contradict the science?
  7. What is Davey’s (or the department’s) evidence that ‘vested interests’ and ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ have had an impact on the wider debate?
  8. Has the department had an internal discussion, or commissioned any research — internally or externally — that identifies these ‘crackpots and conspiracy theorists’ and ‘vested interests’, and evaluates their arguments? If such discussions or research exist, may I see them?

Many thanks,

Ben Pile.

Here is the reply…

Your request has been considered under the terms of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000. However, some of the information which you have requested constitutes environmental information for the purposes of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIRs). As such, to the extent that the information requested is environmental your request has also been considered under the EIRs.

Your request is in relation to the following two sentences of a speech made by Secretary of State Edward Davey on 18th June 2013:

Of course there will always be those with a vested interest in the status quo.

And:

And you will always get crackpots and conspiracy theorists who will deny they have a nose on their face if it suits them.

In answer to your questions 1-5, we do not hold recorded information within scope of these questions. As is made clear in the statement Edward Davey’s intent was not to point to any particular group or party, but to the practice of public relations and lobbying in all areas of public governance, some arguing for change, some arguing for no change, and how it can sometimes be reflected unchallenged in some sections of the media. His comments were informed by his personal experience, including as a member of Parliament.

The scientific evidence that Edward Davey referred to in his speech comes from the published peer-reviewed work of many research groups in the UK and around the world and from the published assessments undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other organisations, including the Royal Society, the US National Academies of Science and the Committee on Climate Change.

In answer to your questions 6 and 7, Edward Davey did not make the specific claims to which you refer in his speech, and we do not hold recorded information within scope of these questions.

DECC has not commissioned any research internal or external for the purpose you suggest. However the Department holds some information in scope of your question 8. It regularly monitors arguments and debates on climate change and the general results are often discussed internally via email or meetings. The Department also regularly publishes scientific advice and documents and commentary on its policies and is transparent in the advice it receives. The scientific advice and documents are freely available from the DECC website at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-of-energy-climate-change

After careful examination of question 8 we have determined that Regulation 12(4)(b) applies to that part of the question that concerns DECC’s internal emails, briefing papers or meeting notes where climate change issues are discussed. Regulation 12(4)(b) provides that a public authority may refuse to disclose information to the extent that the request for information is manifestly unreasonable. In applying the exception, we have considered the public interest test in respect of your request and applied a presumption in favour of disclosure (as required by Regulation 12(2) of the EIRs). We acknowledge that greater transparency makes the Government more accountable to the electorate, increases trust and also enables the public contribution to policy making to become more effective. Gathering the information you requested would require a search of the Department’s electronic and paper records, personal email accounts and devices of staff concerned. Determining, locating, retrieving and extracting the requested information would take longer than 24 working hours. This would involve a significant cost to the Department and diversion of resources from the teams concerned and the Department’s other work. Given that a lot of the information the Department holds is already in the public domain we consider that the public interest there may be in disclosing documents through this request, and any associated benefits in increasing transparency, are outweighed by the cost of meeting the request.

It would be interesting to know what happens at DECC. For example, we know that amongst DECC’s advisers is this chap

I am Professor of Environmental Psychology and Director of the Understanding Risk Research Group within the School. I work on risk, risk perception, and risk communication and as such my research is interdisciplinary at the interface of social psychology, environmental sciences, and science and technology studies. I am currently researching public responses to energy technologies (e.g. nuclear power, renewable energy), climate change risks, and climate geoengineering. I have in the past led numerous policy oriented projects on issues of public responses to environmental risk issues and on ‘science in society’ for UK Government Departments, the Research Councils, the Royal Society, and Charities. I am currently a member of the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change’s Science Advisory Group (SAG), and theme leader for the Climate Change Consortium for Wales.

DECC’s SAG consists of these people

Professor John Shepherd FRS (Chair) – School of Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton
Chris Mottershead – King’s College London
Professor Nick Jenkins – Cardiff University
Professor Tadj Oreszczyn – Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, UCL
Professor Stuart Haszeldine – University of Edinburgh
Professor Peter Cox – College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter
Paul Watkiss – Paul Watkiss Associates (independent research consultancy specialising in climate change, environmental and economic policy advice)
Dame Sue – Imperial College London
Professor Nick Pidgeon – Cardiff University
Professor Jon Gibbins – Institute of Materials and Processes, University of Edinburgh

The stuff they get up to can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/policy-advisory-groups/science-advisory-group

DECC currently spends around £25 million annually on scientific evidence-gathering. This work supports the department’s policies, helps meet UK, EU and UNFCCC reporting obligations, and feeds into the committee on Climate Change and DECC’s work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). DECC also works in partnership with the research councils and academic community where their work has policy-relevant outputs.

What’s hard to understand is how a minister with such a brief, and such budgets for expertise, could have produced such a poor argument that his own department couldn’t get behind.

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