Friday, March 05, 2010

Five times the cost of the Manhattan Project

Joanne Nova gets an airing in the Australian media, taking on board the canard about the "deniers" getting big money funding.

Relying on her previous work, Joanne notes that the US government spent $79 billion on climate research and technology since 1989. Some of that funding paid for things like satellites and studies, but it's 3,500 times as much as anything offered to sceptics, she says.

It is self-evident that this "buys a bandwagon of support, a repetitive rain of press releases," and for the money you get the PR departments of institutions like NOAA, NASA, the Climate Change Science Program and the Climate Change Technology Program.

However, Joanna also notes that the $79 billion figure does not include money from other western governments, private industry, and is not adjusted for inflation. In other words, she says, "it could be…a lot bigger."

That, to say the very least, is something of an understatement – and it is something of a weakness that the sceptic "movement", such that it is, has not come up with a more comprehensive figure, covering all the major spending countries.

Readers will know that I am attempting to work out the level of UK spending over term. But the very attempt illustrates why that figure has not so far been forthcoming. Spending is hugely fragmented, between several departments of state, including DEFRA and DECC, with contributions from government agencies and quangos, including the Carbon Trust.

Then there are the devolved governments, the regional development agencies and local authorities, plus a very considerable input from the European Union, through the Framework research programme and also via direct contacts issued by the various Commission DGs.

Among the big spenders, though, are the seven UK research councils which collectively dispense billions into the research community each year. You might think that each of these would be able to pinpoint the amount dispensed on climate research, but that it very far from the case.

There is no standard definition of "climate change" and different search parameters yield different results. Furthermore, each of the Councils operate their own, differently structured databases, so the same search parameters yield different results on the various sites.

Furthermore, much of the spending on climate change comes within apparently unrelated categories, such as "energy" and "transport", as well as the ambiguous portmanteau term, "sustainability".

The situation is further complicated by the fact that much of the funding is directed at "research centres and groups" and groups, where the spending is not necessarily specifically categorised. The Councils also fund fellowships, "studentships" and a very substantial number of PhD studies, some in collaboration with other agencies (e.g. other research councils, government departments, the business, local authority and voluntary communities).

All of that probably means that the actual spending on climate change is not only unknown, but unknowable – without a huge effort and a considerable amount of time and labour. Any figure obtained is bound to be a very substantial under-estimate.

That said, I have been trawling through some of the more obvious funding agencies. We already have a figure of £243 million for the Met Office Hadley Centre and recently I looked at the Engineering and Physical Science Council (EPSRC). Its database records 114 university projects, dispensing a grand sum of £63,245,372. And then there are the 912 grants from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) on climate change, at £166,500,521.

Another big spender is the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), but to describe its database as shambolic is to pay it a huge compliment. There is no mechanism for extracting themes, global costs or even refining searches. Entries are duplicated, with different headings, and many "climate change" entries are falsely labelled, completely unrelated to the subject. Furthermore, details can only be obtained by opening each project file, individually.

Thus, I have been reduced, laboriously, to reviewing those individual files and so far have been through about 200 of over 5,000 files, finding details of 50 projects and research centre funding. Those 50 files yield £16,662,221.52 in grants, including £4.6 million for the Grantham Institute at the LSE. That centre also takes £3 million from Munich Re and £500,000 from Yorkshire Forward.

The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research is also funded to the tune of £1 million from the ERSC, but we have established that it is actually funded from multipe sources. Between 2000-2008 it was in receipt of £15.8 million. That brings newly identified spending to £40.9 million.

So far, that brings the grand total of the identified spending on UK research establishments and institutions to £498.6 million. To that, we can add a "bonus" of £25 million for a sustainable consumption institute at Manchester University pledged by Tesco. This centre is made up of one professor, five academics, some 20 PhD researchers and up to 30 PhD students. That raises the total to well over the half-billion mark.

But that is only scratching the surface. Given the time this is taking to tease out the details, I am not sure that I will ever get close to the real figure, although there is still a lot of low-hanging fruit to harvest.

However, at least I can add a reliable half-billion pounds to Joanne Nova's $79 billion – plus we know already that the EU Framework 7 programme includes €1.9 billion on direct climate change research. Framework 6 runs to €769 million. If we take all the Annex 1 countries, the sum expended must be well over $100 billion.

That, in terms of equivalent spending, is about five times the cost of the wartime Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb – then the most expensive ever project. It rather puts the current effort in perspective, especially as we seem to have very little to show for it, other than a very large number of academics bought and paid-for by the climate change lobby.