Top UK government scientific advisor calls for greater public engagement on energy policy

There is a pressing need for more public discussion around energy policy in the UK, claims the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir Mark Walport. Giving the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) annual Clerk Maxwell lecture in London this week, Sir Mark urged energy professionals to engage more with the public, to ensure that there was a greater understanding of the issues.

Sir Mark reflected on the frequent clash between science and values when it comes to energy choices. He argued that debate in the public domain would à‚ enable a proper balance being struck between scientific and technical aspects of energy choices and the genuine concerns and reservations that the public have with many technologies and that energy professional should demonstrate a greater understand of these.

In his speech, Sir Mark took the opportunity to review all the major energy options that that are available either now or in the future and stressed that government policy must inevitably require “trade-offs” between the benefits and risks of each. He told IET members that governments view energy policy is through two different lenses, each of which is formed of three elements. The first is to consider evidence, deliverability and political implications and the second is to balance the energy “trilemma” of security, affordability and sustainability.

On sustainability, Sir Mark said that the UK has one of the strongest frameworks in the world and praised international governments for achieving the Paris accord aiming to limit the impact of climate change to less than 2à‚°C global warming, saying that the political commitment was very important, even if the target was “very difficult”.

Despite focusing on the strengths and weaknesses of different power generation options, Sir Mark insisted that reducing demand for energy was very important. He also stressed the important of innovation in energy technology and called for greater international cooperation in energy research.

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