October 31, 2011, by Simon Gosling

A Week in Westminster for Simon Gosling… Day 1

Today was very much like the first day of work at a new job. i.e. a great deal of very interesting, fascinating, and important information to take in, in a very short amount of time! My first day on the Royal Society Pairing Scheme, with Mr Barry Gardiner MP (Ed Miliband’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and the Environment) has been compelling and I’ve been left looking forward to the rest of my ‘Week in Westminster’.


I started the day with a coffee in the atrium of Portcullis House, to meet Barry and to discuss what it is that we do in our normal day-to-day jobs. The atrium was busy with MPs holding meetings with their constituents, guests and staff, and I recognised many faces that I usually see on BBC Question Time or BBC Parliament. Barry and I quickly realised that the Royal Society had done an excellent job in ‘pairing us’. Mr Gardiner mentioned he was very interested in what climate change could mean for global water security and geo-politics, which is an ideal fit to my research expertise in numerical modelling of the global hydrological cycle and water security. We decided that over the rest of the week we would investigate using some of my research and results to contribute towards the policy debate on global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. This is policy-orientated research in it’s most direct form and something that I have been heavily involved with throughout my research career. To be discussing the role of climate change impact science directly with an MP as prominent as Barry was a real pleasure.


After chatting informally for an hour or so, I began ‘shadowing’ Barry, as he went about attending his daily meetings and order of business in the House of Commons. My highlight of the day was attending one of the sessions in the Chamber of the Palace of Westminster. It was a rare opportunity to observe some of the debates and question-and-answer sessions that take place daily in Westminster. Today’s questions were all aimed at the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and were largely to do with pertinent issues regarding the National Planning Policy Framework, development of urban areas in Greenbelt areas, ‘sustainable development’ and urban planning in the UK, and the issue of high rents and housing prices. Following this was an “Urgent Questions” session, which involved a 30 minute discussion on Feed in Tariffs and PV solar installations in the UK, and in particular, driving down the cost of solar installations nationwide.


While many of the issues I’ve mentioned above do present a strong geographical context, and especially related to climate change, my experience of seeing first-hand the discussions that take place in the House of Commons at the Palace of Westminster have demonstrated the multitude of other issues that our leaders need to consider when forming national policy. These include not just climate change and the environment, but also economics and social issues. What is clear, is that politicians have a myriad of other concerns to deal with when making decisions on environmental policy, and that the decision-making process is far from a straightforward consideration of the science case only.


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