Royal Society slates UK climate change policy

Government climate change policies are failing to address the effects of global warming, the Royal Society has warned. It called for urgent action during this session of parliament to cut emissions of carbon dioxide.

Speaking ahead of the Queen’s Speech this week, Sir David Wallace, Vice President of the Royal Society said the government was still overestimating how much the UK can cut its carbon emissions by without radical changes in policy.

“There are some tough political decisions to be made, in this parliament, about how the UK manages its seemingly insatiable appetite for energy at a time when cutting emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is imperative,” he said. “This is underlined by the fact that, at the current rate, even the Government’s revised assessment of how much carbon dioxide the UK will cut is frankly unrealistic.”

His comments were made as the Royal Society published its response to the Defra review of the climate change programme. This pointed out that the reductions in emission of greenhouse gases were not as a result of climate change policies at all, but came as the result of other changes such as the liberalisation of the gas market in the 1980s, leading to a move away from coal and oil, and the decline in manufacturing and heavy industry.

The Government has already admitted that under current policies it will not meet its original target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. Indeed, the UK has admitted that levels of emissions have actually risen over the past two years (see related story).

Now, the Royal Society warns that, unless the rate of development of both renewable and energy efficiency measures make up for the loss of capacity resulting from the phase out of nuclear power, the UK will actually become more reliant on fossil fuels, meaning CO2 emissions will in fact rise.

“Our emissions are clearly going in the wrong direction,” Sir David said. “The government’s revised climate change programme must spell out its resolve to look at the role that all energy sources, including nuclear, along with energy efficiency measures, might play in meeting the Government’s ambitions for cutting carbon dioxide emissions.”

The Society also recommended that the Government introduce a carbon tax to put a cost on all emissions of carbon dioxide from all sectors, including industrial, domestic and transport, to encourage development of cleaner technologies. A previous report by the Royal Society claimed such a tax would have only negligible effects on long-term GDP.

Defra announced this week that they would be allocating additional funding to improve understanding of the effects of climate change, but nothing to help prevent it in the first place.

By David Hopkins

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