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Wednesday, 10 May, 2000, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
UK 'must make huge carbon cuts'
storm on coast
Storms are set to increase as climate warms
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The UK Government must make drastic cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, says one of its leading advisers.

Sir Tom Blundell is professor of biochemistry at the University of Cambridge and chairs the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP).

He says the commission will tell the government emissions of CO2, the main gas blamed for global warming, must fall to less than half their present levels.

Sir Tom says UK energy costs must rise to encourage more efficient use.

The international agreement on tackling climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, commits developed countries to cut their emissions of six greenhouse gases by an average of 5.2% on their 1990 levels by between 2008 and 2012.

Serious challenges

The UK has agreed to make 12.5% reductions in its emissions, and the government has given a separate pledge to cut the country's carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2012.

biomass power plant
This power station will burn willow trees, a renewable resource
Prof Blundell told BBC Radio 4's environment programme Costing the Earth what the RCEP would tell the government in its report on energy, due out in June.

He said: "The protocol is a challenge, but unfortunately the real challenges are even greater, and we need to think about them very seriously.

"The commission's vision is that we must reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere considerably below those proposed in the protocol.

"We need to move to something like a 60% reduction in emissions if in fact we're going to level off at CO2 levels in the atmosphere which will give a tolerable effect on the climate."

Carbon sequestration

Prof Blundell said he still saw a place for fossil fuels, despite his belief that energy would increasingly come from renewable sources.

He said: "We need to have sources of energy which can be made available at those times when the renewables are not available, because they're intermittent.

"For that, of course, we need to think about carbon sequestration, getting rid of some of the CO2 at source and storing it somewhere else.

"It can be done. The problem is how much it will cost."

A warmer UK could be a big wine producer
The programme reports on a successful sequestration project off the Norwegian coast, which is storing about a million tonnes of CO2 annually in a deep saline reservoir in the rock.

Prof Blundell also said the price of energy in the UK would have to rise and added: "If the message about efficient use of energy is going to get through, then it's going to be very difficult when the cost of energy is as low as it is at the moment.

"We need a carbon tax, and it needs to be applied where the CO2 is generated. This will produce extra taxes for domestic users."

Still sceptical

Some researchers question the idea that human activities are inducing rapid climate change.

They say the evidence is weak, highlighting the inconsistencies between the temperature records taken at the Earth's surface, which show rapid warming over the last two decades, and the data produced by satellite and balloon studies.

These show little or no warming higher in the atmosphere over the same period.

These scientists say our understanding of climate processes is still very limited, and that any computer models of future change must be treated with extreme caution as a result.

Costing the Earth, presented by Alex Kirby, is broadcast at 2100 BST every Thursday on BBC Radio 4 until 1 June 2000

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