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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The study is likely to be a blueprint for the next half a century"
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Sir Tom Blundell
"There are many ways of using energy much more efficiently"
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UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher
"The UK is actually leading the world"
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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 09:08 GMT 10:08 UK
UK warned of climate disaster
Towers BBC
Heat from cooling towers could warm local homes
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Scientists have warned that Britain is facing environmental disaster, predicting a dramatic rise in the emissions of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is calling for a 60% cut in emissions over the next half century.

We must rise to this, but cannot do so alone

Michael Meacher
The commission, an independent group which advises the government, says the cut will be needed "to prevent climate change running out of control".

The commission's chairman, Sir Tom Blundell, said: "Recklessly causing large-scale disruptions to climate by burning fossil fuels will affect all countries.

"It is the poorest that would suffer most. We cannot expect other nations to do their part in countering this threat unless we demonstrate we are really serious about it."

UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the commission was "right to highlight how enormous the challenge of climate change really is. He added: "We must rise to this, but cannot do so alone."

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main gas produced by human activities which is implicated in global warming. The UK Government has already undertaken to reduce CO2 levels by 2010 to 20% below what they were in 1990.

The commission hails this as "a major step in the right direction", but dismisses much of the progress so far as "fortuitous", and doubts whether the measures planned will ultimately achieve the intended goal.

Contraction and convergence

It says the UK's CO2 emissions are falling at the moment, but expects them to start rising again. It complains that the UK "lags far behind many other European countries in developing renewable energy", and in making more efficient use of heat supplied to homes.

One of the most remarkable parts of the commission's report is its declaration of support for the idea of "contraction and convergence" as the best basis for future international action to tackle climate change.

Homes BBC
UK homes cost four times as much to heat as Scandinavian homes
Contraction and convergence, which would mean that citizens of every country, rich or poor, would be entitled to emit the same amounts of climate-changing pollution, is an idea pioneered by Aubrey Meyer of the London-based Global Commons Institute.

Mr Meyer told BBC News Online: "Here's another body of sensible people taking a sensible line on what is an extremely intractable problem.

"I hope they will encourage many others to join in the support for this simple and effective idea."

The commission, which says countries should be allotted tradeable national emissions quotas calculated on the basis of contraction and convergence, says there is "a moral imperative to act now to curb emissions".

Undersea reservoirs

It says nuclear power cannot be part of the answer until the problem of nuclear waste is solved to the satisfaction of scientists and ordinary people. And the commission notes that "new nuclear stations are not indispensable in delivering long-term emission reductions".

It wants industry, motorists and domestic users to make much more efficient use of energy, and says there is potential for sequestering CO2 - piping it into undersea reservoirs for permanent storage.

With the use of energy - chiefly oil, coal and gas - still increasing, both globally and in the UK, the report sets out four possible scenarios for 2050.

All involve a reversal of the present trend, and three mean radical reductions in energy use.

"Some of the scenarios might involve significant changes in lifestyles. The challenge climate change poses for the world is so fundamental, however, that a complete transformation in the UK's use of energy will be an essential part of an effective global response."

The Commission's 19 key recommendations include:

  • creation of a Sustainable Energy Agency to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy development;
  • a carbon tax to replace the UK Government's planned energy tax;
  • use of the revenue raised to help people unable to afford fuel to heat their homes properly;
  • quadrupling government support for energy-related research and development.
The report expresses disappointment at the government's "slow progress" in tackling the growth of road traffic in the UK.

Some researchers still doubt that human activities are inducing rapid climate change. They highlight 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 if any warming of the low to mid-troposphere - the atmospheric layer extending up to about 8km from the Earth's surface.

Climate models generally predict that temperatures should increase in the upper air as well as at the surface if increased concentrations of greenhouse gases are causing the warming seen at the surface.

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15 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Putting a price on clean air
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