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Government must face difficult energy issues in this parliament

16 May 2005

Ahead of the Queens Speech tomorrow Sir David Wallace, Vice President of the Royal Society today (Monday 16 May) urged the Government to address, in the next parliamentary session, the difficult issue of how the UK can achieve an adequate supply of affordable energy while cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and warned that its current climate change policies are not working well enough.

Sir David made his comments as the Royal Society published its response to the review by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the UK climate change programme. The Royal Society warns that the Government is still overestimating how much the UK can cut its carbon dioxide emissions without changes in current policy.

Sir David said: 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. This is underlined by the fact that, at the current rate, even the Governments revised assessment of how much carbon dioxide the UK will cut is frankly unrealistic.

The Royal Society points out that Governments climate change policies have largely not been responsible for the cuts in UK carbon dioxide emissions achieved to date. Instead these have been the result of changes such as the liberalisation of the gas market in the 1980s which led to a move away from coal and oil burning for electricity generation and a reduction in heavy industry.

The failure of Governments climate policies are highlighted by the fact that in 2002 2003 the UKs emissions of carbon dioxide actually increased by over two per cent.

The Government has already admitted that under current policies it will not meet its original target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels, by 2010. Instead it has predicted that the UK will make a 14 per cent cut   requiring a seven per cent reduction in emissions in the next five years in addition to the seven per cent already achieved in the last 15 years.

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 phasing out of nuclear power, the UK will actually become more reliant on fossil fuels with the result that carbon dioxide emissions will go up rather than down.

Sir David said: Our emissions are clearly going in the wrong direction. The Governments revised climate change programme must spell out its resolve to look at how we deal with the loss of capacity from nuclear power stations and look at the role that all energy sources including nuclear, along with energy efficiency measures, might play in meeting the Governments ambitions for cutting carbon dioxide emissions. This is particularly important in the year that the Prime Minister has claimed international leadership for the UK on climate change by pushing it up the G8 and European Union agendas.

The Society has also recommended that the Government should, in its revised climate change programme, introduce a carbon tax which would put a cost on all emissions of carbon dioxide from all sectors including industrial, domestic and transport. This would encourage the development of cleaner technologies and a move away from carbon based fuels in the overall energy supply as well as promoting energy efficiency measures. A report by the Royal Society has shown that the impact of a carbon tax on the long-term global GDP would be negligible.