UK plans energy research centre

Mar 11, 2004 01:00 AM

The UK government is planning a £ 12 mm energy research centre to help compensate for the scientific research that has been lost with the privatisation of power companies. Sir David King, the chief scientific adviser to the government, who was at the centre of claims of "gagging" because of his forthright views on global warming, said the plan could be announced in a few weeks, and added that it could eventually preside over a £ 50 mm programme.
He had set up a review team to look at energy research when he became chief adviser, he told a Lords committee.

"We found something very unnerving, which was that faced with the climate change issue the UK's investment in energy research had dropped very, very sharply, and the reason for that is very simple. The Central Electricity Generating Board had been privatised and the utilities shut down the research laboratory they inherited."
"We didn't forecast what would happen to energy research as a result of that. We are picking up on this and a new UK energy research centre I hope will be announced within the next few weeks."

He wanted to see the power utilities, along with the big oil companies such as Amoco and Shell, spending more on research into new, clean, energy resources. The centre would investigate "unexpected" technologies. But there would also be studies of small ways to save energy, and large-scale developments such as efficient engines, bio-fuels, electricity from waste, wave and tidal power, and cheap hydrogen for fuel cells.
Sir David made headlines in January when he wrote in the US journal Science that global warming was a greater danger, worldwide, than international terrorism. He was clearly addressing the US, which has refused to join the Kyoto agreement to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

By the time Sir David arrived to address 1,000 scientists and policymakers in the US, in February, he had received a Downing Street memo advising that he better avoid being drawn into a debate about whether or not global warming was worse than terrorism. But, when he gave evidence to the Lords inquiry into climate change, Sir David stuck to his guns.
"It is the biggest issue facing us this century," he said.

He stressed that through most of human history, carbon dioxide levels had remained at about 270 ppm. They had risen since the industrial revolution to 327 ppm, and would continue to rise. If, in the next few years, the world united its efforts, carbon dioxide levels might be stabilised at 450 ppm.
This level might be enough to avoid sudden dramatic shifts in climate patterns, such as changes in the Gulf stream, which keeps Britain 5C-10C warmer than its latitude might otherwise permit.

"We are now [at a higher level of CO2] than our globe has been for at least 420,000 years," Sir David said. "Unfortunately, as time moves on, the global warming events such as the very high temperatures in Europe over the past summer will occur more frequently."
"I think nations around the world will understand that in order to reducethe risks, action will have to be taken. And among those nations has to be the United States, which is responsible for emitting about a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide."

Source: The Guardian
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