No retreat from Kyoto, says UK Chief Scientist

The UK will respect its Kyoto Protocol obligations, and will play a full role in forthcoming negotiations on how a successor treaty could control greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change after 2012, according to the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.

In response to questions at a climate change forum in Singapore this week, Sir David appeared anxious to paper over cracks that have appeared in the UK’s position following controversial remarks made by Prime Minister Tony Blair at the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York last month. Blair was reported to have questioned whether international treaties were the best way of reducing harmful emissions, a position long associated with the Bush administration, which has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

Sir David acknowledged that alternative strategies concentrating on environmental science and technology had been discussed by the Prime Minister during a panel session with the US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, but said it was completely inaccurate to infer any change of course: “The UK is totally committed to the Kyoto process.”

Sir David stressed that his own role is to place scientific knowledge in the public domain rather than to formulate policy, but he is known to be an advocate of international treaties to enforce emissions targets and timetables. At last year’s Greenpeace Business Lecture, he expressed the view that “Kyoto is not enough … it will need to be ratcheted up so that we can really bring emissions under control”. And in the Singapore forum he repeated that “effective action demands international agreement”.

The forum, “Global Action to Tackle Climate Change”, enabled Sir David to deploy the devastating scientific evidence of his Greenpeace lecture in an Asian context. “The world’s cities have been built in the wrong places,” he said, predicting a rise in sea level of 6.5 metres from a thaw of the Greenland ice sheet.

Sir David appeared concerned that recent research had cast doubt on scientists’ understanding of the process of ice melting on this massive scale. Previous estimates that carbon dioxide concentration of 500-550 parts per million (which could be reached in only 60 years at current emission rates) would trigger the mass Greenland thaw may have to be revised downwards.

As the highest point on the island of Singapore is barely 150 metres and much of its most valuable property and industry is built on reclaimed land, the audience was left to reflect on the wisdom of the Singapore government, which has aligned itself with the US in abstaining so far from the Kyoto Protocol.

The UK has its own share of small and not-so-small islands. Activists will doubtless be seeking early clarification that the Prime Minister’s commitment to enforceable treaties to mitigate climate change will not prove as fleeting as the showcase G8 and EU leadership roles that expire in the new year.

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this article was first published by OneWorld UK

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