Enviro-boxer Britain needs to spend more on climate cure

September 10, 2009

Scientists may face an uphill battle in trying to warn the world about the looming perils of global warming, but one of Britain’s top academics wouldn’t trade places with the politicians tasked with negotiating a new global treaty to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

“Although the science (of climate change) is difficult and still uncertain, it’s a doddle compared to the politics,” said Martin Rees, president of the Royal Society, Britain’s science academy.

Thousands of international delegates will convene at UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December. All early indications suggest those talks, seen as critical to agreeing a successor to the Kyoto Protocol after it expires in 2012, will be anything but a cake walk.

That said, Rees thinks UK policymakers have done a good job so far.

“We must give (the UK) government credit for its leadership in this area, going back to the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005 when climate change was pushed up the agenda,” Rees said at the Reuters Climate and Alternative Energy Summit this week.

“The UK punches above its weight in the debate on climate change even though we only produce 2% of the world’s emissions,” said Rees, likening Britain to some sort of environmental boxer.

Rees thinks that because the UK has the high-tech know-how, it should strive to provide more than 2% of the solution to the climate problem by upping investment technologies to help replace fossil fuel burning.

“The level of research and development into new energy technologies is far lower than the scale of the challenge demands … The R&D on renewable energy should be closer to what we spend on health or medicine, but it’s tiny, tiny compared to that.”

“Without new technologies, we’ll never meet out 2050 targets,” he said, referring to Britain’s goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by mid-century.

Should the UK assume a larger climate role relative to its size or greenhouse gas contribution? Should it spend as much on researching renewable energy as it does developing cures for disease?

To listen to an excerpt of our interview with Rees, click here

To read the Reuters Climate Summit interview with Rees, click here

(Reuters photo – British boxer Amir Khan)

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