‘Green’ expert sees red over UK climate pledges

July 8, 2009

Professor Sir David King, the British government’s former top scientific adviser, is no stranger to controversy.


He ruffled feathers on both sides of the Atlantic in 2004 when he described climate change as a more serious threat to the world than terrorism.


Earlier this year, he said the Iraq war may come to be seen as the world first’s “resource war”, based on oil rather than weapons of mass destruction.


Now the South African-born academic risks putting more politicians’ noses out of joint.


In a speech in Oxford this week, King accused Gordon Brown of talking tough on climate change, but failing to follow his words up with action, mainly due to a lack of public money.


“It is relatively easy, and this is from my direct experience, for a prime minister to make a speech on climate change which sounds very committed, but very much more difficult for a prime minister to persuade the Treasury (finance ministry) to put the finance behind that,” King told the 2009 The Times/Smith School World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment at Keble College, Oxford.


“There is a long distance in government between saying what you think is needed to be said and then doing in terms of making the budgets available.”


Rich nations’ pledges to spend big chunks of their economic stimulus packages on “green projects” have had mixed results, he added.


South Korea has put an estimated 80 percent of its stimulus money into environmental projects, China roughly 50 percent, while the British government is far behind on about 8 percent, King told delegates.


“What happened between Number 10 (Brown’s office) and the decision making process?  I suppose I am going to point at the Treasury,” King said.


The gap between politicians’ fine words and practical action can often be blamed on the government’s reluctance to try to “back winners” with state subsidies.


“That philosophy then blocks the way in the transition between statements from the prime minister and emerging policy,” King said.


Brown would strongly dispute that analysis. In a speech last month, the prime minister compared the challenges posed by climate change to the rebuilding of Europe after World War Two.


He said Britain was at the forefront of the fight against global warming and will support 50 billion pounds of low carbon investment in the current spending period.


King, who is the first director of the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, said he was disappointed by the poor turnout of senior politicians at the World Forum, a three-day conference with many of the world’s top climate scientists.


“I tried to pull in a lot of IOUs,” he said. “But where was (business secretary) Lord Mandelson, where was (energy and climate change secretary) Ed Miliband, where was (opposition Conservative leader) David Cameron?”


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There is no cash to spare on these projects.The banking sector has it all. In years tocome when we have passed the “tipping point”the government of the day came then blame thebanking sector for global warming too !Easy is’nt it !

Posted by Graeme Murphy | Report as abusive

There must be a real action taken after the G8 meeting and not only words!Its the acts that counts.MatsRGKeep the environment green

Posted by MatsRG | Report as abusive

If human activities over the past 200 years have been responsible for global warming, I wonder how much of it was caused by emissions during the 150 years or so before we started measurements?The burning of coal that gave the Black Country its name and caused the lethal smogs in London, with similar consumption in Europe and the USA, must have been a potent factor. Much of the damage may have already been done before we were aware of the danger. Can we really reverse the results of 200 years of industrial pollution in fifty years?

Posted by Michael Organe | Report as abusive

The major factors in the Earths climate are the Sun, variations in the Earths orbit and Cosmic ray interactions in the upper atmosphere. But as you cannot tax a cosmic ray CO2 will have to do.

Posted by WhateverNext | Report as abusive

If we spend enough money to curtail global warming will Pluto start cooling also? The latest finding by Al Gore is that our CO2 has caused Pluto to start warming also. That is far reaching….solar system warming. I should say far left reaching.

Posted by dab | Report as abusive