Cuts threaten work on climate change

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Britain's world lead in climate change research is being put at risk by proposed government spending cuts - just as Tony Blair sets out on a mission to secure a new international climate treaty.

Mr Blair meets Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in Berlin today to plan a radical new global warming agreement for the world, to be put forward at the G8 summit of rich nations to be held in Germany in June.

Back home, Britain's own internationally renowned scientific work on climate prediction and research, which has provided a solid base for its global warming diplomacy, is being jeopardised by cuts to the budget of the UK Meteorological Office being sought by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), its sponsoring department, according to senior sources.

There is grave concern at high levels of the Met Office that if the cutbacks go ahead, Britain's position at the top of the climate change science league will be lost.

In drawing up its next annual budget the MoD, under pressure from the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is seeking year-on-year funding reductions in the Met Office's public weather service, which is centred around its giant supercomputers used for simulating the global climate and thus forecasting the weather.

But these computers not only forecast the sunshine and the rain a week in advance - they are used by the Met Office's Hadley Centre to predict the world's climate up to a century ahead.

It is this work, strongly indicating that greenhouse gases will cause global temperatures to rise disastrously, which has been at the heart of all the concern over climate change for the past 15 years. Although the work is funded directly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the tools it relies on - the hardware, and the in-house-written software - are funded from the public weather service budget.

One concern is that when the supercomputers need replacing, probably by 2011, the Met Office will not be able to buy leading-edge models to replace them. The fear is that it will then rapidly lose its leading position among climate science institutes, and will see its best staff drift away.

Met Office staff are reluctant to speak publicly about the situation. But a former boss of the organisation feels under no such constraints. "It seems to me that the MoD is unwilling or unable to acknowledge its responsibility, as owner of the Met Office, to the other government departments and to the public at large, for the future," said Peter Ewins, who was Met Office chief executive from 1997 to 2004.

The MoD insisted last night that it would "continue to provide the Met Office with the funding it needs in order to deliver the vital services required by its customers in government".

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