UK must halve pollution 'to avert catastrophe'

Global warning: Scientists call on Government to show 'forceful leadership' in setting higher cuts in energy use and carbon dioxide emissions
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An influential panel of scientists has called for deep cuts in the use of fossil fuels and radical changes in lifestyles to prevent global warming "running out of control".

An influential panel of scientists has called for deep cuts in the use of fossil fuels and radical changes in lifestyles to prevent global warming "running out of control".

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution warned yesterday that Britain had to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent within 50 years to avert an environmental catastrophe.

Its new report said prevention measures should include a new "carbon tax" on all oil, gas and coal used, tougher standards on building insulation, a new sustainable energy agency, the greater use of wind farms, solar power, wave energy and fuel crops, and, potentially, more use of nuclear power.

The commission said ministers needed to set more ambitious targets for reducing CO2 emissions than its planned cut of 20 per cent by 2010. Current government plans to save energy and cut fossil fuel use would "fall some way short" of reaching that goal, it warned.

The commissioners said the Government had to show "forceful leadership" on the world stage to achieve the 60 per cent cut, as well as introduce a "fundamental" change in energy use in Britain. Sir Tom Blundell, the commission's chairman, said: "To knowingly cause large-scale disruptions to climate would be unjust and reckless. If the UK cannot demonstrate that it is serious about doing its part to address this threat, it cannot expect other nations - least of all those which are much less wealthy - to do theirs."

In particular, the commissioners said the official 10 per cent target for renewable energy generation by 2010 was too low, power stations were too wasteful, that improvements in car efficiency were too modest, that research spending on new energy sources had to be quadrupled, and that energy efficiency standards in British homes were very poor.

Professor Brian Hoskins, president of the Royal Meteorological Society, claimed the consequences of failure could be disastrous. "If nothing is done, we can expect these temperature changes to accelerate, and for sea levels to keep rising," he said.

That would lead to damaging effects on farming and forestry, water sources, flood defences, ecosystems, and human health, he said. Those changes "will affect hundreds of millions of lives ... Abrupt changes in the climate system might also be triggered, with much more serious effects."

The commission report, Energy - The Changing Climate, makes 87 recommendations, many of which are directed at the devolved governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, as well as central government.

Several areas will prove controversial. The commission suggests dozens of nuclear stations could be built if the unsolved problem of permanently disposing of nuclear waste was properly tackled.

Industry will be concerned about new carbon taxes hitting high energy users and transport, potentially giving overseas competitors an advantage.

The committee's recommendations were broadly welcomed. Michael Meacher, the Environment minister, said Britain "must rise" to the challenge outlined by the commission. "None of us can afford to underestimate the challenge which lies ahead," he said. Roger Higman, of Friends of the Earth, said he hoped it would "kick the Government in the pants and into meeting the targets it should be meeting".