Letter: Britain must help to dilute acid rain

Sir: The UK media has devoted much space to the way in which I happened to characterise my colleague John Gummer (Secretary of State for the Environment) at a local election campaign meeting in Norway. My concern was, and is, that acid rain, in particular from the UK, is Norway's greatest single environmental problem, causing damage to my country in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds each year.

It is agreed by scientists in all concerned countries that acid rain causes comprehensive damage to freshwater ecosystems and is a major factor in the widespread forest damage that affects many countries in Europe, as well as North America. In Norway, acid precipitation has caused severe damage to almost 25 per cent of the country's total area. The number of Norwegian lakes without fish has doubled since the 1970s. The area affected by acid rain is still increasing, in spite of the measures taken so far, nationally and internationally. This situation is unacceptable and should merit the attention of the British government.

Norway has reduced its own emissions of sulphur dioxide by 70 per cent since 1980. However, we receive more than 90 per cent of our total deposition from other countries. International co-operation is vital if the countries most affected by the deposition of sulphur are to see any improvement. An agreement is under negotiation in Geneva which, when completed, hopefully later this autumn, will have reduction targets for individual countries directly related to the ability of the natural environment in affected countries to absorb the sulphur deposition they receive.

My aim, when trying to engage the Minister's attention, was to stress the need for the most ambitious possible targets if the desired overall effect is to be achieved.

The UK is still the largest single contributor to the deposition of sulphur dioxide in Norway. Almost 30 per cent of the total sulphur deposition has been calculated to originate there. It is therefore of vital importance that the UK accepts and signs the new agreement and assumes its proper share of the burden involved in further reducing the total European emissions of sulphur within an agreed timescale.

It is not only in Norway's interests that the negotiations succeed, but also in the interests of the UK, since considerable damage to UK ecosystems is in large part due to the UK's own emissions.

It is clear that our two countries must work together, and with other countries, to achieve an effective agreement which will require all participating countries to reduce emissions to a level where the natural environment in Europe is no longer under threat.

Yours faithfully,

THORBJORN BERNTSEN

Minister of the Environment

Oslo, Norway

Comments