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Sir David King warns against fracking

Sir David King

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, says fracking ‘won’t be a game-changer in the UK.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian


Powered by article titled “Sir David King warns against fracking” was written by Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, for The Guardian on Monday 16th September 2013 16.42 UTC

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the government, has warned of the “enormous environmental consequences” of attempting to fulfil the UK’s gas needs by fracking and has played down the idea that it would have a major impact on the UK’s energy market.

King, who left his government post in 2007, has been appointed special representative on climate change to the foreign secretary, William Hague, with effect from 1 October.

But, in contrast to many of the coalition’s senior figures, who are eagerly espousing shale gas as an alternative to investment in renewable energy, he does not believe gas from unconventional sources can be relied on to power the UK.

“It will not be a game-changer here as it has been in the US,” he told the Guardian in his first interview since his new appointment. “You will not be able to do that and there would be enormous environmental consequences.”

He said that the role of gas in future would be much reduced, with the fuel providing only a back-up service in power generation, turned on at periods of peak electricity demand and then turned off again in favour of renewables and nuclear power.

This view is in stark contrast to ministerial urgings for a new “dash for gas” that some in the coalition have said should take over from the push for renewable energy. George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer, has introduced new tax breaks for shale gas exploration. David Cameron has said that shale gas will reduce bills. And Ed Davey, the climate change minister, said last week that fracking would not endanger the UK’s climate targets.

King’s reappointment to a government role – primarily to guide the UK’s stance in international climate negotiations, but he also to advise on aspects of the UK’s greenhouse gas reduction – will cause consternation among some green campaigners, because of his controversial views on the progress of UN climate negotiations. He does not believe that the current style of talks, aimed at producing a global agreement similar to the Kyoto protocol of 1997, will bear fruit in the way their backers hope.

His view is that the US, which declined to ratify the Kyoto protocol, will not sign up to a legally binding international treaty on climate change because that would require a majority in favour in Congress, which he sees as unlikely. At the same time, he notes, China – the world’s biggest emitter – is refusing to countenance a global agreement if the US stays outside.

King said that a “considerably more creative” solution was needed.

This would be most likely to take the form of a “bottom-up” arrangement by which each country could set its own targets on greenhouse gas reduction, and meet them at a national level, rather than having to submit to internationally set goals.

Many green campaigning groups deplore such a suggestion because they see it as much less rigorous than a formal treaty and easier for countries to wriggle out of, leaving greenhouse gases to continue their rapid rise.

The consequences of such a rise are expected to be set out in stark terms later this month, when scientists meet for the first time in seven years to hammer out the final details of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are expected to say that climate change is 95% likely to have been caused by human actions, and that if greenhouse gases are allowed to continue their rise, the results will be felt around the world in the form of sea level rises, glacial melting, storms, droughts and floods.

King said the climate negotiations were “one of the biggest challenges for diplomacy”. His new role will take him centre stage at the next round of the UNFCCC talks in Warsaw this November, in vital negotiations that are supposed to form a staging post on the way to a major conference in Paris in 2015, at which governments have pledged to forge a new global climate agreement.

King’s views on shale exploration come as anti-fracking campaigners celebrated a partial victory in the high court on Monday. Protestors camping at a potential fracking site in Sussex were told they could stay in place until early October.

The Balcombe protestors were challenging an eviction notice from the local council, and they gained a partial victory, as the court ruled that the notice from the council was flawed, and adjourned proceedings.


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