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Ex Government science minister calls for war on carbon

26 August 2008

Lord Ronald Oxburgh says that governments throughout the world must adopt a ‘war footing’ against carbon dioxide if the planet is to win the battle against climate change.
The former Chief Scientific Advisor at the Ministry of Defence and Shell Chairman told an audience of chemical engineers and scientists this week that governments must provide incentives to developers of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology before time runs out.

“Developing world markets will not open up and invest unless costs come down,” Oxburgh warned.
“CCS cannot solve the carbon dioxide problem on its own but there can be no solution without it. The difficulty is that CCS technology is immature and if we are to work toward the required emissions reductions within the next ten years, then we have to start doing the hard engineering work now.”

Oxburgh said the UK Government must actively support pioneering CCS technologists at a pace similar to that of the first Iraq war: “I was the MoD Chief Scientist during the first Iraq war and things got done in two and a half months that conventionally would have taken two and a half years. People said ‘there’s a job to be done, a war to be won: let’s decide what we want and we’ll write the contracts while the work is being done’.

“We are fighting a war against carbon dioxide and we have to tackle it in the same way. Spending months working on contracts is simply losing the game. Without Government intervention there will not be enough time. Early projects will be less efficient than later ones, so there’s going to be lots of ‘learning by doing’ and a penalty for going first.

“But pioneers must be rewarded because there is a real danger that financial instruments designed to get the cheapest possible solutions are going to be ineffective because they come too late,” Oxburgh concluded.

He was speaking at the Institution of Chemical Engineers’ (IChemE) Energy Conversion Technology specialists meeting and IChemE Chief Executive, Dr David Brown backed Oxburgh’s rallying call: “The time for talking and planning is over, it’s now time to start doing the work. It will cost money and it will be difficult but scientists and chemical engineers are ready for the challenge.

“Time is critical”, Brown warned. “We’re already going to incur damaging impacts of climate change – the longer we delay, the greater the chance they’ll be catastrophic”

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