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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005, 12:11 GMT
Environment shuffle?
On Sunday 20 November 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed Sir David King, Government Chief Scientific Advisor

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Sir David King
Sir David King and Andrew Marr

ANDREW MARR: Well listening to that was the man who guides the Prime Minister through the complexities of this issue.

He is chief scientific advisor, Sir David King.

Welcome Sir David. Has Tony Blair changed his mind?

DAVID KING: Well I'm afraid this is going to turn into a non-issue because Tony Blair and the Cabinet are still absolutely clear on the need for targets. We signed up to Kyoto, we ratified Kyoto, we...

ANDREW MARR: But he's talking about voluntary targets Sir David...

DAVID KING: He's talking about voluntary targets and I think here is the confusion. Margaret Beckett was also misunderstood according to the papers today, in the following sense.

We believe absolutely that the targets set and fixed in Kyoto are the targets that the developed world ought to be following. What we are now discussing in Montreal is extending this to include the five countries whose heads of state the Prime Minister invited to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles. And so in those discussions...

ANDREW MARR: Countries like India and China...

DAVID KING: India, China, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico - what we're saying to those countries is come and join the discussions and we're not telling you in advance that we're facing targets.

ANDREW MARR: You want to see the next deal also include firm and mandatory targets for the western countries who have already signed up to them, or are we slipping away from targets?

DAVID KING: No, we have to have target...

ANDREW MARR: And do they have to be mandatory?

DAVID KING: And they have to be mandatory. I don't see how we can continue with the cap and trade process for carbon dioxide emissions unless it's based on targets. That is the whole...

ANDREW MARR: So what does Tony Blair mean when he says we need a more sensitive and alternative way of dealing with this problem, that's what worried people?

DAVID KING: I believe what he's discussing is in the run-up to Montreal, how do we extend that to include these five countries and of course we're also concerned about the United States position - United States emits 25% of the world's carbon dioxide. How do we bring them on board? So that is part of the discussion.

ANDREW MARR: So the sense that some people have, that Tony Blair has simply as it were, looked and listened to the position in Washington and shrugged it - given up - on trying to bring the Americans round. That's wrong do you think?

DAVID KING: I believe it's wrong, and I believe what is wrong as well, is giving anything like the impression that we have lost momentum on this whole process. It is the biggest challenge facing the world this century, just let me repeat that. And as we are moving forward through this G8 year I have seen momentum develop.

It's not just a political issue, it's also a moral issue, it's an issue that is a culture change issue. And I believe we're already - I'm sitting here talking to you on the programme about it, we've already raised the profile in a way that wasn't true just a year ago. ANDREW MARR: You see, you're a scientist, and understand the awesome nature of what may be happening, what we believe is happening, and what needs to happen. And yet you're surrounded by politicians, not just in this country, whose electorates want constant fossil, fuel-based growth - who want to drive their cars evermore freely, who want to go on cheap holidays. And the politicians seem to want people to be responding by saying well listen we can't go too far in the hard measures, the tough measures, the real lifestyle changing measures, because they're not politically acceptable.

DAVID KING: And so what do...

ANDREW MARR: To me Blair sounds a bit like he's going down that road.

DAVID KING: What needs to be got through to politicians is the notion that 10, 20, 40 years from now really matters. That even though this is a project which will only have a real impact for subsequent generations, it's something that we really have to deal with. My best way of putting this is, it's like putting a man on the moon.

We all have to pool resource to deal with what is an enormous problem for just the reasons you're giving Andrew, which is we have through the past 100 years developed our economies around fossil fuels. This is the biggest industry in the world, the energy industry, and we want to change that industry totally. How do we achieve that?


DAVID KING: A massive challenge.

ANDREW MARR: It is a massive challenge. What does it mean?

DAVID KING: The challenge is we have to do it.

ANDREW MARR: You have to do it, we have to do it. What do you think it means for our lifestyles 10 or 15 years hence? Do we have to get off the cheap travel, the assumption that we can all go around the world two or three times a year - many families do that, now that's all got to finish. Do we have to have a radically different attitude to cars?

DAVID KING: I think that what will happen is first of all we have consumers who each want their own independent means of travelling around. I don't see the car being eliminated in the future. What will happen is that much more efficient car engines will be developed. We're already seeing this through the arrival of the hybrid engine vehicle. We will see hydrogen economies develop around the world where we will...

ANDREW MARR: So life will, life will be quite similar, it's just that the engines driving it will be different?

DAVID KING: Let me just try and emphasise this point. I don't believe that switching our energy sources is going to cause a drop in GDP. I think we can manage it. The investment in the new technologies is what will drive this process forward. I think if we get the idea across that this is a sort of sandal and hair-shirt brigade...

ANDREW MARR: They won't vote for it

DAVID KING: As a matter of fact I'm not sure I would.

ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you about, probably the biggest decision in front of the government on energy at the moment, which is nuclear? What are you telling the Prime Minister about that?

DAVID KING: Well I think here the equation is very simple. We have roughly now 21% of our energy from nuclear on the grid. A few years ago it was 24%. One of the reasons why our carbon dioxide emissions are going up is because we're already seeing a loss of power from nuclear. Go forward to 2010 and we're down to 4% onto the energy grid in the UK from nuclear. All of that is coming from a CO2-free source. I think we need every tool in the bag to tackle this problem.

ANDREW MARR: So more nuclear - and we have to put the money in quite quickly otherwise they don't come on stream early enough.

DAVID KING: We have to make decisions very quickly and I think the important thing here is, give the green light to the private sector utilities, to give them nuclear as an option. I'm not saying that...

ANDREW MARR: You're not the politician but that's the indication what you're saying. Finally, it was in the manifesto this 2010 target on emissions. We're not going to hit it are we?

DAVID KING: It's a very tough target to hit at the moment. And I think the reason I would give for missing it is first of all the loss of nuclear. Secondly that we are putting in train the government, let me rephrase that, is putting in train a set of processes that any of which will only pay through over a long period of time. Look at building regulations...

ANDREW MARR: What is it?

DAVID KING: 2010, but what I am saying Andrew is the longer term targets are actually the critical ones. 20% reduction by 2020, 60% by 2050 - absolutely vital. And these things like building a new power station, they take many, many years to come through. So I think perhaps we were being a bit optimistic but the government hasn't given up on it, on it's target for 2010.

ANDREW MARR: Sir David, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

DAVID KING: Thank you.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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