Nerc bids to help tackle global warming

March 15, 2002

An effort to crack a key problem thought to lie at the heart of global warming is being considered by the government, writes Steve Farrar.

The Natural Environment Research Council has made a bid for significant funding for an initiative that would support research projects in the United Kingdom.

Experts hope it will provide politicians with the scientific knowledge necessary to take action to curb the impact of carbon emissions on climate.

The Quest programme aims to balance the global carbon budget - the fundamental cycle that links the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide with carbon-containing terrestrial rocks and life on land and in the oceans.

Understanding this complex system is vital to getting a grip on how human activity could be upsetting the balance and how the impact on the climate might be controlled. Current models have discrepancies that run to billions of tonnes of carbon a year.

John Lawton, chief executive of Nerc, said that if the government backed the initiative in the comprehensive spending review in autumn, high levels of funding would become available to teams of scientists.

Scientists welcomed the prospect of improved funding.

Gail Taylor, senior lecturer in plant science at Southampton University, said there was a pressing need to quantify stocks of carbon locked up in living organisms in the UK.

Her Popyomics project seeks to use fast-growing poplar trees as a source of energy that does not make a net contribution to carbon emissions. It was this week awarded £1.4 million of European Union funding.

Tom Preston, senior lecturer at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre who has focused his efforts on marine algae, said: "The implications of the carbon budget are vast."

Nerc has also submitted to the Treasury a joint bid with other research councils for a programme on the rural economy and land use in the UK and another on sustainable energy research.

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