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MPs call for government geo-engineering strategy

Committee claims neglect of engineering sector has resulted in skills gap that could undermine low-carbon initiatives.

The government's failure to invest in engineering skills could seriously undermine its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, according to a highly critical MPs report which also calls on ministers to establish a clear strategy for investing in geo-engineering projects capable of minimising the effects of climate change.

The report from the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee concludes that the UK has "no clear strategy" for the engineering sector and is facing a "lack of expertise" that threatens the viability of government initiatives to cut carbon emissions, most notably through the rollout of a new generation of nuclear reactors and renewable energy technologies.

The report warns that "significant skills shortages could have a serious impact on the government's plans to build new nuclear power stations within 10 years", adding that "there is no clear and detailed plan for delivering the next generation of power stations".

It also says the committee was "shocked" to discover that there is a widespread absence of engineering expertise across the civil service and a consistent failure to seek engineering advice during the formulation of key government policies, such as eco-towns and renewable energy.

Phil Willis MP, chairman of the committee, said that reforms to government policy were needed to protect an engineering research base that remains "one of the best in the world" and will make a vital contribution to tackling global challenges such as climate change.

Controversially, the report states that the government would be "negligent" not to consider the "potential of geo-engineering technologies as a 'plan B' to the 'plan A' of mitigation and adaptation", and calls on the government to set out its position on such projects.

The findings follow the launch last year of a wide-ranging Royal Society initiative to assess the viability of geo-engineering projects designed to help reduce global temperatures or absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, such as proposals to seed the oceans to create carbon-capturing algal blooms or artificially create high-altitude clouds to reflect more of the sun's energy.

However, many environmentalists remain sceptical about such projects, arguing that they could result in unexpected damage to the environment and climatic systems and would serve to distract governments and businesses from the priority of curbing carbon emissions.

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