Published online 10 June 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.364
Corrected online: 14 June 2011
Corrected online: 14 June 2011

News

UK climate projects evaporate

British Council axes climate-change work to balance books.

polar bearThe education programmes on climate change run by the British Council have been praised by the UK's foreign office.Paul Miles/ Getty Images

An acclaimed series of climate-change projects are being discontinued by Britain's international-relations body, despite concerns from the government department that funds the work.

The British Council has decided not to continue funding several of its climate-change projects beyond this financial year. Although the council insists that it "has no intention of terminating our work around climate change", staff are starting to leave the programme and much of the work will be stopped.

The programme previously cost around £3 million (US$5 million) a year and has involved some 100 million people from around the world in projects that build links between scientists, artists, policy-makers and members of the public.

David Viner, who heads the council's climate programme, says that funding will not be continued for most work past the end of this month, and that all current climate-change programmes will be ended by March 2012. Nearly all staff specifically working on climate-change projects are either set to leave or have left, he says.

"The programme was based on a robust, evidence-based strategy," says Viner. "The work was very well received and welcomed by a plethora of external stakeholders. It put the United Kingdom right at the heart of the debate and gave it credibility," he says.

"The council has removed a programme described by the [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] as systematic and a national asset," Viner says.

The council says that it will continue some climate work, but it would be changing "direction and approach" in the areas of sport, science and climate change.

"After the government spending review last year, which reduced our grant funding by 26%, the council has refreshed its strategy to focus on the three core business areas of arts, english, and education and society," says Anne Wozencraft, the council's acting director of education and society.

"The sport, science and climate-change sectors will provide areas of content that can be incorporated within [our new core business areas], rather than lead our activity," she adds.

Few survivors

The council says that two flagship global projects will continue: the 'Climate Generation' initiative, which engages young climate activists and the 'Climate4Classrooms' project, which provides resources for schoolchildren. Two other programmes, for training the media and working with faith leaders, will also be ending, and a programme for building links between the arts sector and climate-change experts will be folded into other council programmes.

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Nearly all of the council's government funding is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). And in a letter dated 23 May, FCO minister Jeremy Browne urged the council to fund its climate-change work through to 2015 and expressed concerns that the council was preparing to "terminate rather than refresh" its systematic work on the issue.

The council would not comment on Browne's correspondence. A spokesman for the foreign office says that the council's corporate plan "has been agreed in consultation with the FCO. As with all organizations that receive public funding, it has had to reprioritize its work to accommodate reducing resources. We look forward to continuing working with the council on climate-change matters."

Well received

Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, says that the council's work has been recognized as among the leading climate outreach programmes. "It would be a real mistake if it didn't continue with some kind of outreach on climate change. It was reaching a large number of people."

Asher Minns, centre manager for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, UK, thinks that the council's work has been very good overall. "What it is doing on the international stage is, to the best of my knowledge, unrivalled," he says. 

Corrected:

This story originally stated that the British Council received nearly all of its funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Although the majority of its government funding does come from FCO, it accounts for just one-third of the council's total turnover. The text has been changed to reflect this.

Corrected:

This story originally stated that the British Council received nearly all of its funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Although the majority of its government funding does come from FCO, it accounts for just one-third of the council's total turnover.
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