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Policy

Editorial: It’s uncertain times for science in the UK and a step forward for climate in the US

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
August 21, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 29

 

Back in June I wrote an editorial about how UK science was at risk of losing because of fraught negotiations between the country and the European Union after its decision to depart the EU—the so-called Brexit.

In December 2020, the UK and the EU had agreed that UK scientists would continue to participate in the Horizon Europe program, which is funded by the European Research Council (ERC). But negotiations stalled over disagreements about trade across the Northern Ireland border, and a conclusion has not been reached. Horizon is the world’s largest international research and innovation funding program, granting close to €100 billion ($101 billion) to scientists in the EU and associated countries.

At the end of June, a group of UK grant winners were facing the difficult decision of relinquishing the ERC funds that they had been awarded or moving the funds and their labs to another EU or EU-associated country. The UK government had guaranteed that it would fund ERC recipients until the end of the year and then develop its own research program—somewhat incongruously called Plan B—if negotiations did not advance. I wrote that developing such a complex program, especially in less than 6 months, was laughable.

I’m happy to say I’m at risk of being proven wrong.

The dispute over Northern Ireland is still ongoing, but the UK government, true to its word, just announced that it has put aside £15 billion ($18 billion) to fund Plan B over 10 years. According to a Sciencereport, how exactly that money is going to be split is still unclear. The main goal at this point is to offer replacement grants to individual researchers already receiving ERC funds until associate membership in the Horizon program is granted to the UK. In addition, the UK is encouraging researchers to continue applying to Horizon. The government says it will guarantee financial support if projects are approved and launch before the impasse is broken. It is also offering help to establish international collaborations. For example, it is offering funding to support the Eureka network, an intergovernmental organization that supports international, industry-led R&D, according to a policy paper by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy.

Although details are scarce, it is reassuring to see that a plan is in place. Of course, the pending change of prime minister in the UK could throw another wrench in the works.

In the US, meanwhile, President Joe Biden signed a climate bill that he described as “the biggest step forward on climate ever,” according to the New York Times. That is a bold statement, but we can all agree that it is a significant step and certainly one in the right direction.

At $369 billion in funding for “spending and tax credits in low-emission forms of energy to fight climate change,” according to the Times, it is the largest investment the US has made to fight the climate crisis.

After more than a year of difficult negotiations, I was pessimistic, but the bill was finally passed by both the House and the Senate. Once again, I’m happy to be proven wrong. But this bill may not be enough. Even if it does as intended, by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions in the US will be cut by 40% from 2005 levels. This is shy of Biden’s goal of reducing emissions by 50%.

Nevertheless, the country will benefit from, for example, tax credits for individuals purchasing electric vehicles and rebates for those who buy energy-efficient appliances. The industrial sector should expect, among other measures, penalties for manufacturers whose methane emissions exceed federal limits and incentives to build wind and solar farms in locations where coal mines or plants have closed. There is also good news for communities disproportionately affected by climate change, such as the formation of a “green bank” that would help get clean energy projects.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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