Britain has attacked President George Bush's administration for failing to take action on global warming, as part of an intensifying drive to get the United States to treat the issue seriously.
Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, took the opportunity of a speech on Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science to brand the President's position as indefensible.
Arriving straight from talks with senior officials in Washington, he pointedly reminded the US that it has signed up for the Kyoto protocol on combating global warming, which the President has been trying to kill.
And he added: "Climate change is real. Millions will increasingly be exposed to hunger, drought, flooding and debilitating diseases such as malaria. Inaction due to questions over the science is no longer defensible."
Sir David's speech is the latest shot in a campaign that opened last month when he published an article in the US magazine Science, saying that the Bush administration "is failing to take up the challenge of global warming" even though the US accounts for 20 per cent of the pollution that causes it.
He is speaking with the backing of the Prime Minister, who has decided that trying to make progress on tackling climate change should be a key priority when Britain both chairs the G8 group of the world's richest countries and holds the presidency of the European Union next year.
His close adviser, Peter Mandelson MP, said last week that Mr Blair regarded climate change as a threat second only to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Downing Street sees differences on global warming as an opportunity to demonstrate that Mr Blair is not Mr Bush's "poodle". However, senior officials are worried that he will nevertheless fight shy of a direct personal confrontation with the President on the issue.
© 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd