CLIMATE change, everyone's talking about it. Parliament was determined to ensure it was the top priority at the recent G8 summit and, due to compelling scientific evidence, climate change has risen fast up the political agenda.
It is the single biggest environmental threat facing the planet. Climate change, or global warming, is caused by increased levels of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, which trap heat by forming a blanket around the Earth - like the glass of a greenhouse. Once released the greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for many years and as they build up, the planet's temperature rises. Because of that "delay factor" the decisions we take today will affect the future of our planet.
There's a common misconception that climate change is simply an environmental issue, but it is a social issue and an issue of justice. We cannot tackle global poverty without tackling global warming.
The impacts of climate change will be phenomenal. Initial effects on our health; agriculture; forestry; water resources; coastal areas and on biodiversity will produce far greater social problems.
According to the World Health Organisation, 160,000 people die every year due to the effects of global warming. In 2003, 25,000 people died in the heatwave that hit Western Europe. These were mainly the most vulnerable in society; the elderly, sick and very young. With temperature rises infectious disease are expected to soar. The agricultural sector is already feeling the impact of increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
The UN-supported World Glacier Monitoring Service's (WGMS) Fluctuations of Glaciers survey was also recently updated, concluding that dramatic scenarios from manmade global warming can no longer be excluded. These include the complete disappearance of glaciers from entire mountain ranges. This authoritative report says global warming is leading to processes "without precedent in the history of the Earth".
Make no mistake, here in Scotland we will also suffer the consequences of climate change. According to Friends of the Earth Scotland, winter rainfall in some areas of the country could increase by up to 40 per cent. By 2050, sea levels are expected to rise by up to 30cm - combined with future storm surges, this makes much of Scotland's coastline vulnerable to flooding, leaving 170,000 residential properties at risk. Not to mention threats to our native wildlife and the impact on our skiing industry.
So are we all doomed? Unfortunately, we have already committed ourselves to a certain amount of global warming.
However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have ten to 15 years to avert catastrophic climate change.
So what needs to be done? Obviously climate change is a global problem which requires a global solution. That's why our government placed it as a priority for the G8 and the EU presidency. The international debates on climate change are extremely complex and any agreement was always going to be challenging. Progress at the G8 was made, however. Getting the US, China and India in one room discussing climate change was in itself a success. A great deal was agreed on what needs to be done and the forthcoming dialogue should provide a forum for further progress.
In the battle against climate change we all have our role to play. It is however critical for rich, stable countries like the UK to show we can reduce emissions while retaining a strong economy.
The Government is committed to tackling climate change and has challenging domestic targets which, though they are proving hard to meet, we are determined we should reach. We have a long-term target for 60 per cent cuts in emissions by 2050, a target dictated by the scientific evidence. We now need to move towards setting a pathway towards these emissions reductions. The way we get to these emission reductions is as important as the end place and we do have to start making reductions now.
We still have a window of opportunity - but we must act now. Future generations will look back to these G8 discussions and judge us by our deeds not our words.
Nigel Griffiths is Labour MP for South Edinburgh. Bill Jacobs is away