In three months' time, the world's nations will come together in Copenhagen to agree a replacement to the Kyoto protocol. Within the next 10 months, the British people will go to the polls in the General Election; the Parliament they choose will have the last real chance to set Britain's energy use on the right track if we are going to play our part in avoiding catastrophic and irreversible climate change.
Never has it been so important for all the UK's major political parties to put plans to curb harmful emissions and protect our environment at the heart of their agenda.
That's exactly what the Liberal Democrats are doing at our conference in Bournemouth. We will be adding to our already detailed plans and agreeing our commitment to a new global deal on emissions in which Britain is a key player. Led by science rather than politics, we understand that global emissions must not peak later than 2015. And we believe that the wealthier, developed countries must accept historic responsibility for the damage that has already been done, and the cost of dealing with the consequences, which we know will otherwise fall most heavily on poorer nations.
Ours is a totally different approach from that Labour has taken. First, we're ambitious. Britain needs nothing short of an energy revolution. After 12 years of Labour, only a miniscule amount of our energy is produced by renewables and we lag well behind our European neighbours. And although the Government has now finally committed to an 80-per-cent cut in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, it is not prepared to say no to nuclear, to block airport expansion, or to bring an end to the use of dirty coal. Targets must adequately bind governments' hands; Britain must now commit itself to a 40-per-cent emissions cut by 2020.
Second, the Liberal Democrat approach is based on radical new thinking. It's becoming increasingly common to hear politicians say that we cannot jettison our green goals because of the economic crisis. But my party goes much further. We believe that the only way to pull ourselves out of recession – and to stay out of it – is by building a new, sustainable economy. That means prioritising investment in the green technologies of the future, like zero-carbon construction, renewable energy and green infrastructure.
We're willing to do things differently because we know that it's the only way to protect the planet for the sake of the generations who will follow us. We're putting that goal at the heart of this year's Liberal Democrat conference. It's time that all political parties did the same.
Nick Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrats
Rising CO2: The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is now 386 parts per million. When measurement began in 1958 it stood at 315ppm. Before the Industrial Revolution it was 280ppm