'Clinics' put climate change at heart of political agenda

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The Independent Online

It is increasingly recognised as the greatest threat humanity has faced - so how come climate change is not at the top of every political party's agenda?

That paradox is being addressed head-on in the next three weeks by a formidable coalition of environmental groups, businesses and energy saving bodies, who are taking the issue of global warming to the heart of Liberal Democrat, Labour and Tory territory, during their party conferences.

At all three of the forthcoming jamborees - in Brighton, Manchester and Bournemouth respectively - MPs, special advisers, researchers, party members and the general public will find a conference within a conference called The Climate Clinic.

In a separate, dedicated venue close to each conference centre, the problem of climate change will be highlighted as never before in British politics, as ministers and shadow ministers, renowned scientists and opinion formers, environmentalists, low-carbon associations, business leaders and anyone who cares about the future will come together to debate it.

Backed by The Independent as its media partner, The Climate Clinic - which opens for business on Sunday at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton - will harness the concern and energies of nearly 30 different bodies, ranging from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to the Low-Carbon Vehicle Partnership, to focus on the issue and highlight the possible solutions.

Like any clinic, its ultimate purpose is to diagnose the problem and to put it right: in this case, why is global warming not at the very top of the political agenda, and why are political leaders not taking much more radical action to counter it?

The changing climate threatens something which was inconceivable only a few years ago: to render much of the Earth uninhabitable by devastating agriculture, raising sea levels, increasing the violence of storms, spreading disease and creating multimillions of environmental refugees. And it threatens to do this, recent research is indicating, on a much shorter timescale than was thought possible even five years ago, at the time of the previous assessment of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

At each conference there will be an unprecedented series of presentations, debates and workshops which will include the latest assessment of current research from Britain's leading climate scientists at the UK Met Office. The Clinic will hear the views of everyone from the Environment Secretary, David Miliband, and the Tory leader, David Cameron, to Dr Chris Rapley, the head of the British Antarctic Survey and the world expert on rising sea levels caused by the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets.

There will also be a showing of An Inconvenient Truth, the film by the former US vice-president, Al Gore.