David Cameron: 'We need a greater sense of urgency on climate change'

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Since becoming leader of the Conservative Party I have sought to push the environment up to the top of the political agenda. Not only is it something that I feel strongly about, but I am aware that my position has given me a unique opportunity to stimulate national debate on an issue that we cannot afford to ignore. I intend to take it.

This is one of the reasons I decided to go on a fact-finding visit with WWF to the Arctic Research Station at Ny Alesund in Norway. I want to see for myself the effects of climate change, not just to see a retreating glacier but to meet leading scientific and research experts. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the world and we must have a much greater sense of urgency about tackling it.

There are three key elements to the approach we must take. First, we need to recognise that this is an issue that will outlast the span of any one prime minister or parliament and it needs to be dealt with on a cross-party basis. That is why the Conservatives have joined together with the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and others to produce a joint statement on a cross-party approach to climate change. Sadly, Labour has declined invitations to join this initiative. Second, we need to recognise the importance of setting clear and binding targets. The Government has set a target for 2010 which it is now unlikely to meet. It also has a longer-term target for 2050 which on current projections it has little prospect of meeting. What we need is a binding annual target that commits us to real progress and a carbon audit office to make sure that we are achieving it.

We can only play a leading role tackling climate change if we become a low-carbon economy. Unfortunately, we are moving in the wrong direction, with carbon emissions on the rise over the past two years in Britain.

The third element is recognising that climate change is not an issue for governments alone. Everyone has their role to play. We must understand the connections between what we do locally and what happens globally. Think global, act local.

That is why later this year I will be convening a Conservative local green energy summit to investigate the lessons councils can learn from abroad. This week I saw the fantastic progress that Conservative-run Brentwood council is making on recycling. The council's kerbside green waste collection scheme has increased the rate of recycling and composting to almost 30 per cent in the past year.

Bromley council is pioneering a project to collect used cooking oils from local restaurants and turn it into biodiesel, to drive council and hospital vehicles. In Camden, Conservatives have promised to give incentives to residents who swap their petrol-driven car for an electric one.

In Britain we need to recognise the contribution that all sectors make to carbon emissions. Taking the largest contributor, power generation, there is an exciting challenge for the future. Decentralised energy, for example, could play a much greater role in energy provision.

While in Norway I will visit Nydalen business park, which has one of Europe's biggest heat storage systems and one of the latest examples of decentralised energy in action. Geothermal power is just one of many emerging sustainable technologies other countries are adopting.

From climate change to cleaner streets, from cutting waste to cutting noise pollution, environmental issues are all about improving our quality of life. Piecemeal policy-making is no good. That is why we have set up policy groups to look at these inter-connected issues. The instinct to protect and enhance the world around us has been at the heart of Conservatism for generations. We understand that the decisions we make as individuals, as communities and as a nation have enormous consequences, both locally and globally.

Where people have voted blue, their councils have gone green. We are already making transport greener. We're encouraging recycling. We're lowering carbon emissions. We're fighting noise pollution. But this is just the start. I am determined that the Conservative Party will take a lead on the environment and I believe that we have the right values to succeed ­ and understanding of markets, a belief in conservation, a recognition that we need to aim for green growth and a passion to pass on a better world for future generations.

David Cameron is leader of the Conservative Party