Leading article: Another voice draws attention to the danger

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The Independent Online

But with Prince Charles's latest pronouncement we can find no fault. In an interview with the BBC, he describes climate change as the "greatest challenge to face man". He also argues that global warming should be treated as a much bigger priority in Britain. He is quite right. As readers will know, this is something The Independent has been urging for many years.

This is a timely interjection from the Prince, since the prospect of the world avoiding the disastrous consequences of climate change are looking slim. And, as the Prince says, Britain is not doing enough on its own. The will of Tony Blair, one of the more sensible voices on climate change in the past, appears to be flagging. It does not help that the Government's chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, is suddenly less combative on the subject. Previously Sir David could be relied upon to act as the Government's conscience. But yesterday he took to the airwaves to mount a loyal defence of the its record, pointing out that the Prime Minister had put the issue at the head of the G8 agenda and that the UK was aiming for a 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2050. This is true. But what Sir David neglected to point is that there was no agreement at the G8 to stabilise the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And it would be interesting to discover what Sir David made of Mr Blair's recent remarks about "changing his thinking" on how to tackle global warming.

Thankfully, other eminent scientists are not holding back. Lord May of Oxford, the President of the Royal Society, this week sent an open letter to the G8 environment ministers, who will meet in London next month. In this letter, Lord May points out that the costs of dealing with the adverse affects climate change could soak up entire aid budgets for African countries. Research by the US Geological Survey found that rainfall has decreased since 1996 in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries. This coincided with an increase in surface-water temperatures in the southern Indian Ocean. This is evidence that greenhouse gases may already be responsible for droughts and famines in eastern Africa. He also echoed Prince Charles's claim that global warming is the greatest single threat to the world today.

We should not delude ourselves that Europe will be immune from the effects of climate change. A study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research warned yesterday that global warming is likely to have a major impact in the Mediterranean. Rising temperatures will result in water shortages, forest fires and a loss of agricultural land. Mountain areas will be hit hard, as changes to the run-off patterns of melting snow and ice reduce water supplies at peak demand times and increase the risk of winter floods.

More worrying scientific evidence is coming in all the time. The Arctic ice shelf has been in retreat for four consecutive years. Yesterday was the hottest 27 October in Britain since records began. And the prognosis for cutting emissions looks bleak. The demand for oil and gas from the Chinese and Indian economies is increasing at an exponential rate. In these troubling times, one more high-profile voice pointing out the magnitude of the threat is surely welcome.