LETTER : Freeze points to need for climate action

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Sir: Nicholas Schoon's report "So this is global warming?" (4 January) is a welcome reminder that despite the arctic conditions, global warming is still a very serious long-term threat which demands urgent international action in which Britain should take a lead.

The essential point is that these freezing conditions are not a quirky contrast to atmospheric warming, but may well be linked to it.

Global warming won't simply produce the Riviera on the Tyne. lt will also generate more violent swings in temperature including cyclones and hurricanes, more "natural" disasters like droughts and floods, rising sea levels that will swamp coastal areas, threats to grain stocks and world food supplies, and even (from a recent government report of the Public Health Laboratory Service) a risk that malaria, bubonic plague and other tropical diseases could return to Britain.

Moreover, not only has the build-up to global warming been very lengthy, but even if we now held the causes constant, atmospheric concentrations would still increase at a nearly constant rate for over two centuries. As it is, controls following the 1992 Rio Summit are so weak that concentrations of carbon dioxide are likely to reach about 500 parts per million by the year 2100 - approaching twice the pre-industrial concentration of 280 ppm in 1760 and well above the present 360 ppm.

So what needs to be done? We need a much stronger international treaty at Rio II next December, with more powerful pressures brought to bear on offending countries. Mr Gummer likes to claim that Britain is almost alone in keeping to its CO2 limits, but that is only because the Government decimated the coal industry and plunged the country into a five-year recession. He notably makes no commitments beyond 2000; Labour is committed to cut CO2 emissions by one-fifth by 2010.

We need to conserve energy better, not waste it. Mr Gummer last year made a huge cut in the home energy efficiency scheme: Labour will expand it. We also need an integrated public transport strategy to cut vehicle emissions. The Government's deregulatory philosophy makes this impossible; Labour will make it a priority.


Shadow Secretary of State for Environmental Protection

House of Commons

London SW1A