Climate change - we've got 10 years

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas hails a UN report that she argues brings shame upon world leaders b

If you ever thought UN Development Reports were dull statistical tomes, full of little more than dry facts and figures, then the latest report - published this week on climate change - will very soon disabuse you.

This year’s Human Development Report 2007/2008 is a rousing call to arms, which firmly positions climate challenge as the most pressing moral issue of our time.

Rich nations and their citizens account for the overwhelming bulk of greenhouse gas emissions locked in the Earth's atmosphere.

But poor countries and their citizens will pay the highest price for it, as decades of development work are rolled back, destroying any chance of a sustainable future.

Allowing the tragedy of climate change to happen, argues the Report, would represent such a systematic violation of the human rights of the world's poor and of future generations, that it would be "an outrage to the conscience of mankind".

Passionately and eloquently, it hammers home its central message: that the world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capacities to act - if we fail to address climate change, it will be because of a simple lack of political will. And such an outcome, says the report, would represent "not just a failure of political imagination and leadership, but a moral failure on a scale unparalleled in history."

The report is critical of all developed countries for their performance so far on cutting emissions. But it singles out the UK government for particularly scathing attack, criticising its failure to adopt ambitious emission reduction targets and its lack of progress in developing renewable sources of energy. Not surprisingly, then, Britain produces more CO2 emissions than Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan and Vietnam combined.

In attempting to shame this government into action, we can only hope that the UNDP is successful where others have failed. Gordon Brown's recent announcements on the issue have turned hypocrisy into a new art form.

Just a few weeks ago, he was priding himself on his first major speech on climate change, claiming he was ready to meet this "immense challenge". Just four days later, his government gave the green light to a major expansion of aviation, the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. Such behaviour isn't just pathological - it demonstrates a monumental failure of political vision and leadership.

We are at a crucial stage in the battle to protect the world’s people from rising temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere. We need nothing short of a revolution in the way we run our economies, the way we produce and consume, and the way we measure human welfare.

It's been estimated that, globally, it would cost about £800bn a year to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2050.

It sounds a lot, but it's substantially less than what we currently spend globally on arms. Governments urgently need to redefine security, and to recognise that climate change poses by far the greatest threat to our own security, and to that of future generations.

Reversing the environmental devastation wrought by current processes of economic globalisation, transforming our economies, asserting real global leadership on climate change through challenging the ‘business as usual’ politics that have caused it - all these things are possible, but they will require political will.

And as the quotation from Martin Luther King at the front of the report reminds us: “there is such a thing as being too late”. The world has less than a decade to change course. No issue merits more urgent attention – or more immediate action.