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12 June 2015

Our planet stands on a precipice. David Cameron’s most important task lies ahead

It's vital that the government secures a global deal on climate change at the Paris summit. Our futures depend on it.

By maria eagle

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing the world today. As global temperatures increase so do the associated risks of drought, forest fires, the melting of the polar ice caps, sea level rise and flooding. The consequential devastating impact on people around the world is obvious.

This year will be a critical one for efforts to keep global climate change below two degrees of warming. Two degrees of warming has long been accepted by economists, climate scientists and world governments as the level above which the risks associated with climate change become unacceptably high. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Paris at the end of this year are a massive opportunity to get Governments all over the world to agree to binding emission reduction targets.

This is a moment when politicians from all nations, including our own need to be ambitious about what we can achieve through international cooperation. Based on the pledges made by Governments so far, global warming would only be limited to around 3 degrees – insufficient to prevent catastrophic consequences.

We should all welcome the historic commitment by the G7, led by Germany to agree to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century but – let’s be clear – that is 85 years from now and the truth is we need to go faster.

That’s why our own domestic targets, enshrined in the Climate Change Act 2008, commit the UK to a minimum 80 per cent reduction of carbon emissions by 2050.

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We need the UK Government to push for ambitious emissions targets for all countries, strengthened every five years based clearly on the scientific evidence. We need to see net zero global emissions in the second half of this century alongside transparent and universal rules for measuring them which apply to all nations. It’s not enough to set targets when each country has totally different methods of accounting for their carbon emissions.

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We also need a global deal that recognises the unique responsibilities of each nation. Richer countries that have played a far greater role in contributing to global emissions need to provide support to poorer nations to empower them to combat climate change and to deal with its consequences.

The debate about our national security over the last few months and years has been dominated by calls for two per cent of our GDP to be spent on defence. We’ve heard far less about the two degrees target we’re working towards at the Paris climate talks this year. We need to hear more.

If we fail to keep global climate change below two degrees then I fear the threats to our national security in future will dwarf those that we face today. We couldn’t, and we shouldn’t have to, justify to future generations why we failed to mitigate and adapt to climate change caused by human activity. Britain has a proud history of global climate leadership and we must rise to the occasion once again.

Maria Eagle MP is Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary. On Wednesday 10th June Labour used its first opposition day in the House of Commons of this parliament to debate climate change.