Why We Must Put Ecology First, the Economy Second; as UN Climate Change Talks in South Africa Struggle to Produce a Binding Commitment to Cut Greenhouse Gases, Welsh Scientist Sir John Houghton Warns of the Dangers of Putting Economic Growth before the Environment. Here the Nobel Prize-Winning Climatologist Tells Darren Devine How the World's Politicians Must Preserve the Planet's Delicate Ecological Balance

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* RAZIL has changed its laws to weaken protection of the forests that form the planet's lungs, Himalayan glaciers are melting and extreme floods and devastating storms are now a routine part of our already changed climate.

These are the claims made by environmentalists as they try to convince world leaders gathered for UN talks on tackling climate change in Durban, South Africa, that delay is a luxury we can no longer afford.

But with many countries emerging sluggishly from the downturn, how receptive are politicians to the message that the environment must come before their fragile recoveries? The World Bank has warned that "high income" countries like the US and some European nations are still grappling with a post-recession gloom that means environmental priorities come a long way behind economic ones.

But Welsh world leading climate change expert Sir John Houghton warns today that it would be a catastrophe for countries like the US to continue putting their economy before the environment.

Former Met Office chief Sir John, pictured, who chaired the United Nations' Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) between 1988 and 2002, said: "If they took a long-term view of everything, they would realise that action on climate change now will have a lot of benefits.

"We desperately need to change energy sources from coal and gas to renewables and we desperately need to make our housing stock more energy efficient.

"To do that would actually save money in the long run, and will not cost a lot of money in the short-term," he added. "But over the sort of time-scales they're talking about for the economy, it will begin to save money and help put people back to work."

But it's a message that is clearly a hard sell, for not only those trying to convince the US to take a more long-term view, but also nations such as China and India.

So much so that UN leader Ban Ki-moon has admitted an all-encompassing climate deal "may be beyond our reach for now".

China and India delivered a setback to European plans to negotiate a new treaty that would bind all parties to pledges on greenhouse gas emissions.

The European "road map" toward a new accord that would take effect after 2020 is a centrepiece of negotiations among the 194 countries.

It has been presented as a condition for Europe to renew and expand its emissions reduction targets under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year.

China has made it clear in private meetings that it will not accept international limits on its carbon emissions in future. …