Key issue dominates professional agenda

This column arrives two hours late due to traffic. Tuesday's tailback on the M4 affords distant views of the plumes of smoke still rising from Sunday's oil terminal blast in Hertfordshire. Whether dealing with Europe's biggest peacetime explosion or routine disruption, there is no escaping the links between our travel habits, fossil fuels and climate change.

The changing culture of planning, the availability of resources and skills, responses to the housing crisis, an ongoing regeneration programme and the nationwide infrastructure deficit have been recurring themes this year. But the dominant underlying issue is the changing climate, along with the factors that are leading to global warming and the measures that planning bodies, politicians, businesses and individuals should be taking.

Last week's talks in Montreal have at least kept the international lines of communication open on what fills the gap when the Kyoto agreement expires.

But national messages remain hopelessly mixed as the government struggles to square its commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions with its acceptance of further housing-related rises. The watering down of the code for sustainable buildings is a regrettable case of one step forward, two steps back.

Whether or not planning's role in moving towards a less carbon-dependent society merits a planning policy statement of its own, climate change should be recognised as the de facto number one priority for spatial planning activity at all levels. The damage will take decades to put right, but the year ahead will test whether the profession is ready to face the challenge.

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