UNEP's Klaus T�pfer sees the forest fires in southern Europe and the floods in parts of central Europe as signs of climate change already in action.

Talking to the Financial Times Germany, Klaus Töpfer, the executive director of the UN's environment agency, makes the link between the natural disasters hitting Europe in the summer of 2005 and the effects of climate change. "Climate change is already happening," Töpfer underlined in his interview.

A twin strategy of reducing the carbon dioxide emissions of industry and adapting our infrastructures to the ongoing climate change effects is needed, according to the former German CDU environment minister. Mr Töpfer also makes the case for making our economies less dependent on carbon-based energy sources because of the rising prices of oil. He warns against putting environmental protection on the backburner because of concerns over jobs and competitiveness.

"If we think, we can temporarily have less eye for the environment until we have solved our economic problems, then we are wrong. Jobs in Germany will be created when we can solve the problem of scarcity of environmental goods and services better than others."

Climate scientists, however, have been reluctant to make a direct link between climate change and this summer's natural disasters. Although they predict that climate change will lead to more frequent extreme weather conditions, the current floods and forest fires cannot be attributed directly to climate change, according to these scientists. In the case of the Portuguese forest fires for instance, it is clear that criminal acts of arson have also played a role.

The debate over climate change and its global response is one of the priorities of the UK's Presidency of the EU, as the international community is preparing a post-2012, post-Kyoto strategy to meet the challenge of global warming.