CBI director-general Richard Lambert has warned politicians that the economic slowdown is no reason for them to get distracted from taking urgent action to tackle climate change and secure the UK's future energy supply.

Speaking yesterday at a conference on sustainability, Mr Lambert said energy and the environment were at the top of business's long-term priorities. He said that alternative energies like wind and solar were "an economic opportunity on a scale that has not been seen before".

Mr Lambert said business supported the next phase of the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS), but that it was important to get it right. He said: "Getting to this point has been a huge achievement for Europe. Our ideas for the next phase of ETS, which kicks in after 2012, are intended to ensure Phase 3 of Emissions Trading delivers the tough carbon reductions we know we have to have and which are achievable.

"In doing this, the proposals provide a degree of certainty for business planning, show that emissions can be reduced without damaging competitiveness and support the growth of international carbon markets." Changes to the planning system are vital "if the UK is to have any chance of meeting its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and if we are to ensure that we are able to meet our energy security needs", Mr Lambert said.

"To meet our climate change targets, we believe we may need several new nuclear stations consented by 2020, and over 40 large offshore windfarms. Put simply, we don't believe the existing planning system can deal with so many complex, controversial planning applications in time."