The Kyoto Conference on world climate is being hailed as the single most important step taken by mankind since Noah built his ark. Developed countries, in a rare display of self-sacrifice, have undertaken to cut their carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]) emissions by 2010. But the United States -- the world's most guilty polluter -- has been quibbling. Americans cannot do without two or three cars, they claim. Any drop in their huge consumption will make life intolerable for them, they protest. They will burn as much fossil fuel as they like, they insist.

But the rest of us are worried. What is at stake, according to scientists, is the future of the world. As a result of pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the last two centuries -- at present, industry spews out between 20bn and 30bn tons of [CO.sub.2] per annum -- a 'greenhouse' effect has been created, trapping heat under an umbrella of gas.

Scientists warn that unless something is done to reduce the [CO.sub.2] cover in the atmosphere, average global temperatures would rise by between 1[degrees] and 6[degrees]. This would mean that sea levels will rise as polar ice-caps melt, drowning islands and flooding coastal areas; ocean currents will be disrupted; wind patterns would alter, bringing storms and hurricanes in some areas and droughts in others. In short, climate would change and with it the livelihoods of billions of people. Hardest hit will be developing countries.

These findings were presented to all the world's nations during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It was proposed that all countries, particularly the most industrialised, begin to scale down their use of fossil fuels (oil and coal) and instead look for other sources of energy, gas, nuclear, wind, water and solar.

Ironically, the United Sates was one of the first to sign the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).

The FCCC set up emission targets and it was expected that countries would voluntarily work towards reducing their [CO.sub.2] emission. In fact, the opposite happened and many industrialised nations increased their emissions.

It was obvious that the voluntary code was not working. In July 1996, the US again took the lead. Under-Secretary of State, Mr Tim Wirth announced that the US would seek international agreements containing legally binding limits on emissions.

This was welcomed by both developed and developing countries. The developing countries, still in the process of...

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