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Saturday, 21 July, 2001, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Developing countries 'ignored' on climate
Red ice sculpture of earth
Most scientists say global warming threatens the Earth
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) says the climate talks in Bonn risk ignoring the people most affected by global warming.

Dr Klaus Toepfer, Unep's director, said developing countries were not being heard as they needed to be.

People in the rich world should realise it was the poor who bore the costs of their lifestyle, and making the connection was "a moral necessity", he said.

Man with Bush effigy in Bonn river
Protesters condemn the US president's stance on global warming
Dr Toepfer, who is attending the talks on finalising the workings of the global climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, was speaking to BBC News Online.

He said he had found the atmosphere at the meeting very constructive, but he thought it could succeed only if it found the way to compromise.

"If I had addressed the conference", Dr Toepfer said, "I'd have told the delegates it is not a matter of whether we can agree, but that we must.

The consequences for sustainable development of what is decided here will be dramatic.

"Nature is not reacting like a simple on-off switch. You can come to meetings like this intent on proving that you're 100% right, or you can come with a will to compromise and integrate other people's viewpoints.

"What it needs is responsible compromise, linked to environmental integrity and sustainable development."

African delegates at Bonn climate talks
Africa "is being ignored"
Unep is responsible for much of the science that underpins the climate talks: with the World Meteorological Organisation, another UN body, it set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The IPCC, which represents a broad scientific consensus, has recently published a report warning of the probable consequences if the human contribution to climate change continues unchecked.

Dr Toepfer said: "I'm glad the IPCC's approach is a transparent one, of always bringing new facts into the picture.

"It's always open to new information, and to the possibility of being proved wrong.

"As a scientist you can ask for your position to be verified or falsified - and the search for verification does not amount to being proved scientifically right.

"But the possibility of being proved wrong is not an excuse for inaction.

"Complete information is a divine attribute. If you're just asking for better information and not acting, then you're misusing science."

Hidden costs

Dr Toepfer said he tried to persuade people that it was "a moral necessity to realise the externalisation of costs.

"Take an example. When we drive our cars in Europe, we need to realise that that has an impact, a cost, which is borne by people who suffer the weather extremes our lifestyle is causing.

"Our HQ is in Africa, and we are seeing an increase in abnormal weather there, which we believe is linked to climate change.

"Africa has 14% of the world's people, yet its share of global carbon emissions is just 3.2%. It's very hard to say whether the northern countries are listening to what Africa and the rest of the developing world are telling them here.

"Africa certainly is not being heard as much as it needs to be. But it is more and more of a factor in the arguments."

Dr Toepfer said Unep was discussing the possibility of establishing an independent African environmental protection agency.

The BBC's Tom Heap
"The world's delegates arrive at 'the moment of truth'"
See also:

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Researchers have hot expectations
19 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Ministers bid to save climate treaty
15 Jul 01 | Europe
Storm clouds over climate talks
09 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan to press US on Kyoto
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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