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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 July, 2004, 17:38 GMT 18:38 UK
Viewpoint: Kyoto - the only game in town

By Rt Hon John Gummer
Former British environment secretary

Climate change is no longer a matter of argument.

There is no previous time in recorded history when the world's temperature has risen so much and so quickly.

Oil installation
Reducing emissions means cutting dependence on oil
Even the 400,000 year probes into the ice cap reveal no parallel. We are therefore in entirely uncharted waters.

Mankind has been pouring unprecedented amounts of filth into the air ever since the beginning of the industrial revolution.

We have a planet that supports vastly more people than ever before and their numbers are still growing fast.

Every child has expectations significantly greater than their fathers and mothers.

Those expectations, however limited they may seem to the rich, are similarly based upon increased consumption which means more greenhouse gas emissions.

Optimism

What is done can't be undone.

We have already changed our climate significantly and there is considerably more change on the way, set in train by the gases we have already released.

What we can do is to restrict the growth in that change so that we can cope with it.


If we allow global warming to grow unrestrictedly, then life on the planet will become increasingly impossible as it threatens the Gulf Stream and other crucial elements that sustain the earth's benign atmosphere.

Happily, the world is waking up.

Just this month, American States are suing the utilities for their refusal to take global warming seriously.

The Chartered Institute of Insurance is warning all its members of the present reality of climate change and its impact upon insurance risk.

Optimism is rising that Russia will ratify the Kyoto Protocol so it will come into force - even without the Unites States.

Catalyst

So, why Kyoto? It isn't anything like enough.

Its targets for reduction in our greenhouse gases are smaller than we need but it is the first step on the journey and that is always the hardest.

Wind turbines
Kyoto has encouraged moves towards renewable energy

Already, Kyoto has meant that one of the world's two great trading powers - the European Union - has made major changes in order to meet its targets for reduction.

The likelihood is that, by 2012 the 15 longstanding members will have cut emissions by 8%.

Given how fast emissions were rising, that is a remarkable achievement and another example of the huge value of the EU.

The decoupling of economic growth from the growth in emissions is crucial and the latest figures show that it has been done. Even without coming into force, Kyoto has been the catalyst for this change.

Rich countries

Its effect even on the US has been remarkable.

American business and many of the states are responding to its challenge even though President Bush has behaved with such callous disregard.

Pine Island, Antarctic
'The world's temperature is rising faster than ever in recorded history'
Without Kyoto, there would have been no such rallying, no widely accepted programme, and no effective base upon which to build.

Kyoto was a deal between the rich countries. Only then could we expect developing countries to join in the global response. After all, it was the rich world that caused the problem.

Yet, already, China is developing in a much cleaner way than was forecast. The Kyoto mechanisms which reward clean technology transfer are, indeed, beginning to have some effect not least through international institutions like the World Bank.

Economic pressure

Of course, America still holds the key. With 4% of the world's population it produces 25% of the world's pollution.

Yet, it depends on world trade and, as the rest of the world makes its investment decisions in the light of Kyoto, American businesses are losing out to European suppliers working within the Kyoto system.

No wonder that it is US business that is pushing Bush to change. Of course, any US president will need a way to climb down, if he is in effect to join in.

There will be some new package and a different name. But Kyoto is the only game in town and it will mould and probably save our planet's future.


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