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Global warming Monday, 16 November, 1998, 15:08 GMT
Governments cool on global warming
burning trees
Buenos Aires did little to slow the warm-up
After much talking, delegates to the climate change conference in Buenos Aires finally produced a deal to tackle global warming. BBC News Online's Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby considers what has been achieved.

So the Buenos Aires climate conference did run its course, and the much-touted walkout by developing countries came to nothing.

Britain's Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, emerged from the final session to say it had been "a very good day for the environment".

But environmental campaigners dismissed the result as "an inaction plan", and a waste of time.

And those who remain sceptical about the very existence of global warming, and of human responsibility for it, derided Buenos Aires as yet another exercise in irrelevance.

It does seem that many governments believe climate change is nothing to get too worried about. It is a problem, they appear to think, that we have plenty of time to tackle - if it is a problem at all.

All too real for some

Some governments take global warming very seriously - those which belong to the Alliance of Small Island States, for example.

They are convinced that large parts of their countries, in the South Pacific and elsewhere, could quite literally disappear beneath the waves before long.

And at the other extreme is the United States, contributing nearly a quarter of the world's total greenhouse pollution although it has only four per cent of global population.

A large part of the problem is that climate change still lies ahead. It is a future problem, which we know largely from the predictions of the climatologists.

Forests set to add to warming
They have growing confidence in the broad accuracy of their predictions. They are not in it for the money, or for the sake of scaring the pants off the gullible.

And some of their predictions are scary. They believe the forests will in fifty years from now be adding to global warming, not helping to slow it.

They believe that the oceans will inevitably go on warming for the next five centuries, which means sea levels will continue to rise until 2500.

They believe that malaria will reach the Baltic.

If the oceans and rainforests seem too remote to worry about, then think of what is happening in Britain.

Problems on the doorstep

Those planning to visit the Millennium Dome in Greenwich in south east London were warned recently not to try driving there.

If you do, they were told, the sheer weight of traffic in and around London nowadays means you will find nowhere to park your car.

So you may have to park at Luton - fifty miles away.

The growth in road traffic in the United Kingdom makes its own serious contribution to climate change.

And it does other things too - it makes the air foul, and costs us money in wasted fuel and lost time.

Bad for the climate and for your lungs
Tackling traffic growth would help to tackle the threat of climate change.

It would also give us cleaner air and save us money .

So much of what we need to do to face up to a warmer world is covered by similar "no regrets" policies.

It is hardly exaggerating to say that, even if global warming does not happen, tackling the threat of it will do us more good than harm.

Seen in that light, Buenos Aires was no success.

Yet again, the world has echoed St Augustine, who prayed: "Lord, give me chastity - but not yet !"

One day soon, we shall know whether the climate scientists were right or wrong. While we wait, we should gain by giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Ignore them if you like. Accuse them of being involved in a global conspiracy, if it makes you feel better. But do try to come up with better science than theirs.

See also:

04 Nov 98 | World
12 Nov 98 | Americas
12 Nov 98 | Americas
13 Nov 98 | Global warming
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