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Global warming Wednesday, 18 November, 1998, 17:17 GMT
A change in the atmosphere
Buenos Aires city centre
Buenos Aires hosted delegates from 180 countries
Former UK environment minister John Gummer, who was at the global warming summit in Buenos Aires, writes for BBC News Online about what it achieved.

The Buenos Aires Conference is over. Was it a success?

Global warming
Well, yes in the fundamental sense that the process initiated in Kyoto is now defined and under way.

Of course many of us would have liked to see more. We wanted a faster track to dealing with the world's emissions, not least because the longer we leave it the more difficult it becomes.

Yet the success is undeniable.

US engages

First there is no doubt that the United States is at last engaged.

There is a long way to go before ratification by the Senate but, if we keep the pressure up against the world's worst polluter, it will happen.

The second achievement is that the Third World is now seriously on board.

The long process of solving a global problem in a way which is fair to the poor has begun. The Clean Development Mechanism will enable developing countries to agree with industrial nations on projects to reduce emissions which will benefit them both.

Practical means of transferring technology have been established. It is no longer hot air.

Progressives take the lead

Yet besides the actual agreement with its work plan and timetable, there is another remarkable achievement.

The change from Kyoto was radical.

Buenos Aires city centre
John Gummer: "Britain must insist on progress"
Instead of the weight of industrial participation coming from those who wanted no progress, in Buenos Aires it was the progressives who set the pace.

BP was crucial in this shift. By leaving the Global Climate Coalition - the lobby group for the fossil fuel industry - it opened up the way for Shell and soon Amoco to follow.

The dinosaur companies led by Exxon (Esso) have become yesterday's men. So too the joint announcement of new commitment by BP, General Motors, and Monsanto helped to set the scene for industrial engagement and pushed the agenda on.

All this is painfully slow. Yet it has never been attempted before. The rich are having to accept the poor as partners as well as taking full responsibility for the problem they have created.

'Whole atmosphere changed'

For the first time the unfair use of resources has been faced. Even the US has begun to ask by what right 4% of the world's population can burden the planet with 25% of its pollution.

Huge nations like China and India have begun to recognise that African and South American countries see that they can benefit from the process.

That means that even their attitude is softening.

Before Kyoto all this seemed a long way off. Now the whole atmosphere has changed.

We are on our way and Buenos Aires has kept up the momentum. That is a real success but its extent will only be revealed as the timetable and work plan unfolds this year.

John Prescott has a key role in seeing that no time is lost and Britain must lead the EU to insist upon progress.

See also:

16 Oct 98 | Science/Nature
06 Nov 98 | Global warming
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