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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 16:50 GMT
Ask Alex Kirby

Friday is the final day of the United Nations climate change conference in The Hague and signs that a deal will be made are looking bleak.

Meetings have continued throughout the two-week conference to try to settle complex arguments over the rules for achieving targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Protestors have also been hard at work trying to disrupt the conference.

What will the final outcome be? Will it be enough to have an effect on the environment? Who wins, who loses?

BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby answered your questions.

Click on the link below to watch the Forum.

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Transcript

Christoper Laird, Japan:
It is interesting that countries get together to discuss these items but very little action occurs as a result. What concrete action has come out of this meeting?

Alex Kirby:
At the moment, the answer has to be none at all. What everyone is waiting to see is whether there will be any action agreed before the conference finally packs up. It should have packed up today, however we look like we are going to have a long night of it and long morning - finishing tomorrow.

What we hope will come out of it will be agreement on how the Kyoto Protocol - which I am sure Christopher knows about, being in Japan - is going to work. The Kyoto Protocol is the international climate treaty.

What needs to happen here is for an agreement which governments can sign up to and then they can ratify it and then it becomes part of international law and it will have force. What is not clear at the moment is whether there is going to be an agreement that enables them to do that.


David, Scotland:
Does the US think they'll be somehow exempt from the effects of global warming? Why are they being so recalcitrant?

Alex Kirby:
I am sure the Americans do not think they will be exempt from climate change. I think they are beginning to catch on. I was talking to someone this morning who said that what needs to happen is that the Americans need to smell the carbon - carbon dioxide being the chief greenhouse gas.

I think more and more Americans are smelling the carbon and are realising things could happen there. I think Americans are catching on.

The problem is not the ordinary people of America, the problem is probably not with the people who are here to negotiate - the problem, I think, is in the Senate which is resisting any attempts to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, largely, I think, under pressure from vested interests.

Some people in the oil, gas and coal industries and some farming interests feel their wallets could be affected. However, Americans are realising more and more that they will be affected, just like the all the rest of us, and they will have to join the rest of the world in what is done.


News Online:
How do you think the American people will be able to persuade the Senate to ratify the protocol?

Alex Kirby:
Not knowing really how American politics work, I do not have a glib answer to that but I think that Senators are responsive to what people say. If they get a lot of people saying to them this is an issue that is not only affecting us but will affect our children and grandchildren, I think the Senate will respond.


Simon, UK:
The UK has the resources and infrastructure to support real research into alternative, 'clean' technologies. To what extent is the UK leading the way at this summit?

Alex Kirby:
The UK is leading the way quite a lot at this summit in terms of saying we are on target to reach the goal set us by the Kyoto Protocol, we are committed to bringing down our greenhouse gas emissions by 12.5 per cent and we look like probably doing that. We are having a further go a getting carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, down by 20 per cent - so we are doing fairly well.

This reduction is partly due to the fact we do not have nearly as much heavy industry as we did 15 or 20 years ago so we cause much less pollution in that way partly also because of lot of the British electricity generating equipment has switched from coal and oil to gas which is cleaner and causes less pollution. But we and Germany look like getting to our Kyoto targets.

So in that sense we are giving a lead. In another sense I think we are lagging quite badly, I think that Britain could do very much more about supporting renewable energy.

If you look at wind - Britain is a windy country and there is a tremendous amount of energy in those winds and you could harness it as Denmark has done - the Danes are hoping to get, within a few years, 50 per cent of their energy from the wind. We could do something similar.


Roger H, France:
Is the conference identifying those countries most at risk and seeking to help them?

Alex Kirby:
No I don't think it is because it is not really that sort of conference. It is not a conference largely about offering help to the developing countries; which are the ones that haven't caused the problem but are likely to be most affected by it probably because they lie in vulnerable areas.

However, there is part of the agreement that the delegates are trying to finalise here which talks of providing new cash flows to developing countries through something called a clean development mechanism which is intended to enable them to find clean ways of generating electricity without causing the pollution we have.

Several people here from developing countries have made the point that they do not want to be the recipients of yet more aid from the developed world - they should be doing it as a matter of justice and as a matter of tackling the threat to us all. It is not all sweetness and light but the deal that appears to be emerging, if it goes through, will mean a better deal for the developing world and I hope it will be not help but justice.


Mike,UK:
Do you get the feeling that this problem is being ignored and it'll be too late when we finally wake up to it? A bit like the BSE crisis in the UK.

Alex Kirby:

Yes, is the short answer. The slightly longer answer is that is the way we human beings tend to work; it is only when there is an emergency and our backs are to the wall or things are really going wrong that we tend to do something about it.

In the same way we do not look very far ahead. If we did look 30 or 40 years ahead, we would realise the implications of what we are already doing.

What is happening now in terms of climate change - which many people here say is already happening - that stems from the pollution that was emitted decades ago. Even if we stopped now we shall go on having effects for many years. The questioner is absolutely right - we have got to realise soon that we have got to act soon.


Tyrone K, Wales:
I take exception to the arguments about 'losing the fight' against global warming. Any climate changes that are taking place are not about fighting, or contests - it is only to be expected, and for us to cope with. Is this summit about coping with climate change, or doing more to stop or reverse it?

Alex Kirby:
I think that is a very interesting question. Climate change has been with us since the year dot - since the Big Bang - the climate has always changed. But what is happening now is that it is changing very much faster than we think it would with natural climate variability and our ability to cope with that change and the ability of other species is probably not going to be enough.

I think what the questioner probably has in mind, is that should we be trying to reverse climate change or should we be trying to live with it.

Well, there are people who say certainly we should be trying to live with it - so part of what we do has to be to learn to live with it.


Reza Hussain, Essex:
In western countries we have the resources to set an example to developing countries by reducing our output rather than carbon trading with the third world.

Alex Kirby:
I think carbon trading is a very tricky thing and it is something that a lot of time has been spent on here, but I think he is right. Everyone in the world, be they rich people from America or much poorer people in places like Bangladesh or Egypt, should have an equal entitlement to pollute the atmosphere.

That would mean you and me giving up an awful lot and taking to bicycles and walking a lot more. If we are really concerned about justice we have got to converge on a deeper level and then we can share it out.

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