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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 November, 2004, 16:00 GMT
Beckett upbeat on climate change
Smoke from a factory chimney
The Queen has opened a climate change conference in Berlin
There is a chance America could change its stance on global warming despite George Bush's re-election, the UK environment secretary has said.

Margaret Beckett said public opinion was bringing change regardless of who had won the presidential election.

Mrs Beckett was speaking at a climate change conference in Germany.

But Myron Ebell, from a Washington-based think tank, said US policy would not change and accused the UK's chief scientist of being "alarmist".

Business as usual?

The climate change conference at the British embassy in Berlin was opened on Wednesday by the Queen, who has reportedly told Tony Blair of her personal concern on the issue.

Russia's upper house of parliament has now backed the Kyoto Protocol, which means it could come into force next year despite the US refusal to ratify the agreement.

BBC environment correspondent Roger Harrabin said many of the scientists had been dismayed by President Bush's victory because of his refusal to sign the Kyoto agreement.

The whole tissue of argument that makes climate change into the greatest problem facing humanity is based on a long series of improbabilities
Myron Ebell
Washington think tank official
But UK government's chief scientist Sir David King said that if any country could get the G8 group of leading industrialised nations to make progress on global warming, it would be the UK.

Sir David, who has criticised the US for failing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said he knew the Bush administration officials well and would be getting down to business again.

Asked if his heart had not sunk on hearing news of President Bush's victory, he added only: "I have given you my answer."

Public pressure?

Mrs Beckett was upbeat about the chances of progress.

"When I was in the States last Easter... people were saying to me, irrespective of who won the Presidency, they believed things were changing in the United States - if you like, from the bottom up," she said.

"And of course that was before, when a lot of people had written off the Kyoto Protocol altogether, believed that it would never be ratified by Russia and would never come into force."

She argued that bringing the Kyoto Protocol into force could "totally shift the ground".

"American companies operating around the world would be affected by the decisions of other governments," she said.

'Alarmism' adviser

But Mr Ebell, from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said he did not think there would be a change, especially as there were also more conservative Republicans in both Houses of Congress.

"The whole tissue of argument that makes climate change into the greatest problem facing humanity is based on a long series of improbabilities," he said.

Mr Ebell said Sir David had no expertise in climate science and was "alarmist" and denied the world was going through an unprecedented period of warming.

Mark Avery, conservation director at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the issue should be top of the list if President Bush wanted to show he was taking a more inclusive approach in his second term.

"If he's looking for an area that shows America cares about the rest of the world, then climate change would be a good one," he told BBC News.

Mr Avery suggested global warming was a "testing ground" for the influence of Tony Blair's strong relationship with the US Government.

He said: "The prime minister has got the message but can he get this message across to his mate George Bush?"

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