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Witness 2000: review of the year Alex Kirby
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Alex Kirby on why the politicians failed to tackle climate change
Environmental change montage
November
In this month:
The US tried to choose its next president - but didn't quite finish the job.
The current First Lady, Hilary Rodham Clinton, was elected to the US Senate.
Peruís President Alberto Fujimori, faxed his resignation back home after fleeing to Japan. A row erupted in Europe over a proposed rapid reaction military force.
Bill Clinton became the first serving US president to visit Vietnam since the war.
At least 150 people lost their lives in a fire on a funicular train at an Austrian ski resort.
Indian film star Rajkumar was released following a deal with his captors. Thousands of Ethiopians turned out for the final burial of Haile Selassie, their last emperor, 25 years after his suspected assassination.
Fears grew in France of a BSE "mad cow" epidemic to match that once seen in the UK.
A plot to steal diamonds from the Millennium Dome was foiled in a dramatic police operation. Chief executive of beleaguered Railtrack Gerald Corbett resigned in the wake of criticism of the British rail system.
Baby Siamese twin Mary died after an operation to separate her from Jody, without whom she could not live, but who was dying from her presence. Westminster passed legislation to radically reform Northern Ireland's police force - a key part of the peace process.
Indian Ocean islanders evicted for a US military base at Diego Garcia won a UK court ruling that they were entitled to return home.
The killing of a 10-year-old school boy in London sparks a national outcry. In business, a Russian company bought an American gasoline chain. British Telecom announced a demerger. Internet regulators agreed a new set of domain names.
In sport, India published a damning report into cricket match fixing.
Vladimir Kramnik became the Chess world champion.
An investigation began into whether penguins were falling over because they were watching British military aircraft fly over their south Atlantic breeding founds. Sir Malcolm Bradbury, English novelist, critic & teacher, died aged 68.
Best of BBC coverage:
Additional features:
Failing the planet?
Would the world's powers act to reverse suspected climate change? BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby saw the attempts fall apart.

Read the transcript

I think the moment when it really dawned on me that doing something about climate change was not going to be easy came on the last morning of the conference in The Hague.

The talks had been due to finish the previous day - and big international conferences of this sort DO normally finish on time, because Ministers and civil servants want to get home for the weekend - and because delegates from poorer countries have often flown in with cheap tickets, and don't want the expense of changing their plans.

Governments always want to end meetings like this with agreement, and even many of the environmental campaigns had thought that a deal could be cut.

Anyway, the conference had stumbled on through Friday night, the United Kingdom delegation had briefed us early on Saturday morning to say they were still walking and talking to find a deal, and one British Minister had even done a live radio interview saying there WAS a deal.

Then they started pulling out. The Danish Environment Minister, heading back to his hotel, told me it would have needed a miracle to get an agreement.

Some of the Nordic Ministers told their journalists the conference was collapsing. And then, hard on their heels, out went John Prescott, the UK's Deputy Prime Minister, telling anyone who would listen that he was gutted -- and there would be no deal. So that was that.

Ending in failure

The Hague conference had ended in failure, and the world could not agree how to face up to the likelihood of drastic changes ahead.

Governments have been talking about climate change for more than ten years.

They agreed the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate treaty, three years ago.

And now the talks that were convened to put the finishing touches to the Protocol, to decide how it was actually going to work in practice, had run into the sand.

Nobody thought that a deal in The Hague would have done very much, anyway.

Kyoto demands cuts from the rich countries of about five per cent in the amount of greenhouse gases they are producing.

Leading climate scientists say that any serious attempt at averting severe change would have to bring in cuts of sixty per cent -- twelve times as much.

And even that would not be enough to allow some of the world's wretchedly poor countries to increase their own gas emissions so as to raise living standards.

If you seriously believe that a Bangladeshi has a right to the same standard of living and the same degree of mobility as a Texan, you're probably talking about greenhouse cuts of something like ninety per cent, so the pollution the atmosphere can withstand can be shared out equally among us all.

And if you don't believe in equal pollution rights -- not tomorrow, obviously, but some time not too far ahead -- then you pretty certainly don't live in a developing country.

Grave doubts

There are still people, of course, scientists as well as politicians, who have grave doubts that climate change matters at all.

Some say it's not happening, others that it is, but because of natural causes, like the Sun's radiation, and not because of anything that humans are doing.

And some say it is happening, but that it doesn't matter, because the world won't be harmed by it. Many of these naysayers are sincere, but I think they're wrong.

They're right to say that the weird weather many parts of the world have been experiencing do not prove that the climate is being altered.

The floods, droughts and storms aren't proof -- but they are just what we should increasingly expect in a warming world.

There wasn't very much discussion at The Hague itself of the science of climate change, but if you went to some of the fringe meetings you could find the odd climatologist reminding an audience of recent findings.

One of the things that worries me is the timelag between smoke going up a chimney and climate change taking effect.

The last decade has been the warmest for a very long time. But that's almost certainly because of pollution caused half a century ago, or even longer.

One scientist at The Hague put it this way: if you doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over seventy years (which is entirely possible on present trends), then sea levels would rise not for a decade, or a century, but for more than a thousand years.

As a former US President was fond of saying, you ain't seen nothing yet.

So the Hague talks were necessary, and if they'd succeeded in getting a workable deal, they'd have signalled a determination to take a small first step.

They didn't. So it will be that much later before the world gets round to turning down the heat.