As weary negotiators made their way back into the Conference rooms after late night arguments over the major issues - differentiation, sinks, emission reduction targets and whether developing countries should be part of those targets - two of the world's top climate scientists held a press conference. Professor Bert Bolin, the outgoing head of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, and his replacement, Dr. Robert Watson, representing 2,000 of their colleagues spoke of the changes expected to occur over the next century as a result of global warming.

Bolin and Watson said there was now no doubt that human activities were already responsible for changing Earth's climate. Without action, temperatures would increase 1-3.5 degrees centigrade while sea levels would rise between 15-90 centimetres. Even with action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the climate would experience some degree of these changes because of the time it takes for mitigation efforts to have an affect. To stabilise greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at double the pre-industrial age, emissions will have to be cut by 50 per cent sometime during the first half of the next century. This at a time that the world's population is expected to increase dramatically!

Even if the needed cuts were to occur, Dr Watson said the earth can expect to lose many eco-systems because they will be unable to adapt fast enough to the rate of climate change - expected to be faster than at any time in the last 10,000 years.

In Australia there will be an expected drop in the variety of wildlife species and plant species; more fires; more outbreaks of pests; droughts will become more common; and the Great Barrier Reef, like other coral reefs will be at risk, not so much from rising sea levels but from warmer waters. Sea level rises can be expected to inundate the delta areas of Egypt, Bangladesh and China. In the worst case scenario, entire island cultures will be destroyed.

Human health, he said, can be expected to be affected in a variety of ways - the most serious will be the spread of malaria. By 2100 it's expected that there may be between 50 and 80 million new cases of the disease. Malaria has already been found at altitudes were it has never been seen before in Kenya.

Highlights of the rest of the conference so far.....

No Target from Australia

Still no target from the Australian Government at weeks' end. In fact, it seems a growing possibility that there may not be one at all. Government officials have maintained throughout the last week that a target would only be released when "all the criteria"; that will go to make up an agreement is known and at a time to suit Australia. Given that that time may not come, it is possible that by the end of the conference Australia will be the only industrialised nation not to have laid down a firm reduction target.

Environment Minister Senator Robert Hill, in his first briefing for the media, said the Government still wanted a successful outcome at the conference and that he was heartened by the growing support for the policy of "differentiation". He would not be drawn on the likelihood of success but said that a failure "would be disappointing for everyone". On the key issue of the involvement of developing nations, Senator Hill said he supported moves by other industrialised nations for a Kyoto agreement to include a process for the involvement of the larger developing nations in emission reductions. Seemingly unaware of statements by the World Meteorological Organisation earlier this week showing growing evidence of a link between El Nino events and global warming, the Minister stated there was no relationship between the two phenomena.

Australia was the target of one of the most colourful protests of the day. At a press conference held by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a senior official of that organisation - Australian Michael Rae - appeared with a paper bag over his head saying he was too embarrassed to show his face. The reason, he said, was the Howard Government's refusal to agree to greenhouse gas emission reductions based on 1990 levels.

One of the main rumours flying around was that the secretary of the conference, Mr. Raul Estrada, desperate to broker a compromise, had a list in his pocket of differentiated targets he was trying to get the industrialised nations to agree to. The targets were said to be: 10 per cent reductions for Europe, 5 per cent or 2.5 per cent for Japan, 0 per cent for the U.S., and allowing a 5 per cent increase for Australia. It was not possible to confirm this.

Source: ABC Global Warming Website - for more info on the Kyoto conference, link here to the ABC's Website on Global Warming.