The Fourth Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 2-13 November 1998, with the aim of establishing rules for reaching the emissions reductions targets agreed in Kyoto last year.

Billed as the first major step to curbing global warming, the Kyoto Protocol’s 5% emissions reduction target aims to arrest, and ultimately reverse, the historical upward trend in greenhouse gases.

Expectations for the outcome of the Buenos Aires meeting were not high. At best, COP-4 might have proposed rules and procedures for the flexibility mechanisms that were the main feature from the Kyoto Protocol. But the debates concerning emissions trading, the clean development mechanism and joint implementation proved very intense.

After working all day Friday, through the night and into Saturday morning, the plenary session finally convened to consider the decisions on a host of issues. The plenary concluded at 7.30am, Saturday 14 November, with a timetable and workplan as the outcome.

The Buenos Aires Plan of Action establishes deadlines for finalising details of the Kyoto Protocol so that the agreement is operational when it enters into force sometime after 2000.

The nuclear industry, participating as an industry NGO, was represented by eight international nuclear industry associations and a large team of young people from the industry. Nuclear was mentioned on many occasions in recognition that it is a greenhouse gas avoidance technology. Various sources flagged up the fact that emissions reductions would simply not be reached without the current and continued use of nuclear energy. These sentiments were echoed by Dr Robert Watson, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who advocated a rapid shift away from the intensive use of fossil fuels and the rapid development of a range of renewable energy sources, including wind and solar. He also mentioned nuclear power as an option, adding that individual companies would have to decide for themselves whether they included nuclear in their portfolio of measures to combat climate change, based on political and economic considerations.

Industry received greater recognition during this COP for its importance for the success of any future emissions trading schemes. It is clear that experience from business and industry will be increasingly drawn upon at future COPs.

Though disappointed, delegates remain committed to restoring momentum by adopting the deadlines of the Plan of Action. Perhaps the recent US signing of the Protocol will aid enthusiasm and lead to its successful implementation. Emma Cornish Uranium Institute