The fight against global warming took a significant step today when the Kyoto Protocol came into effect. The 1997 international agreement on climate change obliges industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions to around 5% below 1990 levels by 2012.

The agreement follows a growing scientific consensus on global warming that anthropogenic emissions are to blame and that their impact could be catastrophic. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), for instance, has drawn up scenarios of mean temperature rises from 2000 to 2100 of 1.5-5.8°C above 1990 levels. However, with ever increasing demand the drive towards renewable energy will not generate enough electricity to meet the Kyoto obligations of the signatories, according to most estimates. There is consequently a growing consensus that there will be a move towards a nuclear building programme. This nuclear building programme is unlikely to be limited to the industrialised nations though.

Along with other developing countries, India and China are permitted unlimited emissions but China, for example, not only has a huge growth in demand but also some of the worst pollution in the world. It is no surprise that the country is planning to build dozens of new reactors over the coming decades to deliver some 30GWe of installed capacity by 2020.

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