On Wednesday 13 June, the speakers in favour of the motion, Dr Maki Mandela, Director of the Development Bank of South Africa, and daughter of Nelson Mandela, Zac Goldsmith, Editor of The Ecologist, and Fraser Campbell from Pembroke College, Oxford, pointed to the gross and unjust imbalance between population and resource use in the US, and the Third World’s need for support through new technology for combating emission reductions.

“It is not my case tonight that America and America alone is worthy of condemnation,” said Campbell, stating that the country stands as the figure-head of the West, and should lead by example.

“If this is caused by human beings, it can also be rectified by human beings,” said Mandela. Germany is also an economically successful country, but its Government is in favour of the Kyoto Protocol because it believes that this is right for its people and for future generations, she said.

Those against the motion, however, produced a strong opposition. “Condemn is a very strong word to use,” said Ed Tomlinson of St John’s College, Oxford, pointing out that such a word was not appropriate for use in diplomacy with our neighbours across the Atlantic. “Our cause is not helped by ranting at them,” he said.

The US Government accepts the science of global warming, said David G Victor from the US Council for Foreign Relations. “What the Government rejects is the Kyoto Protocol,” he said, because the country cannot comply “without performing accounting tricks”, whilst reductions in countries such as Russia and Ukraine were more due to economic down-turns resulting from financial mismanagement. This point was emphasised by Phillip Stott, Professor of Biology at the University of London, who claimed that Europe was also going to have to perform the same accounting tricks in order to comply. Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions per unit area are double that of the US, and it was France and Sweden who ruined the Kyoto talks, said Stott, two countries that are nowhere near achieving emission reduction targets. Further to this, neither China nor any of the G77 countries were even invited to the climate change talks; “Now that’s neo-colonialism,” said Stott.

The question is, will the Kyoto Protocol work, said Stott. If fully implemented, the treaty would only reduce world temperatures by 0.07-0.2°C, and will cost billions, he said.

Condemnation of the US will not work, said Stott. “We want to try a new world order – working together,” he said.

The final vote was 274 for the motion that America should be condemned, and 65 against.

The Oxford Union was founded in 1823, and now claims to be the world’s foremost debating society. Speakers from around the globe have attended discussions, including the Dalai Lama, Richard Nixon, Malcolm X and David Lloyd George, and debates are reputed to have influenced the outcome of UK’s 1975 European referendum, and Hitler’s decision to invade Europe.

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