In the 1990s the threat of global warming and climate change was taken increasingly seriously by governments around the world, although not all were prepared to adopt the ‘precautionary principle’, which would suggest that action should be taken now despite the absence of full scientific identification of the scale of the problem. However, some governments seemed to be willing in principle to adopt what is called the ‘policy of least regret’, that is to support developments which would be
sensible even if global warming did not turn out to be such a significant problem. The result is that relatively modest measures were adopted. The Rio Earth Summit in 1992 produced an agreement backed by more that 160 countries to try to get carbon dioxide emissions back to 1990 levels by the year 2000. At the UN Climate Change conference held at Kyoto in Japan in 1997, preliminary agreement was obtained for a follow-up programme, with emissions to be reduced globally by, on average, around 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels, during the period 2008-12, with each of the industrialised countries being given a target. For example, the EU’s target was an 8 per cent reduction and the USA’s was 7 per cent.