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UN Climate Change Conference to Open in Kenya

The United Nations' Climate Change conference is set to open in Kenya's capital Monday. Topics expected to be covered include how countries can cope with increases in global warming and why the United States and Australia have not signed a protocol to curb outputs of heat-trapping gases said to be a direct cause of global warming.

The 165 countries that ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which took effect last year, are legally committed to reducing their output of six carbon gasses most responsible for causing global warming.

The worst of these gasses is carbon dioxide, the by-product of burning oil, gas, and coal. In industrialized countries, much of the emissions come from cars.

The United States withdrew support for the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 saying the agreement was flawed, and it would look to high technology measures to reduce emissions. Australia has also refused to ratify the protocol.

The United States' reluctance to sign on is expected to be a topic of conversation at the United Nations' Climate Change conference, set to open Monday.

Kenyan environmental activist Grace Akumu, who is the executive director of Climate Network Africa, explains why.

She said, "In the United States of America, the total number of cars in New York is equivalent to the total number of cars in the entire African continent. The entire African continent only emits three to four percent of the global total greenhouse gas emissions. So we need the big emitters - and the single biggest emitter is the United States of America - to be able to impact on the entire emissions of the world."

Scientists point to carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxides as being three of several gases that, in excess, form a barrier in the atmosphere that traps heat from the sun, thus raising the earth's surface temperature.

Such climate change has been linked to more frequent occurrences of drought, flooding, hurricanes, forest fires, and increases in the number of malaria cases, with long-term impacts being rising sea levels and damage to crops.

And that has activist Akumu very worried. She says one major agenda item at this year's U.N. Climate Change conference will be looking at long-term solutions.

"One of the priority areas is that the Kyoto Protocol - that we want the U.S. government to ratify, the Australian government to ratify - the legal life-span is coming to an end by 2012, in six years' time. So, there is a need to discuss what's after Kyoto, what's going to be the post-Kyoto regime to govern greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

Also on the agenda are discussions on how especially developing countries can cope with climate change, and methods to reduce emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases, such as using power generated from wind, solar, and hydroelectric sources.

This is the first time that the United Nations' Climate Change conference will be held in sub-Saharan Africa. The gathering, which opens Monday and ends on November 17, is expected to draw some 6,000 participants worldwide.