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Following the Fourth Session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November 1998, we present two articles commenting on the current stage of the climate debate.

In the first article, Emilio Lèbre La Rovere describes the outcome of the Buenos Aires meeting, outlining the political stances which dominated the negotiations. He questions the probability of any substantial emissions reductions in the foreseeable future unless the industrialized nations clearly assume their responsibility.

In the second article, Robert Engelman demonstrates that the issue of population dynamics must be intrinsically tied with the negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions. He argues that slowing population growth would create the necessary conditions for an equitable system of global emissions reductions.

The climate treaty is not, of course, the only international environmental agreement under discussion at present. Sam Johnston summarizes the outcome of the Fourth Conference of the Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity. This important meeting signified the transition from start-up activities to comprehensive and ambitious long-term action intended to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. We also describe the deliberations of the recent Conference of the Parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification.

Finally, Philip Woodworth and Janice Trotte outline the major activities of the Permanent Service for Mean Sea Level which provides analysis and interpretation of sea level data from a global network. They also cover the activities of related programmes such as the Global Sea Level Observing System.

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