MONTREAL AND LONDON - More than 100,000 people took to the streets in more than 30 countries yesterday, in the first world-wide demonstration to press for action to combat global warming.
The marches - timed to put pressure on the most important international climate change negotiations since the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol eight years ago - took place against a background of a blizzard of new research showing the heating of the planet is seriously affecting the world sooner than scientists predicted.
The protests were directed primarily at US President George W. Bush, who ruled out even talking about setting targets for reducing pollution past 2012, when present targets expire.
Up to 10,000 people marched through London, carrying banners linking the President and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as "climate criminals".
A Friends of the Earth campaigner, Nick Rau, one of the speakers at the demonstration , said: "Our Government needs to take action. It is not too late. If we cut carbon dioxide emissions every year, starting now, we can really achieve the big reductions needed."
The first demonstration of the day took place in Australia when thousands of protesters marched in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Australia is, with the US, the only Western industrialised nation not to have ratified Kyoto.
The Australian Government reacted by reaffirming its refusal to join the protocol, insisting, according to the Environment Minister Ian Campbell, that, "We need to do something that suits the developed world, something that suits the rapidly developing world - partnerships, technologies, economic mechanisms that drive us towards that".
The biggest demonstration took place in Montreal, where Inuit from the Arctic were keen to draw attention to the melting of the ice in their territory, which is threatening their fishing and livelihoods.
Five environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Climate Crisis Coalition, were preparing a 600,000-name petition for the US Consulate in Montreal urging the Bush Administration to help slow global warming.
In New Orleans - devastated by Hurricane Katrina - residents intended to hold a "Save New Orleans, Stop Global Warming" party in the French Quarter. Events will be held in 40 other US cities. Protests were also held in Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, and Turkey.
The US protests symbolised a major change in opinion in the United States since Hurricane Katrina, which doubled the number of people telling opinion polls that they believed global warming was an immediate threat. Another poll, carried out by the conservative Fox News, shows that more than three-quarters of Americans believe global warming is happening and is at least partially caused by human activity, and 60 per cent see it as a "crisis" or a "major problem".
But this has yet to make an impact on the Bush Administration. Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute of Environment and Development, said: "In the case of the current US Administration we may have to give up ever hoping for a flicker of intelligence on climate change. The pattern of interests based on oil and gas seems too closely knit into an armour-plated defence of US plc."
The Montreal conference, the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol since it came into force in February, has achieved one minor success. Delegates adopted most of the "rule book" needed to make the treaty operational, though tactics by Saudi Arabia have held up agreement on how countries that break the rules will be punished.
Scientists are broadly agreed that rich countries will have to reduce their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 if there is to be any hope of stopping the climate change escalating out of control, with disastrous consequences for the world.
The Kyoto Protocol targets, even if they are met, will reduce them by only 5.2 per cent, and everyone agrees that it barely makes a dent on the problem.