Tags: U.S. | May | Left | Out | Global | Warming | Treaty

U.S. May Be Left Out of Global Warming Treaty

Monday, 13 November 2000 12:00 AM

For almost two weeks, negotiators will meet in The Hague, Netherlands, to try to figure out how to put into effect dramatic cuts in carbon gas emissions, which scientists say are responsible for global warming.

The cuts were called for by a 1997 international agreement called the Kyoto Protocol, which was brokered by Vice President Al Gore. George W. Bush, who claims victory over Gore in the still-undecided presidential election, opposes it.

The pressure is building for the world to reduce greenhouse gases. A report from an international team of climate scientists last month said global warming is much worse than scientists originally expected and temperatures could rise on average worldwide by as much as 11 degrees (up to 9 degrees in the U.S.) by the end of the century. Given that, European nations are ready to enact a strong treaty without waiting for the United States, the world's biggest polluter, to join it.

Scientists have said that even an increase of a few degrees would cause sea levels to rise and bring on hurricanes and floods and kill entire ecosystems.

The negotiations surround a controversial treaty that could affect the nation's environment, energy policy and overall economy.

The Kyoto Protocol says that by 2008 to 2012, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions must be 7 percent less than they were in 1990. But since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions in the United States have gone up slightly because of a super-charged economy, White House officials said.

Greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane and others are produced by the burning of fossil fuels for power plants, manufacturing and automobiles. The gases trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, much like a greenhouse.

President Clinton on Saturday, in an Internet address, released a new U.S. report that he said "paints a sobering picture of the future'' with drastic effects from global warming. Clinton proposed "a comprehensive approach to limiting harmful emissions from U.S. electric power plants'' that would limit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury.

Bush made a similar proposal as a campaign pledge.

Clinton also said the United States is "committed to working with other nations to take strong and sensible actions to curb global warming'' in the upcoming negotiations.

But American negotiators are under attack from all sides. European government officials and American environmental groups accuse the United States of dragging its feet, while U.S. business interests are afraid that the administration wants to cut emissions too much. Bush and the U.S. Senate oppose the treaty. They say it is unfair because developing countries, including China, don't have to cut emissions.

That means American negotiators are "really hemmed in about what they can do,'' said Paul Wapner, director of environmental policy and professor of international relations at American University in Washington.

Late last month the European Parliament voted 437 to 6 to seek cooperation with Russia, Japan and eastern European countries to put the Kyoto Protocol into effect and not wait for the United States. That can happen if nations that are responsible for 55 percent of the developed world's greenhouse gas emissions agree to it. The European Union, eastern European nations, Russia and Japan together have enough emissions to put the treaty into effect.

The United States accounts for about one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Frank Loy, who leads the American delegation, said the United States is willing to reach the "very tough quantitative targets'' in the Kyoto Protocol, but only if it gets "substantial flexibility.''

To meet its goals, the Clinton administration wants to get maximum "credit'' for methods other than reducing direct U.S. emissions. These credits are mainly in two areas: carbon sinks,'' which are forests and oceans that swallow up excess carbon dioxide in the air; and emissions trading, which allows America to buy reductions in pollution made by other countries, such as a de-industrializing Russia.

Those credits are so generous that the United States could increase emissions by 18 percent and still meet its "reduction'' target, according to a study, "Legacy of Loopholes,'' by the National Environmental Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the World Wildlife Fund.

"It's a do-nothing treaty'' if the United States gets its way, said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund's climate change campaign.

With trading, emissions would be cut back, even if not in the United States, Loy said. "The Earth does not care; the Earth is benefited if you reduce emissions wherever they are,'' he said.

The other credit is for carbon sinks, because "the way forests, farms and oceans grab carbon in the air is a huge factor" in the world's carbon cycle, Loy said. But environmentalists dismiss this as "an accounting trick.''

If the United States has to meet emission goals without these credits, it "would be like tying one hand behind our back,'' Loy said.

Environmentalists are protesting because "we want to make sure the treaty is strong enough,'' said Sierra Club global warming program chief Dan Becker.

Some business interests counter it should not be too strong.

"The 7 percent reduction in the years 2008-2012 are very short-sighted, very impractical,'' said Glenn Kelly, director of the Global Climate Coalition, group that represents business trade associations in the controversy over global warming. "They can be reached, but at what expense? How many more jobs do we want to lose?''

(C) 2000, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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For almost two weeks, negotiators will meet in The Hague, Netherlands, to try to figure out how to put into effect dramatic cuts in carbon gas emissions, which scientists say are responsible for global warming. The cuts were called for by a 1997 international agreement...
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