Global warming talks heat up Greenhouse defect: Equitable curbs on fossil fuel consumption for all countries.

March 30, 1997

THE BATTLE against global warming requires balancing the cross-hatching interests of many countries: rich versus poor, the industrial world versus the Third World, those with abundant fossil fuels versus those in scarcity.

Finding an equitable, enforceable plan to curb carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases," which trap heat in the Earth's upper atmosphere, remains an elusive target without a single set of binding rules for the world and without United States commitment to the goal.

Nearly 160 nations agreed this month in Bonn on language for further talks on how to reduce world output of these warming gases caused by fossil-fuel combustion. The aim is a global treaty for future cuts by December. But the basic questions of what gases, how to reduce them and when are still largely undecided.

The U.S., which generates one-fifth of world's total gases, has yet to propose hard numbers or a time frame for action, and it hasn't come up with projected costs in jobs, economy and lifestyle for cutbacks in fossil fuel consumption.

U.S. negotiators stress flexibility, with possible use of energy taxes, energy rationing, emissions credit trading and credit for helping other countries reduce gases. They also back a climate treaty that would first impose limits on industrialized countries, with a delay for caps on developing countries that see themselves most at risk by any accord.

That's a strategic mistake, which will accelerate the emissions problem in developing states such as China, Mexico and India and the flight of carbon-consumption industries to those havens. Without firm limits on both developed and developing countries, there's little chance for cost-effective, flexible programs.

While debate persists on the degree of human-caused influence, there's little doubt that the Earth's temperature is on the rise. Attacking it earlier rather than later offers demonstrable economies, an orderly shift of energy technologies and time to avoid panic-driven remedies. The science of global warming may not be conclusive, but the symptoms are apparent in more frequent storms and in the rising sea levels of oceans and even the Chesapeake Bay. Global warming requires global solution.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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