Accord on global warming likely to be hard to reach Key participants in conference in Japan outline difficulties

November 10, 1997|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

TOKYO -- Three weeks before representatives of most of the world's nations gather in Kyoto, Japan, to discuss how to stop global warming, the key participants held a preliminary meeting in Tokyo and made it clear that concluding a worldwide agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be difficult.

The weekend session was not necessarily expected to achieve any breakthroughs, but when no progress was achieved, it confirmed the perception that if the Dec. 1-10 Kyoto conference succeeds in creating an international plan to clean up the Earth's atmosphere, it will be a long-shot accomplishment.

"It's the most difficult negotiation anyone has ever tried to do, on a brand new topic," said Undersecretary for Global Affairs Timothy Wirth after meetings concluded last evening.

The goal of the Kyoto meeting -- which the United Nations says will be the most important conference on the environment since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit -- will be to get as many nations as possible to agree to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that most governments believe cause global warming.

Under the most dire scenario, global temperatures will rise from 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the 21st century with catastrophic results, including submerging parts of Florida as sea levels rise due to thermal expansion or melting polar ice caps.

But if there is general agreement on the problem, there is no easy solution. The run-up to the Kyoto conference has shown that there are almost as many proposals and interpretations of the goals as there are participants -- and about 160 governments are expected to send negotiators.

The key issues involve getting the key industrial nations to agree on a plan to reduce emissions and deciding whether developing countries such as China and India should also be required to make a concrete proposal in Kyoto.

Behind these points lies a long list of complex scientific, political and economic questions that could mean the difference between a meaningful agreement and a breakdown in negotiations.

Some of the questions include which recognized greenhouse gases will be included in an agreement, and even how to assign responsibility for gases emitted by jet aircraft.

The three main participants are the United States, the European Union and Japan. The U.S. proposal calls for the developed world to reduce emissions to 1990 levels for the average period from 2008 to 2012. Japan seeks a 5 percent reduction from 1990 levels within that time frame, while the EU seeks a 15 percent reduction by 2010.

Pub Date: 11/10/97

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