Nations hold talks on global warming Final round aims to limit emissions of greenhouse gases

150 nations meet in Japan


KYOTO, Japan -- A conference that is supposed to cap more than two years of negotiations on what to do about global warming opened yesterday amid widespread concern that too many hard issues remained to allow the completion of an effective agreement.

Melinda Kimble, a senior State Department official who is leading the U.S. delegation in Kyoto, hinted at some flexibility in the American position on setting targets for reducing gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Scientists advising the negotiators say that if emissions are not reduced, the average global surface temperature will rise by 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

This, say the scientists, would cause sea levels to rise, many coastal zones and small island countries to be inundated, climatic zones to shift, rainstorms to become heavier, floods and droughts to become worse, heat waves to become more lethal and ecosystems to disappear.

After more than two years of bargaining, delegates from more than 150 countries are trying to agree on the amount by which greenhouse gases should be cut over the next 10 to 20 years, what gases to include and how to structure the immensely complex task.

The bargaining has broadened to include the highly contentious role of developing nations as well as a number of elaborate mechanisms by which the reductions might be carried out.

As a result, many experts say, there is a distinct possibility that the talks will not be concluded in Kyoto and will have to be extended.

Kimble said at the opening session that the United States would no longer insist on a flat-rate, one-size-fits-all reduction target for all countries. Instead, she said, the Americans were "prepared to consider the possibility of limited, carefully bounded differentiation" of targets among industrialized countries.

On the issue of how soon developing countries should be bound by specific reduction targets and timetables, Kimble said they need not take the same form as those of rich nations. Rather, she suggested, the poorer countries might adopt emission growth targets.

The Clinton administration has said it will sign no agreement that does not include all countries, and Kimble's statement was the clearest indication so far of what sort of participation by developing countries might be acceptable.

But the developing countries have insisted all along, and reiterated yesterday, that consideration of specific commitments for themselves is out of the question until the richer nations demonstrate that they are reducing emissions.

The United States insists that the developing countries should take on additional commitments because their emissions will outstrip those of the rich countries early in the next century.

Any agreement on reductions would be considered a first step. None of the emission reductions proposed for industrialized countries would stop greenhouse gases from accumulating in the atmosphere; they would merely reduce the accumulation rate a bit.

The United States has proposed that levels be stabilized at 1990 levels in the period 2008 through 2112. The administration says that would trim emissions by 30 percent.

The U.S. proposal diverges from all others under consideration in that it applies to a larger "basket" of six greenhouse gases that also includes hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexachloride.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.