World's war on greenhouse gases U.S. alone: Caught between Europe'secologists and Third World developers.

December 03, 1997

DELEGATES from more than 150 nations are gathered in Kyoto, Japan, to cap two years of technical work with a ringing and binding call for reductions in greenhouse gases -- notably carbon dioxide from fossil fuels -- to reverse global warming. They may not make it.

Broadly speaking, the nations are grouped in two camps. The United States is in neither. If the conference fails to produce agreement, the U.S. is likely to be cast as villain. If a compromise is brokered that produces a treaty that would bring results and pass Senate ratification, the U.S. would emerge as unlikely hero.

The European Union wants industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2010. This means substituting natural gas or nuclear power for coal and oil in producing electric power and making autos more fuel-efficient. No one says it won't hurt. President Clinton resists this for the U.S., which generates one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gases that trap the sun's heat in the atmosphere. Bowing to industry pressures, he adopted the goal of reducing U.S. emissions only to 1990 levels by 2010.

Developing nations, however, want to be excluded from reforms, which they denounce as "environmental colonialism." The U.S. Senate, however, resolved to reject any treaty that is not binding on all nations.

Vice President Al Gore, the American politician who most raised public consciousness on global warming, lost the battle to make U.S. policy tougher. But with presidential ambitions and much to lose, he will confront the issue rather than be seen running from it. He speaks to the conference on Monday.

Meanwhile, U.S. delegates are spreading the word that the U.S. accepts the principle of "differentiation." This apparent concession to Third World countries might become the rationale for setting U.S. goals below those of Japan and Europe.

If something is better than nothing, a treaty the Senate would ratify binding all nations is preferable to one with higher standards that the U.S. and other nations would spurn.

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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