Climate talks lead to accord Tentative agreement reached on measures to cut global warming

Final vote later today

Contentious issue of emissions trading remains unsettled


KYOTO, Japan -- Negotiators from around the world agreed tentatively today on a package of measures that for the first time would legally obligate industrialized countries to cut emissions of waste industrial gases that scientists say are warming Earth's atmosphere.

But details on one contentious issue -- the possible trade or sale of emission permits between countries -- remain unsettled, leaving it unclear whether the United States would sign the treaty. The treaty would also be subject to approval by the U.S. Senate.

The agreement is to be submitted later today for final approval of the delegates from more than 150 nations. A favorable result would create a landmark environmental policy to deal with global warming, along with innovative new mechanisms to carry it out.

The nations would have a year to ratify the treaty, starting in March. Talks on "trading" of emissions are expected to take place in November.

Despite the uncertainties, some environmentalists hailed the agreement as a remarkable political and economic innovation, in that it would establish a global system for dealing with what many scientists believe is the overarching environmental concern.

Opponents of the treaty condemned it as economically ruinous.

Under the tentative accord, different countries would be assigned different targets for 2008-2012, depending on their national circumstances and economic profiles. The European Union's target was set at a reduction in emissions of 8 percent below 1990 levels, the United States 7 percent and Japan 6 percent. Other targets, albeit within a narrow range, also applied to other developed countries.

By 2000, emissions of greenhouse gases by the United States are expected to be about 13 percent higher than they were in 1990. They are expected to be perhaps 30 percent higher in 2010, if trends in energy use continue and no other action is taken.

The latest draft of the agreement appears to represent a significant concession by the United States, which previously had insisted on the less stringent course of reducing the emissions to 1990 levels, not below them.

It is also a measure of the flexibility in the U.S. bargaining position that Vice President Al Gore said he had ordered negotiators to adopt when he addressed the delegates Monday.

But it remains to be seen whether the White House can persuade the Senate to accept the agreement, or even whether it will sign it. Many senators had already expressed reservations about the less stringent administration proposal.

After an all-night session that ran into an unscheduled 11th day of discussion, the protocol was approved by representatives of more than 150 countries sitting as a committee. But the accord is not final until it is approved by the same group, constituted as the formal Conference of the Parties. Changes are possible there.

The countries were modifying an agreement, negotiated in Brazil in 1992, that called for voluntary efforts to limit emission of greenhouse gases. The voluntary approach did not work.

The emerging agreement was held up for hours last night and this morning by the resistance of some developing countries, including China, India and Saudi Arabia, to including a provision enabling the industrialized nations to trade or purchase emissions rights.

The United States considers this arrangement the cheapest and most efficient way of cutting emissions. Without it, U.S. negotiators said, it would be impossible for the country to meet its emission targets.

In emissions trading, a country or industrial company will be able to meet its emissions reduction target by cutting some of its emissions itself, while at the same time purchasing part of its required reduction from another country or company that achieved excess cuts.

Based on its success with trading emissions for sulfur dioxide, a chemical implicated in acid rain, the United States argues that larger and cheaper reductions can be achieved with this mechanism. In any event, the U.S. negotiators insisted that it would be impossible for the United States to meet its 7 percent reduction target without the ability to trade.

The objectors in developing countries said that the mechanism could lead to shifting the reduction burden overseas and that countries and companies might be able to buy their way out of the obligation to cut their own emissions.

Experts advising the negotiators in Kyoto say that if emissions are not reduced, the average surface temperature of the globe will rise by 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century, causing widespread climatic, environmental and economic disruption.

The effects could include rising seas, shifting climatic and agricultural zones, more severe droughts and heat waves, and heavier rains and floods -- but also less severe winters and increased agricultural production in northern regions.

The protocol is generally viewed only as an early step in a continuing attempt to deal with the question of climate change. First, the reductions it includes are not enough to prevent overall atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from continuing to rise.

Moreover, it is generally acknowledged that any attempt to deal with the problem requires a global solution involving all emitting countries. The tentative protocol does not include any new commitments for developing nations.

The rich countries now emit most of the greenhouse gases, and the United States is the biggest single emitter. But China is not far behind the United States, and the emissions of developing countries are expected to exceed those of the industrialized countries in two or three decades, as their economies grow.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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