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S P E C I A L The Global Warming Debate

Global warming agreement gains final approval

conference

 

Developing nations face few restrictions

December 11, 1997
Web posted at: 2:34 a.m. EST (0734 GMT)

KYOTO, Japan (CNN) -- After 11 days of intense wrangling over the details, delegates to an international conference on global warming gave final approval Thursday to a landmark agreement that sets limits on emissions of so-called "greenhouse" gases.

Under the proposal set before the full gathering of 160 nations at the Kyoto conference, 38 industrialized nations -- including the United States, Japan and the nations of the European Union -- agree to accept binding targets for reducing their fuel emissions.

EU countries set emissions targets for the year 2008 at 8 percent below the level of emissions in 1990. For the United States and Japan, the cuts will be 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively. The other 21 countries will meet similar targets between 2008 and 2012.

Altogether, the 38 nations will be cutting greenhouse emissions to slightly more than 5 percent below 1990 levels.

"This is a figure that is going to have an impact on the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," said conference chairman Raul Estrada.

But developing nations, including China, face few binding limits, and that could imperil the treaty's chances of ever being ratified by the U.S. Congress.

A U.S.-sponsored proposal that would have required "meaningful participation" by major developing nations was dropped after objections from China and other countries. They argued that such limits would harm ambitious industrialization plans needed to build their economies and pull their citizens out of poverty. In the end, they would only agree to voluntary limits.

Delegates did approve a proposal that would allow countries to "buy" pollution credits on an international market, allowing a country that was under its limit for greenhouse gas emissions to sell extra capacity to countries out of room under their cap.

China and India had objected to the pollution credit proposal, sponsored by the United States, saying it would allow industrialized countries to escape making required cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

The new limits represent a compromise between positions staked out by the EU and the United States, since emission cuts are more than what the United States wanted but less than what the EU proposed.

U.S. President Bill Clinton had announced before the conference that the United States would only be willing to agree to a 5 percent reduction and wanted to take longer to do it. But U.S. negotiators had been instructed to take a flexible posture during negotiations.

However, the treaty only becomes binding on countries when it is ratified by their governments. And the exemption for developing countries is expected to make it difficult to get the treaty ratified by the U.S. Congress.

The United States is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, which are produced by burning fossil fuels. Many scientists blame the gases for global warming. So if the United States opts out, the treaty's effectiveness would be undermined.

Congressional leaders have made it clear they will fight the treaty.

"The Senate will not ratify a flawed climate treaty," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott warned Thursday in a statement.

Without reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double during the next century, warming the atmosphere and triggering an environmental chain reaction that could raise sea levels, change ocean currents and intensify damage from storms, droughts and the spread of tropical diseases.

Emissions of six gases -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and three halocarbons used as substitutes for ozone-damaging chlorofluorocarbons -- would be affected.

Correspondent Tom Mintier and Reuters contributed to this report.

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