BUENOS AIRES — An international conference on climate change opened here Monday with a debate over a proposal by the host nation, Argentina, challenging fellow developing nations to adopt voluntary limits on emissions of the gases that cause global warming.
As a close U.S. ally and the first developing nation to host such a conference, Argentina wasted no time in tackling one of the most divisive issues among about 170 countries gathered here for a massive task: building a framework for implementation of the climate accord adopted in Kyoto, Japan, last year. The Clinton administration wants developing nations to show meaningful progress on reducing emissions of greenhouse gases before the U.S. ratifies the agreement. The administration is under pressure from Republican legislators who say the burden on industrialized nations is too heavy.
China, India and many other developing nations, however, assert that industrialized nations are the biggest and wealthiest polluters and should meet the emissions reduction targets established in the Kyoto Protocol before making demands of poorer nations.
There were fears that mere mention of the issue here would cause a contentious uproar, as occurred last year in Kyoto. Instead, the Argentine proposal provoked a frank but civilized discussion that lasted for several hours.
Articulating the Argentine view in a statement before the conference began, the Argentine ambassador to the United States, Diego Guelar, criticized "the old conspiratorial argument that labels these new [environmental] policies a means to slow down the industrial and competitive development of the emerging economies."
"The idea that industrialization is not possible without pollution and degradation is false," he said.
Opposition by China and other nations blocked the proposal from being placed on the conference agenda. But the chairwoman, Argentine Environment Minister Maria Julia Alsogaray, will pursue informal conversations about standards with representatives of developing nations during the meeting.
In order for developed nations to reduce emissions by 5.2% of their 1990 levels by 2012, the 1,461 delegates gathered here must decide such fundamental issues as how the complex international mechanisms for meeting the targets will be policed. The meeting promises to be grueling and bureaucratic, with an emphasis on process and a shortage of breakthroughs.