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Nations Adopt Climate Pact Without U.S.

Accord: Envoys from 180 lands salvage Kyoto Protocol on cutting 'greenhouse gases.' Some backers hope the move will spur Congress to act.

July 24, 2001|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BONN — In a display of international cohesion and commitment, negotiators from more than 180 nations Monday adopted the much-maligned Kyoto Protocol aimed at fighting global warming and protecting the planet from mankind's wasteful ways.

The overwhelming endorsement at a watershed session of the U.N. Convention on Climate Change was celebrated by negotiators and environmentalists as a crucial first step toward reducing "greenhouse gases" despite President Bush's rejection of the accord.

With the United States isolated, those seeking to combat climate change say the solidarity shown here should provide impetus for clean energy initiatives worldwide, even in the U.S. Congress.

The Kyoto agreement, named after the Japanese city where it was negotiated in 1997, defined the aims in a global effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Subsequent gatherings, including the Bonn meeting, sought to work out the details.

The chief of the Bonn conference, Dutch Environment Minister Jan Pronk, won a thunderous standing ovation for rescuing the accord from deadlock. He hailed the protocol's adoption as evidence of the potential for global action on common threats to nature and mankind.

"Globalization is so much criticized, it is extremely important to show that global developments--in economy, the environment, climate--can be addressed by global decision making," Pronk told a conference hall packed with yawning, bleary-eyed delegates who had stayed up for two nights to work out the deal. "This augurs well for other developments on our Earth."

The protocol originally set targets for 39 industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping gases by an overall 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012. It won overwhelming approval in Bonn only because concessions were made to some of the countries that will seriously reduce the overall reduction goals.

Many industrial countries, including the United States and Japan, have increased their emissions over the past decade by 30% or more.

With offsets allowed for "carbon sinks," or forests that are believed to absorb carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel emissions, and an allowance for countries to sell surplus authorizations to pollute, the Worldwide Fund for Nature estimates that the reduction from 1990 emission levels will be only about 1.8%.

Nevertheless, the organization's climate change spokeswoman, Jennifer Morgan, proclaimed: "This first small step is a giant leap for humanity and for the future of our planet."

The environmentalist Greens group in the European Parliament welcomed the protocol's adoption as "a baby step" toward fighting global warming. But after a decade of squabbling over procedures and burden-sharing, the politicians hailed the decision as a breakthrough.

While cheering the eleventh-hour success of the Kyoto accord, conservationists and environmental strategists condemned the White House for shirking U.S. responsibility for climate change. Americans are the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, accounting for 26% of the world's output and 36% of the total emitted by industrialized countries.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, representing the Bush administration, reaffirmed that Washington would not ratify the protocol and expressed satisfaction that its funding arrangements place no additional burden on the United States.

"This does not change our view the Kyoto Protocol is not sound policy," she told the conference, drawing boos and heckling from an observation gallery.

Bush announced in March that he was withdrawing from the protocol, a decision U.S. sources say was made without consultation with foreign policy staff or regard for any impact on foreign relations. Bush said he was quitting the process because it would cost too much to comply and possibly cost jobs at a time when the U.S. faces a slowing economy and energy shortages. Bush declared that he would seek to limit emissions through new technology. He also criticized the protocol's failure to address emissions from developing countries, such as China and India. Later phases of the plan, however, call for limits on emissions from poorer nations.

The Kyoto formula provides for $1 billion in annual investment in developing countries to help them create nonpolluting industries and deal with the consequences of climate change.

Although the watered-down goals will mean a slower pace of reducing emissions, economic analysts say they also lower the costs to more attainable levels. The World Bank's team on climate change estimates that compliance will cost less than 1% of gross domestic product through 2010 and less thereafter because of the health and environmental improvements that can be expected.

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