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Global Climate Change Digest

A Guide to Information on Greenhouse Gases and Ozone Depletion
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Item #d91mar88

The United States altered its stance somewhat at the first of a series of meetings intended to develop an international convention on climate, held February 4-14, 1991, near Washington, D.C. However, those favoring rapid action and specific commitments to limit greenhouse gases were disappointed that the 10-day event did little more than establish procedural guidelines for future meetings.

In the first two days, delegates to the U.N. Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee heard dozens of statements from representatives of individual countries, U.N. agencies, and intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations. According to one observer, major proposals discussed were those of Germany and Switzerland (which favor fast action), the United States (which doesn't), and the United Kingdom (in the middle). Committee Chair Jean Ripert of France said all parties agreed that the world will take a comprehensive approach to controlling greenhouse gases, and that the extensive time spent on establishing negotiating guidelines was necessary. According to the guidelines adopted, the final convention should include controls on greenhouse gas emissions, transfer of technology and financial resources to developing countries, and international scientific and technological cooperation. A special fund, totaling $1.45 million so far, was established to subsidize the participation of delegates from developing countries.

Considerable time was also spent in controversy over the composition of two principal working groups established, because that will influence future negotiations. One will examine appropriate commitments for limiting greenhouse emissions; the other will work on legal issues, and propose ways to transfer technology and funds to developing nations for increasing energy efficiency and protecting forests. The next meeting is scheduled for Nairobi in June 1991.

The United States position presented at the conference is described in America's Climate Change Strategy. (See Reports/United States, this Global Climate Change Digest issue--Mar. 1991.) Those critical of the U.S. welcomed its acknowledgment that climate change is a problem, a change from the position taken at previous international meetings. However, the strategy advocates neither emission targets nor new policy responses as solutions. Instead, it projects reductions in greenhouse warming potential that will result from existing legislation and programs. These include CFC elimination under the Montreal Protocol; reductions in tropospheric ozone expected from the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments; proposals for reforestation in the United States included in the Administration's 1992 budget proposal; and energy efficiency and other provisions of the Administration's National Energy Strategy. The warming impacts of U.S. greenhouse emissions are expected to decrease to 1987 levels in the year 2000 because of these measures, although they will then begin to rise in the absence of further action.

Critics of U.S. policy, such as environmental groups, the European Community and small island nations highly susceptible to sea level rise, were joined by several vocal members of Congress. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell and others had introduced a Senate resolution Feb. 7, 1991, calling for the United States to take the lead at the meeting in establishing specific targets for emission reductions. Later, Mitchell was joined by Sen. Albert Gore and Rep. Henry Waxman, among others, in expressing disdain with the Administration's policy and disappointment over the outcome of the first round of negotiations. On Feb. 5, Sen. Timothy Wirth introduced a bill, cosponsored by Gore and many others, that is similar to S. 324, which passed the Senate last year but received no action in the House. Among other things, it would require the Department of Energy to develop a least-cost national energy plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Scenarios for reducing greenhouse emissions are analyzed in a major study released Feb. 7 by the Office of Technology Assessment at the request of several Congressional committees. (See Reports/United States, this Global Climate Change Digest issue--Mar. 1991.)

Sources for this summary include Intl. Environ. Rptr., p. 65, Feb. 13, 1991, and p. 97, Feb. 27; Greenhouse Effect Rep., Feb. 26 and Feb. 12; New Scientist, p. 16, Feb. 23 and p. 16, Feb. 16. The editorial "What Kind of Greenhouse Treaty?" (Nature, p. 441, Feb. 7) advocates a renewable and flexible approach, such as that discussed in the article by D. Victor on p. 451 of that issue. (See Prof. Pubs./Gen. Interest & Policy, this Global Climate Change Digest issue--Mar. 1991.)

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