Weary Delegates Set Emissions Cuts for Developed Nations

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By Kevin Sullivan; Joby Warrick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 11, 1997

KYOTO, JAPAN, DEC. 11 (THURSDAY) -- Exhausted and bitterly divided delegates to the U.N. climate summit reached a historic accord today, agreeing to substantial cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases among industrialized countries but leaving until next year the contentious issue of whether and how the world's poorer nations would participate.

Capping a chaotic 48 hours of nearly nonstop negotiations, delegates from 159 countries worked well into midmorning on their way to adopting a treaty that commits the world's developed countries to unprecedented, binding limits on the pollutants that scientists say are causing a potentially disastrous warming of the Earth's climate.

The treaty, if ratified, will require wealthy nations from North America to Europe to Japan to reduce emissions by 6 to 8 percent below their 1990 levels by 2012. The accord would spur dramatic changes in fossil-fuel-dependent Western countries in what would almost certainly be the most ambitious and most controversial global environmental undertaking in history.

Under the proposal, the United States would cut its emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels, significantly lower than the original U.S. proposal, which was to stabilize emissions at 1990 levels. The European Union would cut its by 8 percent, a little more than half the 15 percent it originally proposed. Japan would cut its emissions by 6 percent as part of the compromise figure worked out by conference delegates.

"This is a modest but significant step forward in what will be a long-term battle to protect the Earth's climate system," said Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, an independent environmental advocacy group. "The alternative -- collapse and gridlock -- would have been a disaster."

Reaction to the pact among environmentalists was generally positive, but mixed. The Sierra Club called it a "narrow victory." Greenpeace spokesman Kalee Kreider supported the plan and said it "means we managed to keep the oil industry from completely derailing the negotiations." But the World Wildlife Fund blasted the agreement as flawed and said it "plays into the hands of" the industries that opposed it.


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