Greenhouse Gas Cutback Goals Left Up in Air

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By Rick Atkinson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 8, 1995

BERLIN, APRIL 7 -- The 11-day United Nations conference on climate change staggered to a conclusion today after conferees agreed on the need to reduce climate-altering gas emissions but then deferred decisive action until at least 1997.

Delegates from about 170 nations unanimously approved a compromise plan to set up a two-year negotiating process that will try to set specific targets for reducing so-called greenhouse gases in the 21st century.

The conference also accepted the principle of "joint implementation," a U.S.-touted concept under which industrial countries can offset their own emission reduction quotas by financing cuts in greenhouse gases in developing countries. The United States had tacitly threatened to scuttle the conference earlier this week unless "J.I.," as the principle is known, was accepted.

Contrary to the desire of many developing countries and environmental groups, the delegates in the end avoided setting specific goals or timetables for emission reductions after the year 2000. The United States, Japan and other leading emission producers had stoutly insisted that hard numbers not be applied until a subsequent conference two years from now.

A growing number of climatologists and other scientists believe that human activity is accelerating potentially catastrophic global warming by pumping carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, effectively magnifying the heating powers of the sun.

The Berlin conference was spawned by the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where the dangers of global warming received international attention. Two dozen industrialized nations agreed at that time to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000; although some progress has been made, few are on a clear path toward achieving that goal.

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