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Treaty Talks Disappointing to Environmentalists

February 15, 1991

CHANTILLY, Va. (AP) _ Environmentalist are disappointed in the progress toward an international treaty to curb global warming after 10 days of negotiations that achieved little more than an outline for future discussions.

″I’ve seen glaciers move faster than this,″ said Arlen Meyer, one of the dozens of environmentalists who monitored the first official United Nations talks on a global warming treaty.

The discussions, involving more than 100 nations, concluded late Thursday with the participants yet to produce even the most general draft language on reducing so-called ″greenhouse gases.″

″They’ve spent 10 days yammering about the shape of the table. They’re not even seriously negotiating. There’s nothing substantive being discussed,″ complained Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club. ″It’s devastatingly disappointing.″

Some of the foot-dragging has been blamed on the United States, which has been reluctant to push for any specific cuts in greenhouse gas pollution. But other countries also contributed to the stalemate because of concerns over the role of developing countries and disagreements in language setting up future meetings.

As delegates left the plush, but isolated convention center in the Virginia countryside where the talks were held, some participants also said they had hoped more substantive results would come out of the first meeting of the U.N. Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Some members of both European and U.S. delegations, speaking privately and not for attribution, said they wanted a broad working draft of a treaty that might be used as a starting point at the next session, but that those hopes quickly were dashed.

Instead, the delegates could go no further than establishing two working groups that will begin to consider what should go into a treaty at the next meeting whose date and location have yet to be determined.

The hope still is to produce a treaty document by mid-1992, although that schedule is exceedingly tight, officials said.

In the final hours of the conference Thursday, it was decided that the working group would consider both the need to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and to address the question of financial and technical assistance to developing countries to deal with global warming.

Many of the European countries would like to see a treaty that specifically outlines a timetable for cutting carbon dioxide emissions, a key contributor to global warming.

But other nations, including the United States, have been reluctant to commit to specific emission reductions, fearful that a dramatic shift away from burning fossil fuels - the major source of carbon dioxide - might threaten economic growth.

These philosophical differences and the scope of future negotiations dominated much of the first negotiating session.

For example, the United States had insisted that the working group discuss not only carbon dioxide emissions, but other greenhouse gases as well, and that specific targets for reductions be reserved for later protocols and not the treaty itself.

Some European delegations have argued reductions in carbon dioxide pollution must be emphasized since it amounts to 55 percent of the greenhouse gases and that another key contributors - chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs - already are being reduced under an existing treaty. The Dutch and some other Europeans have argued that specific reduction targets should be included in the treaty itself.

Meanwhile, delegates from such countries as India fought for a negotiating structure that assures that future discussions will give adequate weight to the question of financial and technological assistance to developing nations for dealing with global warming. The United States has fought any language that might commit industrial nations to specific levels of assistance.

″It’s going to be a very difficult process,″ conceded one official involved in the conference, because most actions to mitigate global warming involve shifts in energy policies that could be both expensive and politically difficult.

At the same time, while scientists agree the release of carbon dioxide and other gases is causing a warming of the earth as the gases trap the sun’s heat, there remains disagreement over how much of an impact such warming might have.

An international task force of scientists concluded last year that the earth could warm as much as 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the next century if industrial emissions are not stabilized. Some scientists, however, say the impact of such warming might be mitigated by a variety of other factors still being studied.

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