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In New York talks, U.S. treads warily on global warming

June 16, 1997

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Environmentalists, West European governments and others want to use next week’s U.N. Earth Summit in New York to set firm targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

But the Clinton administration is balking at specific goals, playing for more negotiating room before a critical conference in Japan in December, when governments are supposed to complete a treaty rolling back ``greenhouse gases.″

At the five-day Earth Summit, a U.N. General Assembly special session, more than 60 world leaders _ from President Clinton and Russia’s Boris Yeltsin to the president of the Pacific island nation of Micronesia _ will review progress made since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

At that historic gathering, governments agreed to pursue ``sustainable development,″ global economic growth tied to environmental protection.

One outcome of the 1992 summit was a ``framework″ treaty on climate change in which developed countries pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions _ carbon dioxide from automobiles, for example _ to 1990 levels by 2000.

Such emissions add to an atmospheric blanket of gases trapping Earth’s heat. Scientists estimate global warming may, among other things, cause ocean levels to rise almost two feet by 2100, flooding coastlines and islands.

But since few countries were meeting 1992′s non-binding emissions goals, governments decided in 1995 to negotiate more demanding, legally binding reductions by the end of this year.

The framework treaty calls for such amendments to be presented to governments six months beforehand _ in other words, this month. But the talks have bogged down.

``I would really not expect any closure on this issue until ... December,″ U.N. Undersecretary-General Nitin Desai said Monday.

Desai told reporters, however, that negotiations over a lengthy final document for the Earth Summit ``will give us some indication of where people are headed,″ since global warming is a key item under discussion.

Island countries have taken the toughest stance in the talks here, proposing the summit document endorse a treaty that would cut carbon dioxide emissions by industrial countries to 20 percent below 1990 levels, with a 2005 deadline.

The European Union proposes a 15 percent cut below 1990 levels of three greenhouse gases _ carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide _ by 2010.

A U.S. proposal calls for legally binding goals _ but offers no specifics _ and for ``maximum flexibility.″ Washington is exploring ideas for allowing trading of emissions quotas: One country could finance extra emission cutbacks in another and get credited for it.

Environmentalists complain that such added complexities would delay a treaty beyond the December meeting in Kyoto.

The Clinton administration is under mounting pressure from U.S. industry to make no early commitments on emissions cuts. Business leaders say such controls may stifle economic growth, and they call for wider public debate of the environmental benefits and economic consequences.

``It may be the most important economic decision of this century and the next as well,″ 130 top U.S. industrialists said of the Kyoto meeting in a three-page ad in The Wall Street Journal last week.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a key U.S. official made clear an agreement on specific goals is unlikely at the New York summit.

``We’ve made it known we don’t consider New York the negotiating forum,″ he said.

And environmental campaigners sound resigned to more difficult months ahead.

``Climate change is going to be our No. 1 priority in New York,″ said Greenpeace’s Clif Curtis. ``Despite that, we think the parties will remain at loggerheads over it.″

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