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Bush holds cautious course on global change.

Bush holds cautious course on global change

While several European nations stressed the need to stabilize and even reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, President Bush took a more restrained position on global change at a 17-nation conference last week in Washington, D.C.

Bush called for internationally coordinated research programs to address the scientific and economic uncertainties surrounding global environment problems and the impact of proposed mitigation strategies. He denied using research to forestall action to reduce global change. At the same time, he did not follow the European lead by voicing an intent to adopt stringent U.S. limits on carbon dioxide emissions.

The White House, which convened the conference in anticipation of formal negotiations for an international climate treaty later this year, called it the first meeting to focus on both economic and scientific issues regarding global change. At the conference, Bush repeatedly stressed that nations must find mitigation policies that do not limit economic growth. "Environmental policies that ignore the economic factor, the human factor, are destined to fail," he said.

At times, the administration drew criticism for emphasizing scientific and economic uncertainties. Tht emphasis was explicit in a set of "taking points" drafted by administration staffers to brief members of the U.S. delegation. Under the heading of "Debates to Avoid," the internal memo warned that it is "not beneficial to discuss whether there is or is not warming, or how much or how little warming. In the eyes of the public we will lose this debate. A better approach is to raise the many uncertainties that need to be better understood on this issue."

The document created problems for the administration when the Sierra Club obtained a copy and distributed it at the conference. EPA Administrator William Reilly told SCIENCE NEWS, "I think we had a couple of glitches in this conference and I have the sense that this was one of them." He added that he hadn't paid attention to the talking points.

Lucien Bouchard, Canada's environmental minister, commented that the U.S. delegation gave the impression of over-emphasizing the uncertainties on the first day of the conference, but that on the second day Bush made clear his commitment to act even in the face of the uncertainties.

The administration cited its support for a number of policies that would slow the accumulation of atmospheric greenhouse gases while at the same time addressing more immediate problems. Expected worldwide phaseout of chlorofluorocarbons, strengthening the Clean Air Act and planting 1 billion trees a year will reduce by 15 prercent the amount of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions otherwise predicted for the end of the century, Bush told the conference.

Such steps, though, will not stabilize emission levels. Even with the reductions, U.S. carbon dioxide production will rise by roughly 35 percent in the next 10 years, Reilly notes.

In contrast, West German environmental minister Klaus Topfer announced he will urge his government to reduce Germany's current carbon dioxide production by 25 percent by the year 2005. The Netherlands has already adopted a policy to stabilize its emissions by 1995, with further reductions by 2000.

Reilly praises such goals but downplays the split between European and U.S. strategies. "Those who talk about the differences between our position and the Europeans' miss the enormous difficulties we have with how many of the top emitters of carbon dioxide we have yet to engage in this," he says. "The Soviet Union and China are second and third behind the United States, and neither has indicated any readiness to cut back."
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Title Annotation:climatic change
Author:Monastersky, R.
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 28, 1990
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