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Climate treaty avoids strict CO2 limits.

To the dismay of environmentalists and several industrial nations, the United States defeated attempts to set international limits on emissions of greenhouse gases. In the final negotiations on a climate treaty, representatives from 150 nations last week agreed on a compromise text that will lead countries to reduce emissions of gases threatening to warm the world. But the text does not require any specific reductions.

The accord will next travel to Rio de Janeiro for signature by world leaders in June during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The new agreement, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, is the first major international treaty to address the global-warming threat. It sets the course for future negotiations on specific actions to limit climate change.

Almost all wealthy industrialized nations aside from the United States had hoped the convention would commit developed countries to stabilizing their carbon dioxide emissions at 1990 levels by the century's end. Many countries have already announced national commitments to stabilize or reduce emissions. But the Bush administration has steadfastly opposed efforts to set limits, citing economic uncertainty about the cost of reaching such targets.

In the end, the U.S. position won. Written in ambiguous, convuluted language, the convention commits developed countries in a nonspecific way to adopt national policies that limit emissions and enhance "sinks" and "reservoirs" that absorb and store greenhouse gases. The next sentence, which runs 118 words, recognizes that "the return by the end of the present decade to earlier levels of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases" would be consistent with the goal of limiting emissions.

The following paragraph commits countries that accept the convention to provide detailed information, periodically, on their policies to reduce emissions, "with the aim of returning individually or jointly to their 1990 levels." This paragraph mentions no timetable for reaching such levels.

David Doniger, with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, D.C., criticized the U.S. opposition to a stronger treaty. "The U.S. behavior in this process is especially bizarre since the United States by virtually all decent analyses has the opportunity to meet the stabilization objective for free or for profit." he says.

Cornelia Quennet, Germany's main negotiator, told SCIENCE NEWS, "We are not happy that we could not reach one of our aims, which was stabilization." But she praised the agreement as a compromise that "made it possible for a broad group of countries to sign." That is important, she says, because such nations must develop and implement programs that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Quennet also notes that the convention sets a firm process for continuing negotiations starting this year, thus avoiding a wait of several years while countries ratify it.
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Title Annotation:Framework Convention on Climate Change
Author:Monastersky, Richard
Publication:Science News
Date:May 16, 1992
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